THE TABOO on mental illness should be lifted and doctors, social workers and health workers should be educated to help to prevent suicide, which has risen by 75 per cent among young men in the last 10 years, Virginia Bottomley, the Secretary of State for Health, said yesterday, writes Rosie Waterhouse.
Mrs Bottomley was launching new guidelines on good practice for health and social services staff. The Government is committed to reducing the suicide rate by 2000 by 15 per cent overall and by 33 per cent among people who are mentally ill.
The handbook on mental illness says staff should be more aware of the needs of mentally ill people and make themselves more 'approachable' to vulnerable people to bring down suicide rates.
But the only practical ways of intervening to reduce the availability and access to methods of suicide mentioned in the 163 page report are: fitting catalytic converters to cars to make car exhaust emissions non-lethal, labelling drugs such as paracetamols to warn of toxicity and reconsidering the availability of poisonous over-the-counter medicines.
Mrs Bottomley said: 'Mental illness affects most people, whether directly or through someone they know, at some time in their life. It is as common as heart disease and three times as common as cancer.
'Six million people suffer from it in the course of a year; at least 80 million days are lost from work, and it kills - there were more than 18,000 recorded deaths from mental illness in 1981.'
Figures also show that suicide accounts for about 1 per cent of deaths a year and has risen by 75 per cent in men between the ages of 15 and 25 since 1982. Suicide is the second most common cause of death among men aged 15 to 34.
Mrs Bottomley said the reason for this increase was not known.Reuse content