Middle-aged, male and at highest risk of suicide

A BBC Panorama documentary shown yesterday, A Suicide in the Family, has highlighted the issue of male suicide through the personal story of BBC Correspondent, Simon Jack, whose father took his own life aged 44.

More than 6,000 people died by suicide in the UK and the Republic of Ireland in 2013, the latest year for which the Office for National Statistics has released figures.  Suicides in the UK rose by four per cent in 2013.

Middle-aged men in the UK and the Republic of Ireland are three times more likely to kill themselves than women.

“Samaritans is keen to encourage more men to reach out for help, and create a culture where they will feel more comfortable doing so.” said Joe Ferns, Samaritans’ Executive Director of Policy, Research and Development. “We hope that this programme will encourage men to talk about the issues they are struggling with. We also want to raise awareness of the valuable support available, such as Samaritans. We are here round the clock, every single day of the year for anyone who needs to talk about whatever is getting to them."

In this programme Panorama has highlighted the crucial issue of men being at greater risk of suicide.  Samaritans has been campaigning for measures to tackle the high rates of male suicide since 2010, when it launched its ‘Men on the Ropes’ campaign, specifically aimed at men. The charity has also worked to get male suicide incorporated into the national suicide prevention strategy.

Research commissioned by Samaritans in 2012, resulting in the Men and Suicide report, showed that relationship breakdown, unemployment and poverty can have a catastrophic effect on middle-aged men.

Misuse of alcohol is implicated in 65 per cent of suicides, and men in lower socio-economic groups are at ten times greater risk. Men are also less likely to seek help until they get to crisis point, and be wary of talking therapies.

ONS statistics released in February 2015 showed that male suicide rates are at their highest since 2001. Suicide rates around the country vary and can be linked to economic deprivation.

The rate for middle-aged men has now reached its highest level for more than 30 years (25.1 per 100,000 suicides of men aged 45-59).

The 2013 figures show the stark contrast between suicide rates for men and women, with an overall rate of 11.9 per 100,000, which works out as 19 per 100,000 for men and 5.1 per 100,000 for women.

Samaritans worked with the programme makers, Keo Films, to highlight the complex issues around suicide and raise awareness of the group at highest risk, middle aged men.

Joe Ferns continued: “While clearly a very sensitive subject, when handled responsibly the media can play a hugely important role in helping people understand some of the complex issues surrounding suicide. These include: the signs which may indicate a person is at risk, the kinds of problems that can lead to a person feeling suicidal, and encourage those who are struggling to reach out for help by highlighting sources of support, such as Samaritans.

A Suicide in the Family is set in the North West of England where presenter Simon Jack grew up. This region has the second highest suicide rate in England, 10.1 per 100,000 compared with 7.9 per 100,000 in London and the South East.

Within the North West there are further variations, with Blackpool recording the highest suicide rate in the UK, 13.6 per 100,000, and Manchester 11.8 per 100,000. These figures were compiled by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self Harm Prevention and published in January 2015.

BBC Correspondent and presenter of Panorama, Simon Jack, said: “Samaritans has been doing amazing work for the past 60 years and it was no surprise that they were incredibly helpful to work with while putting this documentary together. They helped me on both a personal and professional level.

“While this has been a very challenging topic to cover, there is clearly a need to tackle the significant issue of male suicide, particularly among middle-aged men. Working closely with Samaritans helped us treat this difficult topic sensitively. I hope that people who see the programme find it helpful and healing, as I did personally.”

Samaritans answered 5.23m calls for help in 2013, our highest number ever. Our volunteers are here round-the-clock, every single day of the year, to support people when they are struggling. We have 201 branches and 21,200 volunteers in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. People can contact Samaritans by phone on: 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or find the details for your local branch at www.samaritans.org.

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Notes to editors:

  • The suicide rates for the UK, England and Wales are based on the deaths from self-harm and undetermined intent, combined, for individuals over 15 years of age. Figures are for deaths of this kind which are registered in a calendar year, rather than occurring in that year.  
  • For more information please contact the press office on 020 83948300 (out of hours), 079 4380 9162 or email press@samaritans.org

Samaritans media guidelines