To mark World Suicide Prevention Day, Samaritans has published its Annual Suicide Statistics Report. This pulls together the latest available suicide data across the UK, England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland to summarise the most recent trends.
Last week, it was announced* that suicide rates in the UK rose for the first time in five years. This includes an increase in young people and the highest suicide rates on record for women under 25 years old.
As self-harm is a strong predictor of future suicide risk, the leading suicide prevention charity is focusing more attention on understanding the rise in self-harm among young people. We need to better understand the link between self-harm and suicide to be able to support those who self-harm. Samaritans’ Annual Suicide Statistics Report explains why the increase in self-harm among young people over the last 15 years is a major concern:
- Self-harm is much more common among young people than other age groups, and particularly young women. More than a quarter of women aged 16-24 have self-harmed at some point.
- Self-harm is a sign of serious emotional distress and while most people who self-harm will not go on to take their own life, longer term self-harm is associated with developing thoughts of suicide.
- The increase in self-harm among young people may lead to self-harm being seen as the usual response to struggling for this group, and becoming a long-term response to emotional distress.
- Young people (aged 16–34) are less likely to have contact with health services following self-harm than older people so may not be getting support they need.
Samaritans is launching a new policy and research programme which aims to improve understanding around self-harm and the support available to people who self-harm. The charity will be carrying out research directly with young people who have self-harmed and working closely with policy makers to address the link between self-harm and suicide.
Jacqui Morrissey, Assistant Director of Research and Influencing, Samaritans comments:
The introduction of self-harm to the national suicide prevention strategy was a positive step in the right direction and we’re pleased to see self-harming in young people recognised as a priority this year; however, the government still lacks a clear plan on how to reach those who self-harm, particularly young people and those who aren’t engaged with health services.
The increase in self-harm amongst young people is extremely worrying and we need a better understanding of what’s causing this trend and how we reverse it. We also need more evidence on the link between self-harm and suicide, on effective ways to prevent self-harm, and how best to support those who self-harm. We will seek to address these evidence gaps with our own research programme. However, Samaritans is also calling for government to put in place and deliver ambitious and comprehensive local and national plans which prioritise initiatives to reduce rates of self-harm. Such initiatives must be properly resourced and available for everyone who needs them, leading to an increase in effective clinical and community services specifically designed for people who self-harm. Our report published earlier this year found that whilst many local suicide prevention plans in England included actions to prevent self-harm, only half were delivering these actions.
Together, we need to ensure young people are aware of healthy coping mechanisms when they are struggling. Samaritans also wants to reduce the stigma around self-harm, so it’s not seen as the usual response to struggling, and to encourage people to seek help. Suicide prevention is everyone’s business and by addressing risk factors, such as self-harm, we can stop suicide rates from continuing to increase.
 S. McManus et al., “Mental Health and Wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014.,” no. Generic (2016), http://digital.nhs.uk/media/32987/APMS-2014-Full-Report/pdf/Mental_health_and_wellbeing_in_England_full_report.
2 E. Townsend et al., “Uncovering Key Patterns in Self-Harm in Adolescents: Sequence Analysis Using the Card Sort Task for Self-Harm (CaTS),” Journal of Affective Disorders 206 (2016): 161–168.
3 Sally McManus et al., “Prevalence of Non-Suicidal Self-Harm and Service Contact in England, 2000–14: Repeated Cross-Sectional Surveys of the General Population,” The Lancet Psychiatry 6, no. 7 (July 1, 2019): 573–81, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30188-9.