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Suicide rates much higher among disabled people, new estimates show

The death rate by suicide is much higher among disabled people than those who do not have disabilities, the latest data suggests.

The highest rates of suicide were in disabled men aged between 40 and 50, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS said it is the first time rates of suicide can be estimated across groups such as the disabled, after it linked information on ethnicity, partnership status, disability status, socioeconomic status, religion, region, and armed forces status from the 2011 census with death registration data.

It said: “This analysis will have important implications for understanding the groups who are most at risk of suicide in England and Wales and the results will support suicide prevention strategies in these groups.”

The ONS said disabled people had much higher rates of suicide, with a rate of 48.36 per 100,000 people for men and 18.94 per 100,000 people for women.

This compares with a rate of 15.88 per 100,00 people in non-disabled men and 4.47 per 100,000 people in non-disabled women.

The census question asked whether someone’s day-to-day activities were limited because of a health problem or disability which had lasted or was expected to last at least 12 months, and included issues related to old age.

The ONS said that when other factors were taken into account, the risk of suicide for disabled people remained higher “indicating that other characteristics such as socioeconomic status are not driving this difference, and disability status itself is independently associated with the risk of dying by suicide”.

Overall, the highest rates of suicide were seen in men across all ages, with the highest in those aged 40 to 50 years.

In this age bracket, the highest rates of suicide were in disabled people, those who had never worked or were in long-term unemployment, or had never been married or been in a civil partnership.

For women, the rates of suicide were highest in 45 to 50-year-olds but remained lower than men across all age groups, the ONS said.

People who described themselves as in a partnership – either married or in a registered same-sex civil partnership – had the lowest rates of suicide with  12.85 per 100,000 people for men and 4.17 per 100,000 people for women,

The ONS said that when socioeconomic status was considered, the highest rates of suicide were seen in people who had never worked or were long-term unemployed, at a rate of 37.14 per 100,000 people for men and 12.01 per 100,000 people for women.

Rates of suicide were not found to vary much between regions for men or women, the ONS added.

When it came to ethnicity, estimated rates of suicide were highest in white people (21.03 per 100,000 people for men and 6.79 per 100,000 people for women), and mixed or multiple ethnic groups (23.56 per 100,000 people in men and 9.57 per 100,000 in women).

Estimated rates of suicide were lowest for the Arab group with a rate of 3.75 per 100,000 people for men and 2.54 per 100,000 people for women.

People who reported belonging to any religious group generally had lower rates of suicide, compared with people who reported having no religion, the ONS said.

The lowest rates of suicide were among Muslims, with 5.14 per 100,000 people for men and 2.15 per 100,000 people for women.

The ONS said the rate was highest in the Buddhist group, at 26.58 per 100,000 people for men and 8.88 per 100,000 people for women.

The rate of suicide was estimated to be lower for serving members of the armed forces compared with people who were not members.

The ONS said it does not yet have sufficient data to replicate its analysis using suicides since the date of Census 2021, but it will carry out further work using the latest census data to update its results.

For anyone who needs help, Samaritans can be contacted for free on 116 123, emailed at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.