Press release: Samaritans' comment on the 2011 Office for National Statistics suicide figures

Stephen PlattCommenting on the 2011 Office for National Statistics (ONS) suicide figures released today, Stephen Platt, Samaritans’ Trustee and Professor of Health Policy Research at the University of Edinburgh, said:
“It’s worrying to see that the suicide rate for the UK appears to be at its highest since 2004 and that there seems to have been a significant increase from 2010 to 2011 from 11.1 to 11.8 per 100,000. It may be that the impact of the economic downturn is now being seen in the suicide rate. However, it is important for us to be mindful of several changes in the way the suicide statistics were calculated in 2011*.  
"The most important issue raised by these figures is the urgent need to tackle the many difficulties faced by men in their middle years. The ONS has specifically referenced Samaritans' report on this crucial area. The research investigated why disadvantaged men in this age group are especially vulnerable to suicide. The rate for men aged 30-44 of 23.5 deaths per 100,000 remains the highest of all groups, and the rate for men aged 45-59 has increased  significantly over recent years, with the 2011 rate of  22.2 being almost as high as for those aged 30-44. Meanwhile the suicide rate for younger men aged 15-29 has decreased over the past decade and has remained relatively stable since 2006.

“Suicide is a social, as well as mental health, issue. Samaritans research shows that disadvantaged men in mid-life today are facing a perfect storm of challenges - unemployment, deprivation, social isolation, changing definitions of what it is to be a man, alcohol misuse, labour market and demographic changes have had a dramatic effect on their work, relationships and very identity.  

“We also found that men judge themselves against a gold standard of masculinity set by society and when they can't meet these expectations they can feel worthless, unvalued, a deep sense of shame and that there is no reason for them to live.  

“Employment is still central to the masculine role, so the increase in unemployment experienced by this group of men due to the decline of heavy industries as well as in the context of the economic downturn may be particularly devastating. Unemployment can also contribute to relationship strain and breakdown and social isolation for men.

“It is high time that national suicide prevention strategies address suicide as a health and social inequality at both national and local levels.
“Samaritans has a number of concerns about suicide data, in particular the ways in which the statistics are compiled and presented, which can differ between countries, as can the definition of suicide, for example, suicide is defined more narrowly in the Republic of Ireland than in the countries of the United Kingdom (UK).  Even within the UK, the way the suicide rates are calculated and published varies between the four home nations.”

Notes to Editors

Samaritans has recently launched a campaign "We’re in your corner" targeting men at risk of suicide. As part of this we commissioned five social scientists to explore why these men take their own lives. This research is published in "Men and suicide: Why it’s a social issue".  

* In 2011 the ONS adopted a change in the classification of deaths in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) new coding rules, which has potential to impact upon suicide data, affecting deaths registered as an event of undetermined intent which are included in the National Statistics suicide definition. Also, improvements to the process for coding narrative verdicts were made, which also may have affected the overall suicide rate. Therefore, as advised by the ONS, figures and apparent increases should be treated with caution when making comparisons with previous years’ data.

The 2011 suicide statistics can be found on the ONS website: