Suicide debate in the House of Commons

On 6th Feb 2013 a House of Commons debate took place on the subject of suicide.

The motion on suicide prevention was tabled by MPs from Northern Ireland's main unionist party the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), with 7 of their 8 MPs choosing to highlight the high rates of suicide and evidence of post-conflict trauma in parts of Northern Ireland, and the significance the issue of suicide has in their community.

MPs from across the UK discussed a wide range of issues including the impact of the economic situation on suicide risk and the difficulty of encouraging men to seek help and to know where they can get help from, and the work of various voluntary sector organisation such as Samaritans.

Key points from the debate:

  • an acknowledgement that the number of suicides in the UK, particularly among young people, represents a challenge for government and society;
  • the work that is being done to address the issue;
  • call for even more urgency to be shown to help reduce the number of suicides;
  • the danger posed in particular by websites which promote self-harm and suicide;
  • call upon the Government to provide adequate resource and promote digital safety for young people.

"Suicide does not have one cause – many factors combine to produce one individual tragedy [therefore] prevention too must be broad – communities, families and front-line services all have a vital role."
Professor Appleby, chair of the advisory group for the Suicide Prevention Strategy

High suicide rates in Northern Ireland

A prominent theme was the conflict in Northern Ireland and post-conflict trauma. Northern Ireland has a particularly high suicide rate compared to the rest of the UK, and some DUP members believe this is due to post-conflict trauma following the Troubles, and also the link to social deprivation in urban areas such as Belfast. This has driven the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) to invest in a regional suicide prevention strategy, 'Protect Life – A Shared Vision'. Background to the Protect Life strategy and the full evaluation (pdf)

Key facts about suicide in Northern Ireland

Suicide is one of the major causes of death in young adults in Northern Ireland, particularly in young males, and various studies have shown this to be on the rise:

  • Suicide increased by 64% between 1999 and 2008 (Transforming Your Care’ – A Review of Health & Social Care in Northern Ireland (December 2011) p89.), mostly as a result of suicides amongst young men.
  • In 2010 77% of all suicides in Northern Ireland were males, 40.5% of all suicides were 15-34 years old, and 42% were 35-54 years old (Scowcroft E, Suicide Statistics Report 2012: Data for 2008-2010, Samaritans, February 2012).
  • The economic cost of suicide in NI in 2009-10 was estimated at £436m (The Refreshed Protect LifeStrategy, June 2012).

Table 2: Suicide Rates in the UK 2010

Country Rate per 100,000: Males Rate per 100,000: Females
England 15.1 4.7
Northern Ireland 27.1 8.0
Scotland 22.1 7.2
Wales 19.3 4.6
UK 17.0 5.3

Source: Scowcroft E, Suicide Statistics Report 2012: Data for 2008-2010, Samaritans, February 2012

Online environment

With the ever-increasing influence of new media on suicidal behaviour, it was agreed that families, industry, Government and others in the public and third sector need to work together to provide support and resources. On the issue of cyber-bullying, our partnerships with facebook and Google were mentioned: facebook users can report someone they think is struggling to cope or at risk of suicide; and we have a partnership with Google where our helpline number and other contact details appear at the top of search results when people in the UK search for a number of suicide-related terms.

…good examples of the internet industry working with the charitable sector… a real step forward. Edward Timpson, Education Minister (Conservative) in reference to our facebook and Google partnerships

Health Minister Norman Lamb and Education Minister Edward Timpson spoke about giving greater priority to mental health services and helping bring together "security companies, charities and Departments to explore how to protect children and young people from harmful suicide-related content".

Shadow Health Minister Diane Abbott responded for Labour and spoke about Ed Miliband’s commitment to addressing mental illness as ‘the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age’ and to tackling the stigma associated with it, and that Labour would like to see more work done of internet safety and online bullying.

Acknowledgement of Samaritans' work

… the minister… has rightly paid tribute to the work of the Samaritans, who undoubtedly prevent a huge number of people from taking their own lives and who do tremendous work in Northern Ireland.
Lady Sylvia Hermon (Ind)

The work of the Samaritans is second to none. I want to highlight the work it has done with British Transport Police and Network Rail on the prevention of suicide on the railways. They have now identified areas that have particular problems and trained their staff to be highly vigilant. They now provide support to people who enter their railway station if they feel that there is a risk. That is a fantastic move forward.
Madeleine Moon (Labour)

I hope that as the (suicide prevention) strategy develops we will continue to work with the many wonderful organisations we have in this country… such as Samaritans. The APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) is a great start, bringing together a coalition of organisations with a wealth of experience, but it is also important that we listen to family groups that have been through this dreadful experience.
Stuart Andrew (Conservative)

‘One of the most helpful developments has been the engagement of Samaritans in A&E departments. That has really made a difference, especially in self-harm cases. Where the nursing staff might be too busy to give up time, the Samaritans might be able to provide that time and support which would be an excellent way forward.
Madeleine Moon

Further information

Related links