Stigma of mental health – 4,500 kill themselves every year

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Nation special report
ALIKE other countries, Britain is also a nation where depression, isolation and other factors compel disappointed people to commit suicide. This is the reason a full-fledged minister for suicide prevention has been appointed in England by the prime minister as the government hosts the first ever global mental health summit.

Theresa May said the appointment of Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price to the new role will help tackle the stigma surrounding suicide. While suicide rates are falling, 4,500 people take their own lives every year. The appointment comes as ministers and officials from more than 50 countries assemble in London for the summit. Wednesday’s meeting – hosted by Health Secretary Matt Hancock and attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – coincides with World Mental Health Day.

The government has also promised more support in schools, bringing in new mental health support teams and offering help in measuring students’ health, including their mental wellbeing.

Theresa May said: “We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence and prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives.” Alongside the announcement, the prime minister pledged £1.8m to the Samaritans so the charity can continue providing its free helpline for the next four years.

Hannah Lewis – who campaigns for improvements to mental health services having suffered from panic attacks, anxiety and suicidal thoughts as a teenager – said that it can be a year before someone who is referred for help actually begins treatment.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Mental health is known to deteriorate when you are left without help, and you can only imagine how things got worse with me.”

Ms Lewis welcomed the government’s announcement – especially the proposals to bring more awareness of mental health into schools – but she added: “More joined-up working at schools and early intervention is great, but we need to make sure then there are sufficient services to be signposted to.”

Mrs Doyle-Price, who has been an MP since 2010, has now become the minister for mental health, inequalities and suicide prevention. As health is devolved separately to the UK’s four nations, her role will include making sure each local area in England has effective plans to stop unnecessary deaths and to look into how technology could help identify those at risk.

She said she understood the tragic, devastating and long-lasting effect of suicide on families, having met some of those bereaved.”It’s these people who need to be at the heart of what we do,” she added.

Manchester University’s Prof Louis Appleby, one of the country’s leading experts on suicide, said having a minister for suicide prevention would “open doors” and make it easier to have conversations about the role such things as benefits and online gambling have in suicidal people’s lives.

Theresa May announced that the Samaritans’ helpline will remain free for the next four years with support from the government today as she marked World Mental Health Day. New government funding – up to £1.8 million – will help ensure the charity can continue to provide immediate and lifesaving support to everyone who needs it, 24 hours a day. Samaritans’ 20,000 volunteers are available at any time for anyone who is struggling to cope. We respond to more than five million requests for help a year.

The Minister will lead a new national effort on suicide prevention, bringing together a ministerial taskforce and working with national and local government, experts in suicide and self-harm prevention, charities, clinicians and those personally affected by suicide. She will also ensure every local area has an effective suicide prevention plan in place, and look at how the latest technology can be used to identify those most at risk.

Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14. The Prime Minister has made a series of further announcements today on children and young people’s mental health: Recruitment has now begun for new mental health support teams who will work with schools to ensure young people with mental health issues get the help they need – trainees will begin studying in January and join schools across England next year

Starting in 2019, the government will publish a ‘State of the Nation’ report every year on World Mental Health Day, highlighting the trends and issues in young people’s mental well-being – the first time children’s mental health will be reported in this way, alongside their physical health and academic attainment.

The government will provide tools to help schools measure their students’ health, including their mental wellbeing – building on the commitment to make education in mental health and resilience a compulsory part of the curriculum.