Suicides among middle-aged men with mental health issues have soared by 73% since 2006, which may be attributed to a combination of alcohol, job loss and debt, according to an authoritative new report.
The statistics have been compiled by the University of Manchester’s National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness. The overall rise in suicides in men who had come into contact with the mental health services was 29%, which was of concern, but the rise among those aged 45 to 54 was much bigger.
“Our findings show that within mental health care, middle-aged men are particularly at risk,” said Prof Louis Appleby, the director of NCISH who was formerly the government’s mental health tsar and leads the national suicide prevention strategy.
“The problem is not simply that they don’t seek help – they are already under mental health care – so we have to understand better the stresses men in this age group face.”
There were 1,239 suicides among men known to have mental health issues in the last year, says the report. While there has not been a rise in the suicide rate among those in an institution, it has risen among those who are receiving care at home. There are now three times as many suicides among those treated under what are known as Crisis Resolution or Home Treatment (CR/HT) services, introduced as an alternative to in-patient admission. In 2013, there were 226 such deaths. Suicides among in-patients recently discharged have also risen.
“Our findings follow reports of fewer mental health beds in England and suggest that this has affected thesafety of home treatment for patients who might previously have been admitted,” said Appleby. “Commissioners and providers should review the safety of their acute services. In particular, admissions of acutely ill people out of area should cease as they are likely to make care planning more difficult and increase suicide risk on discharge.”
Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, said mental health services had been underfunded historically and were struggling to cope with demand. “Earlier this year, the government announced its ambition to eliminate suicides among people in touch with mental health services. Today’s report shows just how far there is to go in achieving that goal,” he said.
“No one who is in touch with services, asking for help, should reach the point of taking their own life. NHS mental health services must be able respond when people reach out, from early treatment to help prevent people becoming more unwell, to an emergency response that can provide urgent care when someone in in crisis.”
He added that it had been known for years that middle-aged men were more at risk of taking their lives. There needed to be a more proactive approach to make sure they got support at the right time.
Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, said the report painted a complex picture, pointing out that suicides among in-patients had dropped by 61% from 2003 to 2012. More people are seeking help from mental health services but more must also be done on suicide prevention.
“We must also remember that over two-thirds of people who take their own life have not been recently in contact with mental health services at all,” he said. “We must ensure that more people, whether they are in contact with mental health services or not, are able to access the right help and support when they need it.”
This article first appeared on ‘The Guardian’ on 22 July 2015.