The Rise In Female Suicide: What Can We Do To Prevent More Deaths?
Suicide rates among women have risen by almost 10% in the past year.
In 2014, there were 831 cases of female suicide in the UK. This figure then rose to 902 deaths in 2015.
That’s 71 more mothers, daughters, sisters and grandmothers who died in the space of 12 months.
While the number might seem small in comparison to the amount of men who took their own lives – a staggering 2,997 people, down from 3,020 in 2014 – the fact that it is creeping up is a huge cause for concern.
Experts have stressed we need to be “careful” about drawing conclusions “too early” from the new figures released by The Ministry Of Justice.
We know that women’s suicide rates have gone up over the course of a year, but further insight, even into age, is not yet available.
“The concern is that this possible rise may be driven by rising rates in young women and in middle-aged women over 50,” said Professor Louis Appleby at the Centre of Mental Health and Safety, Manchester University.
“If they are aged 50 and over, this would suggest women are joining men as being most vulnerable around middle age.
“If they are young women, it fits with a concern about suicidal behaviour and mental health in general in young people at the moment.”
Papyrus, a charity focusing on the prevention of suicide among young people, has found that issues of low self-esteem as well as physical and emotional abuse appear frequently among young suicidal women.
In England, women are more likely than men to have a common mental health problem and are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
“Suicide rates have always been high in men,” Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Paul McLaren told The Huffington Post UK.
“Attempted suicide and suicidal-related thinking have both generally been higher in women.”
Alexandra Sheach, 42, has attempted suicide and has experienced suicidal thoughts. She believes more could’ve been done by the health authorities to help her during her darkest moments.
Sheach, who was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2002, explained in a blog post how she reached crisis point one night last October.
After being admitted to hospital, her wounds were bandaged up and the next day, after a visit from a mental health nurse, she was discharged – despite telling staff she “wouldn’t be safe alone”.
One week later she met with a psychiatrist and was given a reading list of material that might help her. But on reflection, she said it wasn’t enough.
She said it was her relationship status and the realisation that she was post-40 and had “nothing to look forward to for the next 40 years” which contributed to her decision to attempt to take her own life.
So, going forward, how can we prevent more lives from being lost?
Experts have criticised the lack of dedicated mental health NHS services.
Geoff Heyes, policy and campaigns manager at mental health charity Mind, told HuffPost UK: “A third of suicides are among people known to NHS mental health services and it is vital that when people do seek help, they get the support they need.
“NHS mental health services are under enormous pressure at the moment as funding cuts over recent years have come at a time of rising demand.
“As a result, many people aren’t getting the right support at the right time, so they become more unwell and may reach crisis point.”
He continued: “We know that suicides among people in touch with crisis teams have increased, as have suicides among people sent out of the local area for care, often because of bed shortages.
“It is unacceptable that the very service there to help people in crisis is unable to support people in the right way and help them to recover.”
In response to Heyes’ comments, a spokesperson for NHS England said they are looking to improve mental health services by investing more money.
“Mental health has until recently been the poor relation, but the good news is that we are now seeing a turnaround, with investment in mental health care going up markedly faster than in the past – and by a much higher percentage than other services,” the spokesperson said.
“In fact, local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) reported halfway through the last financial year that while their overall funding will have gone up by 3.7%, they will be increasing mental health spending by 5.4% – a decisive move towards parity of esteem.
“What’s more the NHS is for the first time in 25 years now introducing clear waiting times standards for mental health care.”
Beyond the NHS, there are also helplines and charities available across the UK that are dedicated to helping people who are suicidal.
“The Samaritans provide a truly valuable service,” said Dr McLaren from the Priory. “Feeling heard is really important when we are struggling with hopelessness.”
For those who believe their suicidal thoughts might be fuelled by a mental health problem, Dr McLaren also stressed the importance of seeking professional help.
“If you have a depressive illness, then please do seek treatment because it can be highly effective,” he said. “You will probably see the future differently when you do.”
Heyes from Mind added that mental health campaigns and online support groups can help people feel less isolated. “Often people struggle in silence and find it difficult to know how to ask for help,” he said.
“Overall, we are getting better at talking about mental health and campaigns like Time to Change and Rethink Mental Illness are helping to break down the stigma around talking about it.
“If we talk more openly about suicide, we can encourage people to seek help sooner and get practical and emotional support to help them cope better.”
The Mental Health Foundation echo this sentiment, and have chosen to focus on the theme of relationships through Mental Health Awareness Week, from 16-22 May.
After being discharged following her suicide attempt, Sheach surrounded herself with family.
She said that having a local drop-in centre, where she could relax and have medical staff on hand, would be very beneficial – especially as the mental health services on the Shetland Islands where she lives are limited.
“I think we sometimes just need to be with people but not have our brains picked apart – we just need to know we’re safe and not alone.
“It helps to have people around, even if they’re not saying anything.”
Having and knowing there is someone there for you, who cares about your wellbeing, plays an important role in preventing suicide.
Heyes from Mind, said: “One of the most important things you can do is to talk to them about how they feel and be there to listen.
“You may feel pressure ‘to say the right thing’, but just being there and listening in a compassionate way is vital to helping someone feel less isolated and frightened.”