Samaritans' comment on the 2012 Office for National Statistics suicide figures

Commenting on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suicide figures for 2012 released today, Clare Wyllie, Head of Policy and Research at Samaritans said:

“It’s encouraging to see that there was no increase in the suicide rate for 2012 from the previous year, with the overall UK rate at 11.6 per 100,000 population. However, the rates remain significantly higher than those in 2007 and so efforts to prevent suicide and support those in distress in these tough economic times remain a priority.

“The excessive risk of suicide in men in mid-life continues to be a concern. The group in the UK with the highest rate of 25.9 per 100,000 is men aged 40-44. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged 20-34, but it is also the leading cause for men aged 35-49.

The rates of suicide in men increase over the age of 35, which is why Samaritans, in partnership with Network Rail, have launched We're in Your Corner a campaign aimed at reaching men in mid-life. Within this campaign, our research Men, suicide and society identify that disadvantaged men in mid-life are at higher risk of suicide. Men in the lowest socio-economic group living in the most deprived areas are approximately 10 times more likely to die by suicide than men from higher socio-economic backgrounds, living in the most affluent areas.

“Suicide needs to be addressed as an inequality issue – an avoidable difference in health and length of life that results from being poor and disadvantaged; and which disproportionally affects men, because of the way society expects them to behave. Suicide prevention strategies should aim to reduce the inequalities in suicide risk as well as the overall suicide rate in the population.

“There have been a number of significant changes in society over the last 50 years, including gender roles, families and patterns of social relationships and the decline of traditionally male industries. Our research shows that disadvantaged men in mid-life have seen their jobs, relationships and identity, radically altered. There is a large gap between the reality of life and the masculine ideal, for this group of men. They are likely to experience multiple risk factors for suicide which taken together can have devastating consequences.

“Another key issue facing suicide prevention work is the increasing role of the internet on suicidal behaviour. Samaritans has recently joined forces with Bristol University for a groundbreaking research project, looking at the impact of the online environment on suicide. It is very apparent that people with suicidal feelings are turning to the internet for information. The full implications of this growing trend are as yet unclear. We hope this project will help us to deliver more effective practical support to people struggling to cope.”

Additional comment on the limitation of comparing suicide statistics in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Scowcroft, Research Manager at Samaritans said:

“It is important to look at long term trends in suicide rates, as the rates will fluctuate annually.

“There are differences between the rates in the UK countries. Scotland and Northern Ireland, overall, have higher rates than England, Wales and the UK as a whole. However, as indicated by the ONS, the comparison of rates between countries is difficult and should be treated with caution. This is a challenge to organisations like Samaritans whose suicide prevention efforts extend across the UK and Ireland.

“The report highlights this problem by looking at the differences in registration delays. Scotland’s processes are much quicker than those in the rest of the UK, this means that the Scottish figures are more likely to closely represent deaths which occur in a year than the other countries, making comparison difficult. ONS notes the consequence of these processes; Scotland record proportionally more deaths as undetermined intent than the rest of the UK, adding to the issue of comparability.

“Therefore, Samaritans takes great caution in making direct comparisons between the rates of individual countries, and use the data more helpfully to understand the groups who may be at comparable risk within each country to influence our work.

“As the ONS report notes, suicide figures can be complicated through the use of Narrative Verdicts by Coroners in England and Wales. This can add to the problem of comparability further, but also has implications for accurately understanding rates within countries. The work described in the report regarding the appointment of a Chief Coroner and the steps taken by ONS to improve coding mechanisms is encouraging, as Samaritans recognises this as an area of concern for our understanding of the problem of suicide.

“Samaritans believe that joint working with statistics agencies (such as ONS), coroners, the Chief Coroner and academic researchers is important in producing reliable figures which can be used to influence and prevent suicide further.”

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NB: Methods of suicide have been highlighted by the ONS statisticians. Samaritans’ media guidelines make it clear that these should be publicised as little as possible, given the risks of imitational suicide.

For more information please contact the press office on 020 83948300 (out of hours) 079 4380 9162) or email

Notes to editors

Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year. We provide a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them. Please call 116 123, email, or visit to find details of the nearest branch.