It is now over a year since (then) Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt launched an initiative to reduce suicide, backed up by £25m of taxpayers funds, and followed by the appointment of a minister for suicide prevention. The initiative had an ambitious target of ‘Zero deaths by suicide’ for any patients under the care of the NHS.
It’s a good time to look at what has happened since then.
The concept of zero suicide was inspired by a Detroit based programme of screening every patient (not just those with mental health issues) for suicide risk, and tailoring care and support appropriately. Results were remarkable. The suicide rate among patients fell by 75% within four years and by 2008, they eliminated all suicides among people in their care.
In the U.K., the ‘Zero Suicide Alliance’ has been formed from a grouping of NHS Trusts, and other organisations committed to suicide prevention (Locally, the Lancashire NHS Clinical Commissioning Group and Blackpool NHS Trust are partners).
The Alliance believes that no death by suicide should be regarded as either acceptable or inevitable. Every single suicide is a tragedy because it is another person who either felt unable to ask for help or did not know how to access it. The Zero Suicide Alliance aims to change that, embedding best practice throughout the country and raising the public awareness of this often taboo subject.
A key part of this initiative is to provide free suicide prevention training which is available to anyone. The Alliance aim to encourage one million people to complete the suicide prevention training, which can be accessed from the Zero Suicide Alliance website (zerosuicidealliance.com).
Each person completing the training will be provided with the skills they need to approach situations where they may encounter someone with suicidal thoughts. They will also be supported to better understand and be able to help anyone expressing suicidal thoughts or behaviours. It means for every person that undertakes the training, everyone they encounter has a better chance of getting the right support, either through the NHS, Private Counselling and Psychotherapy services, or the voluntary sector and making a real difference towards eliminating suicide.
Many believe an aim to reach zero suicide within the UK is over-ambitious. But the renewed focus and commitment to what is often a taboo subject, is very welcome. Suicide remains, for example, the biggest cause of death in men aged 15 to 49.