Today’s blog comes from Cllr Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor with responsibility for communities, equalities and public health.
With so many unique challenges this year in particular, it has never been so important to look out for the mental health of ourselves and each other. Today marks World Suicide Prevention Day, a day that encourages us all to reflect on the mental health struggles faced by those in our communities and to think about how we can better support each other.
Last week the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shared that the UK’s suicide rate is now the highest it’s been for two decades.
It is a scandal that suicide remains the single biggest killer of men aged 20-49 in one of the richest countries in the world. The latest figures also highlight an increase in suicide rates among young people, and especially women under 25. This is deeply concerning, and we will continue to work with partners such as Off The Record and Bristol’s universities to ensure tailored support for young people is available.
We know that the causes of suicide are complex and can be linked to past trauma, abuse or a major life event. It can affect anyone, but certain groups are more at risk, such as care leavers, those in our LGBTQI+ communities or people who have been through the criminal justice system.
We also know that the majority of people who take their own lives will have struggled with their mental health for some time. They may have tried to get help. They may not have been able to access the support they needed at that time.
Fundamentally, suicide is preventable.
It’s clear that mental health services have been historically underfunded by successive governments and there are countless stories of people who couldn’t access the help they needed in time. With everyone from the Royal family to public figures like Alastair Campbell shining a light on the issue of poor mental health, we must seize the moment and continue to push for adequate funding.
As cabinet lead for public health, I’m only too aware that people in Bristol have higher levels of poor mental health than the England average. Acting to reduce this is a top priority for me.
Thrive Bristol is our ten year plan for doing this. It focuses on how different parts of our city – such as our communities, our places of education and work, and our homes, can keep us mentally healthy, recognising that as little as 10% of our population’s health and wellbeing can be linked to access to healthcare.
Taking a One City Approach, we will continue working with teachers, employers and the voluntary sector to achieve our vision of a healthier and more resilient city.
Our Director of Public Health, Christina Gray recently published her annual report, focussing on the broader concept of mental wealth. It focuses on how we can encourage thriving communities and social support, but also on the need to provide people with quality work and to invest in our young people. It’s clear now that this work has never been so critical.
The data published by the ONS tells us what happened in 2019, but we can’t ignore the toll that this year will have had on many people’s mental health. Although we are not yet clear if the pandemic will result in an increase in suicide, Samaritans research has found the pandemic to have exacerbated known risk factors for people who may already be vulnerable.
We are re-framing our work in light of the events of this year and renewing our focus on mental wellbeing as a key aspect of our recovery.
While we are working hard to ensure the people of Bristol can lead fulfilling lives, I’d also like to remind people to take a moment to check in with one another. Send a text, make a call, grab a coffee. Making time to talk and looking out for each other is something we can all do to take steps towards a future in which nobody feels they have no option but to take their own life.
If you or someone you know is struggling, speak to someone, whether that be a friend, a colleague or a professional. Information on some of the organisations offering support in Bristol can be found below.