Figures released in February by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicate that suicide rates, which had fallen consistently since 1981, are now at their highest in over a decade. It is primarily male suicides which have increased.
The figures for 2013 give a total of 6,233 deaths by suicide, 252 more than in 2012.
Suicide rates are highest in areas of high unemployment, with the north-east of England having the highest rate and London the lowest. Older males are now the most at risk, with 45-59 year olds having the highest rate.
The link between the welfare “reforms” and increased suicide risk has been highlighted by Mind, amongst other organisations. The charity has found that people with mental illnesses are having their benefits cut more than those with other kinds of illnesses.
There has been growing concern regarding how benefits are administered in relation to vulnerable individuals and last year, revelations that the Department for Work and Pensions had internally investigated 60 suicides related to benefit changes led to calls for greater accountabilty and transparency.
As an organisation, Mind is supportive of those with mental health problems being helped into work. But they find that often people are pushed before they are properly well. Research published last year by Mind found that people with mental illness were having their benefits cut more than people with other illnesses.
Most of the telephone calls to Mind’s national helpline are from those wanting to talk about suicide and self-harm, followed by advice on support services, mainly advocacy and welfare benefits.
Kauppinen, who has worked at Mind for 10 years, said that the team used to help people with mental health problems remain stable. But she said they have seen more clients in crisis in recent years.
“We see people in crisis every week,” she said. “I started here in 2005, but when it came to 2010-11, it became crisis work rather than having people just stay where they are.”
Tom Pollard, policy and campaigns manager at Mind, said:
“Pressurising people by threatening to stop their benefits causes a great deal of financial problems and emotional distress, with some people attempting to take their own lives as a result.”
“While the right type of employment can be beneficial to wellbeing, the support offered to those on mandatory back-to-work schemes such as the Work Programme is far too generic to effectively help people with mental health problems move towards employment. We need to see an overhaul of the system with more tailored specialised support and less focus on sanctioning.”
Kauppinen added: “There is very limited mental health awareness from people assessing clients in the new Work Programme. They find it very difficult to ask questions and you can see that the assessors are awkward. It takes a long time to train someone in mental health awareness.”
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please contact the Samaritans, their number is: 08457 90 90 90.
Benefits and suicide: “You have to be strong to ask for help” – the Guardian.