The latest statistics for Wales show that 360 people took their own life in 2017. 77% of these were men and 23% were women. The male suicide rate is more than three times higher than the female rate.
In Wales, suicide is a major public health issue but significantly, it’s also a major inequality issue. Living in poverty or being socially isolated increases an individual’s risk of suicidal behaviour. Many of those who work with high-risk groups in Wales are acutely aware of the situation and are eager to reach out and help those who are struggling to cope. At Samaritans, we are proud to work with these partners to try and reach high-risk groups and raise awareness of the risk factors connected with suicidal behaviour.
Effective suicide prevention in Wales relies on multi-agency and cross-governmental action and the complex nature of suicide means that it in order to address it, action needs to be taken by a range of organisations and agencies. Our work on socioeconomic disadvantage and suicide in 2018 has highlighted this more than ever before. People experiencing emotional distress and suicidal behaviour continue to present at clinical settings such as A&E or their local GP surgery. However, our work with partners and stakeholders, shows that frequently, people present in community settings such as foodbanks, jobcentres and banks, and to frontline services, such as Police and Fire and Rescue. Only 1 in 3 people who die by suicide have been in contact with mental health services in the year before their death. It is crucial we provide basic training to staff who are often supporting the most vulnerable people in our society. It is not necessary to be an expert in suicide prevention to be able to respond compassionately to distress and make a difference. Suicide prevention training should form a major part of local suicide prevention and it is one of the most effective ways in which we can reach the many people experiencing emotional distress in Wales.
Our work over the last two years has focused specifically on high-risk groups, such as young people, men, those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage and those in the criminal justice system. We influence both policy and practice and provide a direct service to the public in a range of ways including through our telephone service and outreach into communities. We could not achieve this without our wonderful volunteers who freely give so much time and dedication to our organisation. In Wales, we have a strong team of 600 volunteers who manage and deliver our emotional support service and reach out in to their local communities. This kind of local expertise is vital and we need to act at community level to make sure the most effective ways of reducing suicide are in place right across Wales.
Above all, we believe that suicide is preventable and there are actions we can take individually and collectively to reduce it. We hope our 2017/18 Impact Report demonstrates how important prevention and early intervention are and how we are working across Wales to make sure our message is heard. Whoever we are, as members of the public, from those involved with schools, to those involved with prisons, from job centres to A&E, we all have a responsibility to do all we can to prevent suicide. Sometimes this can be as simple as showing compassion to those experiencing distress. Compassion can change and save lives. We should never underestimate the power of listening and human empathy, both of which are core values of Samaritans. We must continue to encourage help-seeking behaviour. We should challenge the stigma which surrounds the expression of emotional distress. Everyone has moments in life where they struggle to cope and if given the time and space, people can often find a way through their problems.