Opinion: Mixed news on suicide tells us where to target our efforts

The UK suicide rate rose again in 2013, a worrying statistic that we should pay close attention to. True, the rate is still lower than at any time between 1981 and 2001 but, even so, the rise since 2007  should be of great concern.

But the overall figure masks some important variations. If we want to tackle the problem, we need to know where to focus our efforts and it turns out that suicides are not increasing for all groups.

Here is the good news: the suicide rate for women has fallen and is now the second lowest on record. For women aged 15-19 the news is even better: the suicide rate for this group is by some margin the lowest on record. Across nearly all ages, the number of women committing suicide is down or static.

For men the picture is mixed. Young men in their twenties are less likely to commit suicide than at any time since the mid ’80s. But for men aged 40-65, and especially in Wales and those parts of England outside the capital, there is a real issue. Suicide rates among middle-aged men are at or near their highest since the current records began in 1981.

While our young people are smoking less, drinking less, taking fewer drugs and committing fewer crimes than their parents or grandparents generations did at their age, middle-aged men have become the group most at risk from obesity, most likely to to need drug rehabilitation and to be harming their health by drinking to excess.

By understanding where the problems lie, we can better develop effective solutions, help people and save lives.

* Iain Roberts is a Stockport councillor, LGA Peer and consultation, communications and public affairs consultant specialising in the built environment.

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  • Eddie Sammon 24th Feb '15 - 7:52am

    According to the recent ONS report: “As with men, suicide is the leading cause of death among women aged between 20 and 34 years of age in England and Wales”.

    We need to make sure we don’t turn suicide into a “men’s issue”, but I would say with the male suicide rate the highest since 2001 and more than three times higher than the female rate that the picture for men is worse than “mixed”.

    Thanks for putting a spotlight on this issue.

    http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171778_395145.pdf (where I got my figures from)

  • Iain Roberts 24th Feb '15 - 11:00am

    Hi Eddie,

    No problem. The “mixed” comment for men relates to the very different stories for different age groups.

  • Simon Oliver 24th Feb '15 - 1:41pm

    For anyone wanting to look into this issue, or who might need help:

    This is a mental health issue, but the differential may point to a wider issue about the things men need to feel valued and worthwhile. I would like to see stats on the number of suicides linked to denial of the rights of fatherhood as a consequence of family break down and family court bias.

  • Simon Oliver 24th Feb '15 - 1:44pm

    35. Men aged 35-54 years are now the group with the highest suicide rate.
    Understanding and addressing the factors associated with suicide in men, or working
    to limit their negative impact, will help to reduce population suicide risks. Key factors
    include depression, especially when it is untreated or undiagnosed, alcohol or drug
    misuse, unemployment, family and relationship problems including marital breakup
    and divorce, social isolation and low self-esteem.


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