Amidst a growing mental health crisis for young people, we need a different approach Paula Sherriff - Shadow Minister for Mental Health
Paula Sherriff - Shadow Minister for Mental Health

World Suicide Prevention Day is a reminder that this issue remains one of the major public health challenges facing the world: as in every previous year, suicide has been among the top 20 leading causes of death across the globe.

It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, each one not just a tragedy itself but a lost partner, child, parent, friend or colleague. For every suicide, many more consider or attempt it. More must be done to prevent suicide and World Suicide Prevention Day reminds us that we can all play a part.

We can raise awareness about the issue, educate ourselves and others about the causes and warning signs, show compassion and care for anyone showing signs of distress, and question the stigma associated with suicide and mental health problems.

We all have a role to play, not just as individuals but through society and its institutions. Many of the charities and organisations working in the field have done outstanding work, and we can see some signs of progress.

ONS figures last week showed that the suicide rate among men, who have always been most vulnerable and still make up a large majority of suicides, has fallen. As the Samaritans have concluded, that is likely thanks, at least in part, to sustained suicide prevention efforts aimed at men, encouraging them to talk about the way that they’re feeling, open up, and seek help when they need it.

However, the challenge remains serious and progress has not been uniform. The growing number of teen suicides across genders is deeply alarming, and female rates have actually worsened, with suicide among young women at its highest level since records began.

This trend has been seen in mental health wards too, with a report by Agenda revealing there were nine self-inflicted deaths of young women and girls under 20 over a seven year period. Hospitals are the places where girls with the most severe forms of mental illness should expect care, support and protection, and not be at further risk.

There are warning signs that these figures point to a growing mental health crisis for young people in particular, with specific factors also affecting women. It is manifested in the recent explosion in cases of self-harm: one in four girls aged 14, and 110,000 children in total, self-harmed in the last year, according to the Children’s Society. In addition, the number of girls under the age of 18 being treated in hospital in England after self-harming has nearly doubled compared with 20 years ago.

Yet the Government’s Children and Young People’s Mental Health Green Paper this year did little to address these specific needs, and mental health services for young people and children in particular are far from the promised ‘parity’. A third of NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups are not meeting their projected spend on Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services, children in crisis are being turned away from essential services and young people are being forced to travel miles from home for treatment. Those that are able to access services do so often because they have had to exaggerate the severity of their condition, on the advice of their GP, or having waited as long as eighteen months to get treatment.

That is why we have been advocating a different approach: ring-fencing mental health budgets to be spent on mental health services, increasing the proportion of mental health budgets spent on support for children and young people, offering a school-based counselling service for pupils in every secondary school, enforcing the ban on children being treated on adult mental health wards, ending inappropriate ‘out of area’ mental health placements entirely, and focusing on the early intervention that can tackle problems before they become severe. The next Labour Government will also deliver a women’s mental health strategy to tackle the risk factors unique to women.

This year is the first World Suicide Day with the theme “Working Together to Prevent Suicide”, chosen because it highlights the most essential important thing for effective suicide prevention – collaboration.

That too is our vision, for our public services, our society, and in tackling this great challenge that we face, and can meet – together.


Paula Sherriff MP is Labour’s shadow minister for mental health

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