A national funding stream that supports suicide prevention projects is running dry, according to leading charity Samaritans.
Call for action
A national funding stream that has been supporting hundreds of vital community suicide prevention projects all across England is quietly running dry, according to leading mental health charity Samaritans.
The organization calls on the UK Government to use its new national suicide prevention strategy to turn this tap back on “before it’s too late.” It also calls on supporters to take action and support its campaign by signing a petition.
Why is local funding so necessary?
When people think of suicide prevention, they usually consider clinical mental health services. But it is widely known that two-thirds of people who die by suicide are not in touch with mental health services in the year before they die.
This is why it’s so important that we all think about suicide prevention in a broader sense. There are countless ways a local community can help someone before it’s too late – from education at school to chats with your mail delivery operative and from your GP spotting some warning signs right through to support groups like local men’s choirs and other clubs that keep people connected.
It’s vital that local areas have dedicated resources to continue their efforts to reduce deaths by suicide. Without this, suicide prevention is often left behind in the context of overstretched local budgets.
The Government has taken some positive steps in addressing the rise in mental health issues in recent months, including committing to a new national suicide prevention strategy, announcing £10 million in funding for the voluntary sector, and recognizing the critical role it plays in helping to prevent suicide.
While positive and welcomed, all these steps regretfully don’t replace the funding that local areas desperately need.
What is this local funding?
The NHS Long Term Plan allocated £57 million for suicide prevention and bereavement services to local areas in England. This went out in ‘waves’ so that each local area received money for three years, with those with the highest suicide rates receiving it first.
But these waves have been receding one after the other. By March next year, funding in every area from this pot for suicide prevention will end. But concerningly, since the areas with the highest rates received it first, those areas have already seen their funding come to an end.
How has the funding been used?
Local areas have spent the funding on key suicide prevention priorities. These decisions are based on their community knowledge and are often supported by local data and discussions with local groups and individuals with expertise and lived experience.
For example, in the area of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, in which Steve Barclay (Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) has his constituency lies, the local funding has been spent on a wide range of suicide prevention measures, including:
- A paid Suicide Prevention Manager for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to coordinate activity across the whole area.
- Training for GPs, and non-mental health professionals across Cambridgeshire who are likely to come into contact with someone who’s suicidal, such as housing officials, employment officials, or postal workers.
- Expansion of the Real-Time Suicide Surveillance system across the area, along with a cluster response plan. This means that if there was an increase in deaths from suicide in a specific group of people in North East Cambridgeshire, for example, a more targeted response could be swiftly mobilized.
Why are Samaritans so concerned?
The charity is concerned that if this funding ends in March next year as is currently planned, local suicide prevention activity will likely need to be scaled back or stopped, ending some services for people in communities across England with the highest risk of dying by suicide.
And while the Government is promising a bold new national strategy to save lives from being lost to suicide, at the same time, it is, according to Samaritans, failing to commit to providing vital local funding.
Amid a cost of living crisis, people on the lowest incomes have a higher suicide risk. There was an increase in suicide rates in the years following the 2008 recession. The end of vital suicide prevention funding right now is, therefore, unacceptable according to the organization, stating that “suicide prevention can’t be done on the cheap.”
Focusing again on Steve Barclay’s constituency in North East Cambridgeshire, according to Samaritans, ending the funding in his area would mean –
- The Real-Time Suicide Surveillance system may have to reduce its scope and effectiveness, so local trends in suicide risk would be less likely to be identified in time to take action and save lives.
- The training being rolled out may also need to be reduced or stopped entirely. We know this training is currently leading to life-saving conversations, so halting this important preventative work in North East Cambridgeshire would have real repercussions.
- Some funding might be found from other local funding sources for this work to continue, but that would mean this vital suicide prevention work would have to compete with other issues, and projects would likely be reduced, fragmented, or made more short-term.
According to Darren Archer, Network Manager (Mental Health), North East North Cumbria Clinical Networks,
“I’ve personally seen the incredible impact this local funding has had. However, these changes take time to embed due to the stigma and complexity of self-harm and suicide prevention. Ending this funding stream now just makes no sense. To have a real impact on reducing suicide rates, a long-term commitment is needed so that both services and communities become suicide safer.”
What action does Samaritans want to see?
There have been changes to suicide rates over the last 20 years, and much progress has been made, but suicide rates in England are as high now as 20 years ago. The new strategy is a rare opportunity to transform this picture and drive suicide rates to the lowest recorded rates, says the charity.
But to do that, Samaritans say that bold, ambitious action from the Government is required. Ultimately, proper funding for the whole of the national strategy is needed. As part of this, the Government should take urgent action to ensure communities don’t go without the funding they need for vital local suicide prevention.
Samaritans is calling on the Government to include ringfenced local suicide prevention funding in the upcoming National Suicide Prevention Strategy, with the original £57 million to be increased for the length of the strategy and in line with inflation.
By comparison, the Government recently announced £421 million for new drug and alcohol services for England, which Samaritans welcomed at the time.
If you wish to support the Samaritans campaign to maintain a localized funding strategy for suicide prevention, you can do so by following this link.