Suicide prevention could be taught in schools in England amid concern for young people’s mental health

The government has pledged to reverse rising suicide and self-harm rates among young people. Credit: Getty Images
The government has pledged to reverse rising suicide and self-harm rates among young people. Credit: Getty Images

Ministers have promised to launch a series of new initiatives aimed at reducing suicide rates in England, amid concerns over rising deaths and self-harm amongst children and young people.

The government’s new National Suicide Prevention Strategy, published on Monday (11 September), delivers “a firm commitment” to ensuring the number of suicides in England decrease within the next two and a half years, after figures showed that reductions in deaths by self-harm have stalled since 2018.

There is a particular focus on addressing suicide amongst children in the newly-released plan, as, despite being low overall, rates of suicide among younger demographics have increased more than among older demographics in recent years. One of the ideas to help combat this is the introduction of a national alert system, which would be used to highlight new methods of suicide to schools - offering instructions on how to safeguard people who could be affected.

The Department for Education (DfE) is also going to examine whether to introduce suicide and self-harm prevention into the school curriculum, and half of schools in England will have mental health supports teams in place by April 2025. Meanwhile, all state schools will be offered government funding to train a senior mental health lead by 2025.

“While overall the current suicide rate is not significantly higher than in 2012, the rate is not falling,” the government document says. “We must do all we can to prevent more suicides, reduce suicide rates, and save many more lives.”

The new National Suicide Prevention Strategy pledges to provide “tailored and targeted support” to “priority” groups who are at a higher risk of suicide, and also vows to adopt a “no wrong door” approach, which means people who seek help for suicidal thoughts will receive support no matter which service they initially access.

In addition to children and younger people, “priority” groups include middle-aged men, those who have self-harmed, mental health service users, autistic people, pregnant women and new mothers, and those “in contact with the justice system”. Others considered to be at a higher risk, according to the government document, include gambling addicts, victims of domestic abuse, substance addicts, people in financial difficulties, people who have a physical illness, and those who are isolated or lonely.

Some of the ideas proposed which could help these people include:

  • Rolling out crisis text lines in all areas of England

  • Greater mental health support for bereaved people and families

  • More support for bespoke services to help middle-aged men, including support and sport groups

  • Encouraging male-dominated industries such as construction and manufacturing to take extra steps to support workers

  • Ensuring pregnant women and new mothers get support at “every contact” with health professionals, who will be required to update a risk assessment at each appointment

Medical experts are also reviewing whether to reduce the number of paracetamol people can buy in shops, and a consultation will be launched on a potential tax for betting companies - in order to fund “research, education and treatment of gambling harms”.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay, said: “Too many people are still affected by the tragedy of suicide, which is so often preventable. This national cross-government strategy details over 100 actions we’ll take to ensure anyone experiencing the turmoil of a crisis has access to the urgent support they need.

“It’s imperative we support people earlier to prevent them reaching the lowest point, while tackling emerging methods of suicide, and eradicating harmful material online. We’re working at pace to achieve this, and we continue to invest billions of pounds to transform and improve our nation’s mental health services and, most importantly, save lives.”

Maria Caulfield, the mental health minister, added: “The impact of suicide on individuals and loved ones is devastating. This strategy will bolster the work this government is already undertaking to reduce the number of suicides, and help us to intervene where needed as early as possible.”

In the UK, anyone can contact Samaritans for free on 116 123 - at any time on any day. The number will not show up on your phone bill, and you do not need credit to call. Alternatively, you can visit the Samaritans website for more information, where help and support is also available.