To coincide with Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, the Government has published its long-awaited National Suicide Prevention Strategy. The Strategy, published 11 years since the last, delivers “a firm commitment to see the number of suicides in England decrease within two and a half years at the very latest.”
At a time when we know that the suicide rate in England is as high as it was 20 years ago, we welcome the ambition as set out in the strategy, with over 100 actions, as well as its focus on a cross-governmental and cross-sector approach.
We particularly welcome the recognition of “services and support offered by the VCSE and social care sector…[which] play an important role in suicide prevention.” As the only national representative organisation for VCSE providers of mental health and wellbeing services, we know that this sector is an essential component of the mental health support system, delivering preventative, early-intervention, and crises services to improve mental health and wellbeing and prevent suicide.
The strategy includes measures to support specific “priority” groups of the population, including those that are marginalised and may be more at risk of suicide to ensure support is appropriate, responsive, and personalised – these include children and young people, middle-aged men, pregnant women, new mothers, and more. Oftentimes, it is the VCSE sector, in the heart of our communities, that can form and build relationships with those most at risk to support them through their mental health care and support pathway, and ensure they are supported whether it’s in a hospital, community-based setting, school, or in their own home.
With the recognition that there are links between “suicide and social determinants of health such as housing, poverty, employment and education,” we welcome the focus on addressing the risk factors associated with these including physical illness, financial difficulty and economic adversity, substance misuse, and domestic abuse. However, it would be remiss of us to not recognise the impact of national policies and concerning gaps in support that have an impact on a person’s mental health and wellbeing and on social determinants including the cost-of-living crisis, social security system, hostile environment, and lack of legal routes to asylum.
Whilst it’s promising to see so much of the abovementioned and there are a lot of positives to take away from this Strategy, it’s important that there is sufficient funding to ensure the measures outlined to prevent suicide can be effective, especially for the VCSE sector which has a crucial role in delivering life-saving support to those who need it most. Last month, the Government announced a Suicide Prevention Fund for the sector of £10m but, unfortunately, this is just not enough to make any difference.
We know that suicide is preventable and the VCSE sector aims to reach a point where not a single life is lost to suicide. The Association will continue to work with Government departments, Local Authorities, NHS, and key agencies to support the delivery of this strategy and hope the upcoming Autumn Statement from the Chancellor will offer further investment in our vital mental health services to achieve our joint ambitions.