On average 66 people die each year as a result of suicide in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, that means there is one suicide every 5.5 days. The suicide rate in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is higher than both the south west and national average.
Cornwall Council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny committee yesterday learned about the new suicide prevention strategy which is set to be published shortly. This strategy aims to reduce the suicide rate in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
Paula Chappell, advanced public health practitioner for Cornwall Council, said: “Why are we higher than other areas? There is no single answer to that, there are social economic factors that will not be a surprise.”
The committee heard there were some risk factors which had been identified for suicide and suicide attempts which include men being three times more likely to take their own lives; people aged 30 to 59 are most at risk; mental illness; treatment and care after suicide attempt and previous self-harming behaviour. Other factors include physical disabling or painful illness; alcohol and drug misuse; living alone, social exclusion or isolation; bereavement; family breakdown and conflict; trauma, abuse and sexual violence; identifying as LGBTQ+; leaving care; and deprivation, financial insecurity, unemployment and debt.
Paula provided information for suicides in 2021 which showed that in males the highest rates were among the 30 to 59 age group; whilst for women it was 50 to 59. Of the suicides recorded in 2021 70 per cent occurred in people’s own homes; 40 per cent had been known to specialist mental health services in the 12 months before their death; and 24 per cent were previously known to have self-harmed or attempted suicide.
Paula said that the number who had been known to mental health services had increased last year and explained that work was being undertaken to examine that in more detail.
She also said that the council and partners are able to respond when suicide incidents occur, explaining: “What we are informed by is a real time surveillance in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that gives us an early warning system which is quicker than waiting for these deaths to be reviewed at inquests that can take six to 12 months – it means we can respond to any emerging trends that maybe occurring and need to be addressed.
“There will be a proportion that haven’t been determined to be suicide at inquest but we want to ensure we can put support in place for people affected. Behind every death there is a real person and we never lose sight of that.”
The new suicide prevention strategy is looking to help people at risk by improving wellbeing; early intervention for those facing difficulties; support for people in need or crisis; and postvention support for people impacted by suicide.
There is a Multi-Agency Suicide Prevention Group which brings together a number of different organisations including emergency services, healthcare providers, employers, benefit support, voluntary sector, drug and alcohol services and social services.
This group works together to understand patterns of suicide; draw up strategy and action plans; develop and coordinate response between sectors and to monitor progress. There is also a suicide surveillance group which undertakes monthyl reviews of suspected suicides and uses real time data to ensure a quick response where required and provide support to those affected.
Cornwall Council is also leading on providing mental health and suicide prevention training which is imilar to physical first aid but focuses on providing support for people so they can provide mental health support for people when they need it.
Paula said: “It shows people how to approach others and ask how they are really feeling and are able to signpost them to where they can access help and support if they need it.”
Councillors asked if there were any identified occupations where people are considered more at risk of suicide. Paula said: “We do know that agriculture is a high risk occupation for people. We have been partnering with NHS Kernow to commission some mental health and wellbeing support work for people in the farming community and have been linking with the farming network. We work hard to try and understand if there are other occupations that are at risk. However it is sometimes information that doesn’t come our way that quickly, it can sometimes be after the inquest.”
Other councillors asked whether the increase in people working from home might also have an impact as people are more isolated when working at home. They were told that it was an issue which is being considered and that employers are being encouraged to ensure mental health support is in place for staff.
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