Last week the government launched a £5m fund to support voluntary, community and social enterprises (VCSE) involved in suicide prevention.
Content warning: this article briefly discusses suicide in the context of specialist support services.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) made the announcement last week stating that the funding will ‘help these services meet increased demand from the pandemic’, with a focus on those with pre-existing mental health conditions, young people and children.
The statement from the DHSC that followed the announcement said that over the last year, the VCSE sector has seen a substantial increase in the number of people accessing and seeking support, with many services reporting an increase of up to 20% when compared to previous years.
The £4m grant fund will open for applications this week
The funding will be targeted based on groups who are ‘high-risk’, who the statement says have struggled ‘most during the pandemic.’ As mentioned previously, this includes children and young people, those with pre-existing mental illness but also NHS and social care frontline staff who have ‘faced enormous pressure over the last 18 months’, as well as those moving through various stages of the criminal justice system.
The statement makes no mention however, of women and women’s services which have also been particularly stretched over the past 18 months, and multiple surveys and research papers have found that along with young people, women have been hardest hit by the pandemic.
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This funding, DHSC said, will ‘provide organisations with additional resources that will enable them to either set up new projects or expand or sustain current services’
The government’s Mental Health Recovery Action Plan, with a backing of £500m in total, had already specified a £10.2m funding increase to mental health charities, to be given over the course of the pandemic.
But it has been acknowledged that more is necessary to help prevent and reduce suicides as far as possible as the unprecedented environment of the pandemic continues to impact our mental health. Earlier this year the government published a progress report on the National Suicide Prevention Strategy which included the following actions:
- ‘the acceleration of rolling out 24/7 all-age crisis services, so anybody requiring urgent support could access those services rapidly’
- ‘NHSE embedding a comprehensive package of emotional, psychological and practical support for NHS staff, available online, including a specific helpline and text service for counselling and support’
Minister for Mental Health, Gillian Keegan has spoken on this new funding boost:
“I know the last 18 months have been really challenging and many more people have been asking for help with their mental health. I want to be clear: we are here to support anyone struggling – and if you need help, I encourage you to reach out.”
“The entire suicide prevention voluntary sector has played a crucial role in providing people with the help and support they need throughout the pandemic and I encourage them to apply for this funding so we can continue to support our communities.”
Acknowledgement of the necessary role that the VCSE sector plays in suicide prevention is particularly welcome at this time, as the Christmas and post-Christmas period, frequently sees a spike in suicide related call-outs from the NHS and from those contacting support services such as Samaritans.
Professor Louis Appleby, the government adviser on the National Suicide Prevention Strategy has said:
“The response of suicide prevention charities to the pandemic has been nothing short of outstanding. They were among the first to respond to the distress that many have felt. They have worked tirelessly to support people who are anxious, isolated or at risk. They have been an invaluable partner to the NHS.”
“All this has stretched their resources to the limit, at a time when fund-raising from the public has been harder. This grant funding opportunity is in recognition of the contribution they have made.”
Support from the VCSE sector has become more essential than ever over the past 18 months. With the NHS becoming more stretched than ever before, and staff facing burnout and their own struggles with mental health, these services have stepped forward to support those who might not have been able to access help otherwise.
There are limitations to this funding however. The workforce to fully make up for the services available from the NHS simply does not exist within the VCSE sector. So, it is not only in extra funding to those specialist services where we must demand for more, but also in our already existing primary care within the NHS, that has been unable to function as it should – long before the pandemic broke out – and unable to efficiently play it’s crucial role in suicide prevention.
If the issues discussed in this article apply to you, you can seek support with Samaritans by calling them on their 24/7 FREE helpline on 116 123 or contacting them via email or by writing a letter, more information here.