kambiuThe lack of research on the gender and ethnicity of people who take their own lives on the UK railway system obscures an urgent need for more effective preventive strategies, a new report has claimed.

‘Railway Suicides in the UK: Risk factors and prevention strategies’, commissioned by NHS England, and produced by mental health charity Careif and the Cultural Consultation Service, reveals inconsistencies in how data on suicide is collected and the way emergency services, government agencies and the police collaborate. 

In addition, the widely reported association between mental illness and railway suicide, believed to be due to a station’s proximity to in-patient psychiatric units and severe forms of mental illness such as schizophrenia, requires further research, according to the study.

Among the report’s recommendations is:
The need for a standardised framework to collect information on suicide, including ethnicity and previous contact with care services
Better coordination between emergency services to help prevent railway suicides
More effective intervention in high-risk groups with steps to improve public awareness and public mental health and wellbeing in general
Implementation of an emergency pathway across all agencies nationally to enable a consistent and coherent response.

Professor Kamaldeep Bhui, co-author of the report and director of the Cultural Consultation Service, said: “We need a standardised way of collecting vital information about railway suicides and near misses, including ethnicity and any previous contact with care services. This will enable us to mount an intelligent preventive approach which harmonises NHS efforts with the police, the ambulance service and local government as part of an emergency pathway with effective detection and intervention among high risk groups. We have to make railway suicides everyone's business.” 

Edgar Jones, co-author of the report and professor of the History of Medicine and Psychiatry, King’s Centre for Military Health Research, Institute of Psychiatry, added: “Falling rates of rail suicide [in excess of background population rates] for some European nations have shown that some preventive measures, such as physical barriers, can save lives. We discovered gaps in knowledge, particularly in the socio-economic status and ethnicity of those who commit suicide on the UK railway system. It also appears that the proportion of females who commit rail suicide is rising. We need robust and detailed data to help design relevant psychological interventions.”