Suicide in the UK: questioning ourselves

Suicide rates in the UK are on the rise. According to The Lancet , in a blog whose title I borrow here, suicide rates for 2011 show an increase of  437 deaths compared to the year before. The Lancet blog cited figures from the Office of National Statistics. Their main findings are as follows:

  1.  In 2011 there were 6,045 suicides in people aged 15 and over in the UK, an increase of 437 compared with 2010.
  2. The UK suicide rate increased significantly between 2010 and 2011, from 11.1 to 11.8 deaths per 100,000 population.
  3. There were 4,552 male suicides in 2011 (a rate of 18.2 suicides per 100,000 population) and 1,493 female suicides (5.6 per 100,000 population).
  4. The highest suicide rate was in males aged 30 to 44 (23.5 deaths per 100,000 population in 2011).
  5. The suicide rate in males aged 45 to 59 increased significantly between 2007 and 2011 (22.2 deaths per 100,000 population in 2011).
  6. Female suicide rates were highest in 45 to 59-year-olds in 2011 (7.3 deaths per 100,000 population)

What’s alarming about this is that it supports anecdotal observations by a number of people, including Railway Chaplains. Last year, I began to notice that barely a week went by without a major train delay on the train line in my area. Sometimes it was just the usual technical hiccups, but there were a few weeks towards the end of winter when they announced that a person was under a train regularly. When Channel 4’s Jon Snow was delayed on a train on my line for that very reason, he blogged about it. (Another good blog on the topic is this one by Owen Jones from December last year)

One day, when my station was shut temporarily after someone jumped, there were some lovely Samaritans there handing out numbers for people to call for counselling. I spoke to one of the volunteers, who told me that the previous Friday alone across the London network there were 5 suicides. I later contacted the Railway Chaplain for the area, who told me that though the numbers for railway suicides aren’t collated offcially, he had begun to track the numbers himself and was alarmed at the rise.  In terms of the railways at least, TFL and the Samaritans have a project to tackle the issue, but as the Lancet blog points out, these worrying figures require a holistic policy response.

The Railway Chaplain confirmed the ONS findings that the victims are mostly men. On the railways, the tragedy is compounded because the emergency crews who have to clean up are affected by it, as are the train drivers, and anyone who sees the person jump, not to mention the person’s family and friends.

I remember arriving at my station one evening just as people came streaming up the stairs away from the platform. Many were crying, grown men were shaking. Someone had jumped, the police had been called, the train had hit the person and no one knew what to do.

Much like the economy, there is a lag with statistics. I worry that the statistics for 2012 may be worse still.

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