Here’s a chilling bit of news. For years we’ve been congratulating ourselves on a steady reduction in suicide rates. Not any more.
In 2008, 5,706 people killed themselves in the UK, an average of almost 16 deliberate deaths a day. After close to a decade of annual declines, recession triggered a sharp spike in suicide. Recent figures published in The Lancet show that the UK suicide rate increased 8% between 2007 and 2009. The latest Office for National Statistics figures suggest a similar rise.
The problem is predominantly a male one, with three times as many men killing themselves as women. It is also a trend not confined to the UK. Suicide rates have spiked across Europe since 2008, with Greece, in particular, experiencing staggering increases. 2010 saw a 25% rise in suicide, according to the Greek parliament. In October, the country’s health minister warned that early signs suggest a further 40% jump in 2011.
As a mental health professional, I find this news quite distressing. If psychiatry has a primary goal, surely it must be the prevention of suicide (okay, that’s a bit of an over-simplification for rhetorical purposes, but it would certainly be one of the foremost goals.) Over time we’ve been comforting ourselves that, whatever the flaws of mental health services, less and less people were being driven to end their lives. That reassured us that we must be doing something right. We don’t have that reassurance any more.
People are seeing their hopes and their lives dashed to pieces, and some of them are taking an exit route. Meanwhile, the mental health services tasked to keep them safe are seeing their resources diminish.
As we move deeper into the Not So Big Society, we may well come to see more of this sort of headline, and a whole new way of measuring the state we’re in.
First, back in 2008, we measured it as a series of numbers cascading across the trading floors of stock exchanges.
Then we started measuring it in terms of lengthening unemployment lines, business closures, cuts to public services.
The next phase is when we start measuring it in terms of dead people.
There’s going to be more Baby Ps as child protection concerns don’t get addressed by increasingly overstretched social services departments.
There’s going to be more elderly people dying in their own filth on overcrowded, understaffed hospital wards.
There’s probably going to be repeats of the August riots. Mental Health Cop is more qualified to comment on this than me, but I wonder if, with police numbers diminishing, the cops may be more likely to need to use baton rounds and CS gas in order to quell the chaos, with all that entails in terms of risks of death or injury.
I’ve previously wondered if in a couple of years we’re going to have the shock of hearing that life expectancies have fallen for the first time in living memory. This news brings us one step closer to that.