The plan establishes a number of new initiatives and pulls together existing programmes to provide a strategic approach to suicide prevention in Wales.
Statistics show that almost three-quarters of people in Wales who complete suicide are unknown to mental health services in the year prior to their death.
Key aims therefore include raising awareness of mental health issues across wider society – especially in environments where frontline personnel come into contact with those with mental health problems – and delivering earlier help for those most at risk.
New initiatives include:
- rolling out a training programme for frontline workers across Wales, to give staff in sectors including health, education, job centres, the police and the prison service the skills to recognise the signs of mental distress and enable them to provide or signpost support;
- extending a specialist internationally-recognised training programme across Wales to train carers in preventing the immediate risk of suicide;
- providing an all-Wales 24-hour, seven-days-a-week telephone and text messaging service to support those experiencing mental health problems;
- establishing the first national Samaritans co-ordinator for Wales to manage voluntary services across Wales; and,
- working with lottery-funded programmes providing more help for hard-to-reach, at-risk groups, such as outreach programmes for rough sleepers and homeless people.
Funding worth over £420,000 a year for the 24-hour helpline and £100,000 a year for the Samaritans co-ordinator is being provided by the Welsh Assembly Government, while £1.7million for the training programmes comes from Welsh Assembly Government and lottery funding.
The action plan also draws in recently-launched Assembly Government programmes such as the £6.5million schools counselling strategy so that all pupils across Wales have someone to turn to if they need help or support.
The recently-announced substance misuse strategy – as drug misuse is known to increase the risk of suicide twenty-fold – and the introduction of a family nurse for every secondary school will also play a part in delivering the action plan.
On average, 300 people die by suicide each year in Wales – a lower rate than Scotland or Northern Ireland but higher than England – with the rate remaining static over the last decade.
Because of the relatively small number of suicides compared to other causes of death, a cluster can distort the figure and so statistics need to be considered over at least a three-year period. However, young males remain the group most at risk.
The Assembly Government set a target in 2002 to reduce suicide by 10 per cent. The action plan will be evaluated during the first three years to assess its achievements. Budgets will also be reviewed at that time.
Mental health programmes funded by £15million Big Lottery funding – including £6.5million on specific projects to reduce suicide and self-harm – will also be evaluated and, if successful, could be rolled out more widely in future.
Health Minister Edwina Hart said:
Every suicide is a tragedy with a life and family member lost. For those left behind suicide leaves a wound that in many cases never heals.
We need to change the culture around mental health issues so that the signs can be identified, and support provided, at an earlier stage in order to reduce the rate of suicide and the numbers of those who self-harm.
There are already a significant number of initiatives in Wales which are delivering support, but this action plan pulls them together and extends their reach to provide a co-ordinated approach across Wales.
Chief Medical Officer for Wales Dr Tony Jewell said:
A key aim of the action plan is to promote improved mental health and well-being through encouraging people to talk more about their personal difficulties and get help quickly when they need it.
Talking about these issues does not create or increase risk, it reduces it. We need to encourage people, especially those at greatest risk, to talk openly and ask for help and we need to ensure we provide it.
Welcoming the action plan, Anthony Langan, Public Affairs Manager, Samaritans, added:
We are pleased to see this new strategy being implemented, to provide increased support for local communities and raise greater awareness of suicide and self-harm.
The strategy represents the first stage in addressing the high level of suicides in hard to reach groups and the next stage will be to ensure it is implemented across Wales and we are keen to play our part in its delivery.
Samaritans Regional Representative for Wales and the Marches, Paul Stockton, said:
We welcome the fact that the strategy will fund the first national Samaritans coordinator for Wales to manage services and look forward to being able to work more closely in partnership with other organisations to reduce suicides in Wales.
Our increased operational funding, announced in April this year, will provide extended resources to deliver outreach and awareness activity. We will also continue to work closely with the media to ensure mental health and suicide are reported sensitively and responsibly.
Other new commitments include increasing research and surveillance on suicide; closer working with the media to ensure sensitive reporting of mental health and suicide issues; and more work to restrict access, wherever possible, to the means of suicide, such as geographical 'hotspots'.
An annual suicide and self-harm prevention summit will also be held to allow research, learning and local successes to be shared nationally.