'Worrying trend' as data show male suicide rate highest in twenty years

The rate of male suicide in England and Wales last year reached its highest level for two decades, according to new figures.

Men accounted for three-quarters of suicide deaths registered in 2019, making up 4,303 of the 5,691 deaths by suicide.

Based on the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, that puts the rate of male suicides at 16.9 deaths per 100,000 - the highest since 2000.

The figures show no drop in the rate of male suicide since the year before either, with the rate in line with that of 2018.

Men aged 45 to 49 had the highest age-specific suicide rate at 25.5 deaths per 100,000.

The highest rate among women was for 50 to 54-year-olds, at 7.4 deaths per 100,000.

But the ONS warned that the suicide rate among women aged 10 to 24-year-old had also increased "significantly" since 2012 to its highest level, with 3.1 deaths per 100,000 females in that age group.

The overall suicide rate for women in 2019 was 5.3 deaths per 100,000 - the highest since 2004.

Simon Gunning, CEO of Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), said though society has become "more caring and tolerant around mental health", more support is still needed.

"Things have improved a lot," he said, but added: "It almost feels like a wave and there's no inevitability that this wave will get bigger but we need to do whatever we can to stop it."

Mr Gunning told ITV News we have to "watch out" for those demonstrated to be at "growing risk" from the latest reports. Including "men in their 40s - especially those a lower end of socio-economic spectrum" and "younger people in the 16-24 age group, and women under 21-years-old".

The Duke of Cambridge meeting with volunteers for charity CALM in 2018. Credit: PA

The potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic

Provisional data published by the ONS suggested there had been 845 registered deaths by suicide during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic between April and June 2020.

At a rate of 6.9 suicides per 100,000 people, the ONS said the low number was not necessarily a sign of improvement but likely due to inquests being delayed because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

It warned: "The lower number of deaths registered caused by suicide in quarter two of 2020 should be interpreted with caution; this likely reflects delays to inquests because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the coroner’s service."

Due to the time taken to hold an inquest, around five months, the ONS said it did not currently know the total number of suicides that occurred during the height of the pandemic.

Caution over what evidence we have so far of the impact of the pandemic is something CALM CEO Simon Gunning also stressed.

He told ITV News: "The real worry for CALM is that we saw in 2008, with the financial crash, a distinct increase in the suicide rate among men in their 40s. What we have to do now is ensure that isn't repeated with the potential impact of Covid."

Mr Gunning added that during the coronavirus crisis the charity's helpline and seen a 35-40% increase in the number of calls it was receiving.

He said: "One thing that stands out is people with pre-existing mental health conditions are unable to access services they have been relying on.

"We need these services back up and running," he added.

"Across board have seen a heightening of national levels of anxiety. Clearly people are in need of help and this can't become a forgotten casualty."

Samaritans CEO Ms Sutherland cautioned that the data for the 2020 pandemic months so far must be used "responsibly".

Ruth Sutherland from Samaritans said the figures form part of 'a worrying trend that has persisted for decades'. Credit: Samaritans

She called for "a comprehensive national real time surveillance system" to monitor and respond to suicide rates "before it’s too late, to save lives."

Ms Sutherland warned: "It is not inevitable that suicide rates will go up as a result of coronavirus, but we know that the pandemic is impacting on lots of people’s lives and exacerbating some known risk factors for suicide for some people who are already vulnerable.

"Undoubtedly, the pandemic has affected everyone in society, but Samaritans is particularly worried about three groups: people with pre-existing mental health conditions, young people who self-harm, and less well-off middle-aged men. It is essential that these groups are given the support they need before people reach crisis point. Suicide prevention must be a priority right now, so we can save lives."

Who to contact if you or someone you know needs help

  • Samaritans operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, by calling 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org

  • Mind also offer mental health support between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. You can call them on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463. There is also lots of information available on their website.

  • Campaign Against Living Miserably's (CALM) helpline and webchat are open from 5pm until midnight, 365 days a year. Call CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or chat to their trained helpline staff online. No matter who you are or what you're going through, it's free, anonymous and confidential.