Suicide is a serious social and public health issue. Every year too many York residents take their own life and many more people are deeply affected by the loss of a loved one, friend or colleague through suicide. Yet suicide is largely preventable and can be reduced by concerted efforts of services and communities working together to tackle it. This is recognised by strategic leaders of statutory services in York. The City of York Joint Health and Well-being Board Strategy 2017-22 contains a stated objective to ‘Ensure that York becomes a Suicide Safer City’
In York around twenty five people take their own life every year - a shocking, tragic, avoidable loss of human life which has far reaching consequences for those affected and society in general. Suicide remains a relatively rare event in comparison with leading causes of death and yet, as one of the most preventable, causes, it is responsible for a significant number of lives lost prematurely and, as a consequence, a high number of ‘years of life lost’. Each individual death has a huge, often devastating effect on loved ones, friends, colleagues and the wider community.
There are many causes of suicide and everyone’s story, their journey towards thoughts of suicide and attempting to take their own life is different because people are unique. However we know about many of those causes because lots of people have described what happened to them and research into suicides which have taken place in the City and elsewhere. There are very common themes such as mental ill-health, physical health issues, loss in its many forms, and feelings of hopelessness, despair, anxiety and stress.
The Suicide Safer Community concept which the City of York has adopted is a vision developed by The LivingWorks Foundation, Canada, and is a model which many communities across the world are using to structure and drive suicide prevention initiatives. The foundation of this idea is that everyone has a part to play in preventing suicide – health and statutory services, emergency services, the voluntary sector, private industry, people from all communities and those who are at risk themselves. To prevent suicide at population level there must be a multi-agency, collaborative approach and we must be willing to talk openly about a subject which is very sensitive and heavily stigmatised.
We have been delivering face to face suicide prevention training in York since 2016 and have held annual conferences and other events which raise awareness and also support people who are bereaved or otherwise affected by suicide. More recently a regional health partnership has been introduced across Humber, Coast and Vale which aims to raise general awareness through on-line training and use NHS funding to prioritise key areas of risk – Men in middle age, people in touch with mental health services, those who engage in self harm behaviour and support for people bereaved.
We are encouraging everyone across York’s many communities and workforces to join the conversation about suicide prevention – to access the different, appropriate levels of training and work more closely together to tackle suicide and its causes.
Brian, who was in his late forties, had recently been through an acrimonious divorce, the settlement of which had left him with significant debts. He struggled with depression which he attributed to his marriage break-down and a long term ill-health condition, arthritis which was worsening, but he had not discussed his mental health with his doctor. He had not previously self-harmed and he did not drink alcohol to excess. He took his own life whilst staying at his friend’s address. He left a note in which he said he could no longer cope with the prospect of bankruptcy, reduced contact with his children and unmanageable physical pain.
Marco was in his thirties and from Eastern Europe. His wife remained in their home country with their child and he sent money back for them. He worked as a joiner and shared a house with some work colleagues from a variety of countries. Marco became increasingly withdrawn and took time off work claiming to be sick. His housemates noticed that he began to behave very much out of character and appeared paranoid that neighbours and the landlord were entering the property and removing things from the house. He began locking himself in his room for several days at a time and came out only occasionally to eat or to receive a delivered package. He ordered a book online which detailed various ways in which to complete suicide. During an occasion of his self-isolation, he took his own life whilst in his room using one of the methods described in the book. He left a note in his native language which was jumbled and incoherent saying that he’d been told he had to die by voices in his head.