Content warning: this article discusses suicide as it pertains to national rates and statistics. 

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In the ONS’ breakdown of their findings they highlight:

  • 5,224 suicides were registered in 2020 (down from 5,691 last year)
  • the age-standardised mortality rate (ASMR) dropped from 11.0 deaths per 100,000 people to 10.0
  • male deaths continue to account for the majority of suicides with 3,925 registered male deaths in comparison to 1,299, however the ASMR for male deaths due to suicide fell by over 1.0
  • by region in England, the North East, Yorkshire and The Humber saw the highest ASMR, while London saw the lowest, as has been consistent for the last few years
  • those aged between 45 and 49 and the highest rate of suicide

The main analysis of this data is that the decrease seen in the rate of suicide for England in Wales should be interpreted with ‘caution’. This is due to the extensive registration delays seen during the pandemic.

Registration delays are most likely the most impactful factor on this decrease as all deaths by suicide must be certified by a coroner following an inquest, this death cannot be confirmed as suicide until the inquest is complete. As a result, in a normal year, around half of the deaths will have occurred in the previous year.

The ONS acknowledge that ‘provisional figures for the first two quarters of 2021 (January to June) show an increase; as such it is possible some suicides that ordinarily would have been registered in 2020, have been registered in 2021 due to the disruption caused by the pandemic.’ This statement especially makes sense when considering just how high the rate of deaths due to Covid-19 was from November 2020 through to February 2021.

“Every death by suicide is preventable.”

Shout 85258, which is the UK’s first 24/7 text messaging support service, powered by Mental Health Innovations – took 355,870 conversations in 2020, with 159,297 of those conversations mentioning suicide. As a result, Shout actioned 4,704 ‘active rescues’ which take place when the person seeking support has the means and ‘imminent timeframe’ to take their life. In these scenarios, when de-escalation over the service is not possible, the police are alerted by Shout.

CEO of Mental Health Innovations, Victoria Hornby spoke to us about the service and why it is essential to them to monitor statistics such as those provided by the ONS.

“Monitoring suicide statistics helps us understand who is most at risk and where efforts to prevent suicide can most effectively be targeted. To date, fears about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on suicide rates have not been realised in official figures. This does not, however, mean that suicide rates haven’t increased, given the delays to coroner inquests and subsequent suicide registrations caused by the pandemic, nor that suicide is no longer a serious issue in England and Wales.”

Speaking on one of the factors that can increase the risk of suicidality, Victoria Hornby said: “Suicide is complex but we know that one of the most significant challenges that can lead to people struggling with their mental health and thinking about taking their own life is a lack of connectedness. Loneliness and feeling as if no-one cares about you can leave a person feeling very vulnerable, especially if trying to cope with life’s significant stressors. Having nobody to talk to or support you can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.”

In light of the increased loneliness due to the pandemic, the work done by organisations and charities such as Mental Health Innovations and Samaritans is essential. As Victoria Hornby so rightly said, every death by suicide is preventable. The knowledge and accessibility of services such as Shout and the 24/7 phoneline provided by Samaritans are an immeasurably important element of suicide prevention.

Anyone in the UK who is struggling to cope can text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 anonymously, confidentially and for free to speak to a trained volunteer any time of the day or night.

You can also call Samaritans on 116 123, day or night, 24/7, 7 days a week for FREE.