Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) finds that there were 5,691 suicides registered, with an age-standardised rate of 11 deaths per 100,000 population.
Around three-quarters of registered deaths in 2019 were among men (4,303 deaths), which follows a consistent trend back to the mid-1990s.
The England and Wales male suicide rate of 16.9 deaths per 100,000 is the highest since 2000 and remains in line with the rate in 2018; for females, the rate was 5.3 deaths per 100,000, consistent with 2018 and the highest since 2004.
Males aged 45 to 49 years had the highest age-specific suicide rate (25.5 deaths per 100,000 males); for females, the age group with the highest rate was 50 to 54 years at 7.4 deaths per 100,000.
Despite having a low number of deaths overall, rates among the under 25s have generally increased in recent years, particularly 10- to 24-year-old females where the rate has increased significantly since 2012 to its highest level with 3.1 deaths per 100,000 females in 2019.
As seen in previous years, the most common method of suicide in England and Wales was hanging, accounting for 61.7% of all suicides among males and 46.7% of all suicides among females.
Samaritans CEO, Ruth Sutherland, said it is important to recognise that many of the suicides in the data occurred before the pandemic began.
‘Today’s figures provide important information about suicide in 2019 and part of 2020 for England.
‘But, it’s important that we don’t attribute this rise to the coronavirus pandemic, particularly as the data reflects when a death is registered following an inquest, so many of the suicides in the 2020 data will have actually occurred in 2019, before the pandemic began.
‘We must therefore use this data responsibly and remember we don’t yet have a clear picture of what has happened this year, because of the persistent problem of reporting delays for suicides.
‘This shows why we urgently need a comprehensive national real-time surveillance system to be able to monitor and respond to any increases in suicide rates in a timely manner, before it’s too late, to save lives.
‘It is not inevitable that suicide rates will go up as a result of coronavirus, but we know that the pandemic is impacting on lots of people’s lives and exacerbating some known risk factors for suicide for some people who are already vulnerable.
‘From our own research which looked to understand how coronavirus is affecting people who access our services, we know that callers are generally more anxious and distressed than before the pandemic.
‘Volunteers are telling us that many callers have been worried about losing their job and/or business and their finances, with common themes around not being able pay rent/mortgage, inability to support the family, and fear of homelessness.
‘Undoubtedly, the pandemic has affected everyone in society, but Samaritans is particularly worried about three groups: people with pre-existing mental health conditions, young people who self-harm, and less well-off middle-aged men.
‘It is essential that these groups are given the support they need before people reach crisis point. Suicide prevention must be a priority right now, so we can save lives.’
Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, said:
‘Every suicide is a tragedy and it is worrying that we continue to see particularly high rates among males and in certain age groups, including a long-term increase in under-25s generally.
‘Suicide prevention is a public health priority for local government and every council has a suicide prevention plan in place. Councils are already working closely with schools, railway operators, businesses, hospitals and the police to prevent suicide and help those affected by it.
‘We also need a new national focus on helping everyone stay mentally well, including for those affected by coronavirus, backed-up by funding for councils to spend with local partners such as the voluntary and community sector, to help prevent more serious problems from developing.
‘The forthcoming Spending Review provides an opportunity for much-needed investment in council services, including public health, to help further strengthen local action to reduce and prevent suicide using councils’ locally-driven approach.’
If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.
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