National suicide prevention guidance pioneered in Devon

Posted on 25th October, 2006

National suicide prevention guidance published today has been developed and piloted by healthcare professionals in Devon.  Guidance on action to be taken at suicide hotspots has been produced by the national Care Services Improvement Partnership (CSIP) on behalf of the Department of Health.  However, the guidance was written and piloted by Devon Partnership NHS Trust.  Dr Peter Aitken, Chair of the Trust’s Clinical Cabinet and Suicide Prevention Lead, explains:  “In 2004, there were more than 300 cases of suicide across the country that involved people jumping from a height or throwing themselves in front of vehicles.  We will have around 20 such incidents in the south west every year and we need to do everything we can to reduce them in number.   “All of the evidence suggests that lives can be saved when local agencies work together to deter suicide in high-risk locations.  The guidance that we have drawn up defines these 'hotspots' – which include railway bridges, cliffs and high buildings – and provides straightforward advice on the measures that be taken to reduce the likelihood of suicides occurring at these places.  Importantly, they are measures that need to be considered by whole communities as the hotspots are invariably public places and half of those people that commit suicide have had no prior contact with mental health services, social services or other support agencies.  “In Devon, under the banner of the Devon Interagency Forum for Self Harm and Suicide Prevention, we have pulled together the local data on suicide, mapped the high risk locations and convened an expert conference on the subject. This work has included survivors of suicide attempts.  We are now exploring how we should take the work forward in terms of practical measures and will, of course, be reviewing the impact of our efforts in due course.” The national guidance on suicide hotspots includes suggestions such as:

  • Erecting physical barriers at well known 'jump points'
  • Placing signs at hotspots urging people to contact the Samaritans or installing telephone helplines
  • Establishing dedicated 'suicide patrols' of volunteers or paid counsellors to patrol hotspot areas
  • Training non-health staff to recognise people and situations of possible risk
  • Working more closely with the media on the reporting of suicides as evidence suggests that media coverage can increase the use of a hotspot.
The latest figures, also published today, reveal that the national suicide rate continued to fall last year and now stands at its lowest ever level. The three-year average is now 8.5 deaths per 100,000, down from a baseline of 9.4 deaths per 100,000 in 1995. Commenting on the figures, Dr Aitken added:  “Although it is encouraging that the national suicide rate has continued to fall, the rate of decline has actually slowed and this is a cause for concern.  We are working hard with our partner agencies to reduce local suicide rates, particularly where they are exceptionally high.  Torbay, for example, regularly has one of the highest suicide rates in the country along with other seaside locations such as Brighton and Blackpool.  For young men, Torbay’s suicide rate is currently more than three times the national average.  Although part of this is undoubtedly linked to its location, we must do more to actively reduce the likelihood of suicides occurring and deliver a more comprehensive network of services to provide pre-emptive support when and where it is needed.”