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Keir Starmer pledges to focus on self harm in drive to bring down suicide rates

The Labour leader said ‘too many families are being ripped apart’ by suicides, rates of which have been increasing since the Conservatives came to power in 2010

Archie Mitchell
Sunday 14 January 2024 16:07 GMT
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Sir Keir Starmer has promised special training for mental health professionals to support people who self-harm in a bid to bring down suicide rates.

The Labour leader said “too many families are being ripped apart” by suicides, rates of which have been increasing since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

Then, there were 9.3 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people in England and Wales, compared with 10.7 in 2022.

And, with a general election expected this autumn, Sir Keir pledged a focus on self harm to reverse the trend, saying mental health professionals will be trained to spot cases and intervene early.

He said prevention would be at the heart of a Labour government, saying: “The value of getting in front of problems is no more apparent than when it comes to our children’s mental health.”

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer promised to reverse the trend of rising suicide rates (Peter Byrne/PA) (PA Wire)

“The number of children showing signs of acute distress is heart breaking, and behind those stats are millions of families going through hell. Urgent action is vital, and my government will deliver it,” he added.

And, expanding on the party’s focus on suicide, Sir Keir said: “Almost all of us can think of someone who has tragically lost their life to suicide. Too many families are being ripped apart by grief after losing a loved one to suicide. It is a raw pain – that fact alone should shock us all into action.”

Labour has promised to recruit 8,500 new mental health professionals, to offer specialists in every school and guarantee treatment within four weeks to anyone who needs it.

It says the change is funded by scrapping a tax loophole used by private equity companies.

And it has now promised the 8,500 new mental health professionals will be given “specialist self-harm training”.

Research by the charity Samaritans has found that people who self-harm can be turned away from primary mental health services for being "too high risk", meaning they are left without the vital support that they need.

And analysis of NHS England figures shows hospital admissions due to intentional self-harm and overdose have more than doubled since 2011.

Samaritans welcomed Labour’s pledge, with chief executive Julie Bentley saying “more specialist trained mental health staff would play a big part in ensuring that there is ‘no wrong door’ in the health system for people who self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts”.

Mental health charity mind also welcomed the promise, saying “in many cases, it could save lives”.

Chief executive Dr Sarah Hughes said: “The ongoing fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with a deepening cost of living crisis, have led to more and more people struggling with their mental health, many to the degree they are self-harming. We know that young people have been hit particularly hard.

“So, we welcome this promised step towards making sure people get the support they need.”

And Brian Dow, deputy chief executive at Rethink Mental Illness, called it a “sensible idea which could reduce the risk of people taking their own lives”.

“We will never address the chasm between rising levels of demand and the lack of provision within mental health services unless we have a workforce with the skills to help people with their problems as early as possible,” he added.

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