The rate of suicide in the UK has hit a 16-year high after surging in the past year following half a decade of decline, new figures show.
Data from the Office for Nationals Statistics (ONS) reveals 6,507 suicides were registered last year, marking a 12 per cent rise on the previous year and the highest rate since 2002.
The rise appears to be largely driven by suicides among boys and men, with the male rate having significantly increased from 15.5 deaths per 100,000 to 17.2 deaths per 100,000.
There was also a rise among girls and women, but this was not judged by the ONS to be statistically different to that observed in the previous year.
However, self-inflicted deaths among females under 25 saw a considerable rise, reaching the highest rate on record for their age group.
Males continue to account for three-quarters of suicide deaths in 2018, with 4,903 deaths compared with 1,604 female deaths.
Nick Stripe, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: “We saw a significant increase in the rate of deaths registered as suicide last year which has changed a trend of continuous decline since 2013.
"While the exact reasons for this are unknown, the latest data show that this was largely driven by an increase among men who have continued to be most at risk of dying by suicide."
Chief executive of the Samaritans Ruth Sutherland said the figures were “extremely worrying” and called for the issue to be considered as a serious public health issue, urging that suicide was “not inevitable” and was a gender and inequality issue.
“Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy that devastates families, friends and communities. Whilst the overall rise has only been seen this year, and we hope it is not the start of a longer-term trend, it’s crucial to have a better understanding of why there has been such an increase,” she added.
She also raised concern that there no cross-departmental government work plan that prioritised “clear actions” on how to reach the two-thirds of people who die by suicide who are not in touch with mental health services.
Tom Madders, campaigns director at YoungMinds, raised alarm bells at rise in the number of young people dying by suicide, adding: “We urgently need a new government strategy which looks at the factors that are fuelling the crisis in young people’s mental health and which ensures that anyone who’s struggling to cope can get early support.
“The reasons why young people feel suicidal are often complex, but we know that traumatic experiences at a young age – like bereavement, bullying or abuse – can have a huge impact on mental health.
“School pressure, concerns about how you look and difficult relationships with family or friends can also have a significant effect.”
Responding to the figures, Labour’s shadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley said: “Every suicide is a tragedy but to see the number of people taking their lives increasing, particularly amongst young people, is heart breaking.
“We need to do more to ensure everyone who needs it is offered the right mental health support, and this needs to be in place as soon as someone asks for help. The reality is that mental health services have not been given the funding they need by this government."
It comes after The Independent revealed that people seeking help with their mental health in the UK were being kept on “hidden waiting lists”, with more than 122,000 patients waiting more than eight weeks to see a doctor again after their first appointment.
On 3 August, the prime minister Boris Johnson announced a spending boost of £1.8m for the NHS, but Labour said this fell “significantly short” of the amount needed to reverse years of government cuts.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Every suicide is a preventable death and we are working urgently with partners across government, businesses and communities to tackle this problem. All councils have a suicide prevention plan in place backed by £25m and we work closely with them to ensure they are effective.
“We are transforming mental health services with a planned record spend of £12.1bn this year and announced a further expansion of mental health services in our Long Term Plan for the NHS, with an additional £2.3bn in real terms by 2024.”
If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies