• Suicide rate among 45-59-year-old men highest since 1986
• Government to fund new research into suicide prevention
Ministers expressed concern at a significant rise in the UK suicide rate, as the government in Westminster prepared to announce new contracts for research into how mental health services might prevent people from taking their own life. The Welsh assembly government effectively blamed the faltering economy for the increase.
The male suicide rate in 2011 was the highest since 2002, and among 45-59-year-old men the highest since 1986, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). In all, 6,045 suicides were recorded in the UK among people aged 15 and over. The suicide rate was 11.8 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest since 2004.
For men, the suicide rate was 18.2 per 100,000 population. The rate was highest among males aged 30 to 44, at 23.5 per 100,000. Among 45-59-year-old men the figure was 22.2 per 100,000.
Female suicides rose to 1,493, or 5.6 per 100,000. Suicides among 15- to 29-year-old females rose from 2.9 per 100,000 in 2007 to 4.2 per 100,000.
In England the suicide rate was 10.4 deaths per 100,000; highest in the north-east, at 12.9, and lowest in London, at 8.9. In Wales the suicide rate was 13.9, up from 10.7 in 2009.
Norman Lamb, the care services minister in England, said the increases must be tackled head on. “Even one life taken by suicide is one too many,” he said.
Next month his department will award research contracts worth £1.5m to develop new initiatives as part of a “refreshed” suicide prevention strategy.
In Wales, the assembly government, which has its own action plan, said: “It had always been feared rates might rise owing to the economic downturn and increases in the rate of unemployment. Sadly this prediction proved correct, despite action to try to mitigate the effects.”
Welsh suicide rates were generally comparable with north-east and north-west England, and slightly lower than in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Cardiff government said.
Stephen Platt, a trustee for the Samaritans and professor of health policy research at Edinburgh University, said: “Samaritans research shows that disadvantaged men in midlife today are facing a perfect storm of challenges: unemployment, deprivation, social isolation, changing definitions of what it is to be a man, alcohol misuse, labour market and demographic changes that have had a dramatic effect on their work, relationships and very identity.”
Roger Kingerlee, a clinical psychologist at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS foundation trust, said men might not have the “emotional repertoire” to deal with crises. “There is some evidence that after a life event like separation or divorce, men are more likely to be at risk of suicidal ideation or suicide.”
Many men were not fully aware about “really good help available”, Kingerlee said. “We know that medication can help. We know that talking therapies can be really helpful and effective with guys.” Men’s social networks were often less supportive, he said.
The ONS accepts that some increases could be down to changes in statistical recording and death registration. Coroners in England and Wales are now giving more narrative verdicts, making causes of death more difficult to identify. Other changes in Scotland have made statisticians cautious about comparisons.
In 2011 there were 889 suicides under the new rules and 772 under the old ones. In Northern Ireland there were 289 suicides in 2011, down from 313 in 2010.