The suicide rate in Britain fell by 4.7% last year to the lowest level since 2011, with prevention work in England credited for the drop.
The rate fell in England and Wales, although the rate in Wales is generally more erratic because of its smaller population, but increased slightly in Scotland. Overall there were 10.1 suicides per 100,000 in 2016, compared with 10.6 in the previous 12 months. It was the third consecutive year in which suicide rates have fallen in Britain as the number registered dropped by 202 or 3.4% to 5,688.
A spokeswoman for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said: “The recent decline in the suicide rate is likely to be due to the suicide prevention work in England by the government, the NHS, charities, the British Transport Police and others. The national suicide pevention strategy for England has included work to reduce the risk of suicide in high-risk groups. These include young and middle-aged men, people in the care of mental health services, and those in the criminal justice system.”
The proportion of male suicides was 75% last year, which has remained broadly consistent since the early 1990s. Middle-aged men remain the group at greatest risk. Citing research by the Samaritans, the ONS says relationship breakdown can contribute to suicide risk, which is greatest among divorced men, who are almost three times more likely to end their lives than men who are married or in a civil partnership.
The suicide rate for males fell by 3.1% to 15.7 per 100,000 males last year, while the rate for females decreased 9.4% to 4.8 per 100,000 after the latter hit a 10-year high in 2015. Inequality is another major risk factor, with people among the most deprived 10% of society more than twice as likely to kill themselves than the least deprived 10%, according to the ONS. Suicide rates generally fell between 1981 and 2007 before rising again to hit a peak of 11.1 deaths per 100,000 in 2013, although that was still substantially lower than the rates in the 80s and 90s.
The Samaritans chief executive, Ruth Sutherland, welcomed last year’s fall but said the number of deaths was still too high. “Every suicide is a tragedy leaving devastation in its wake,” she said. “These figures emphasise the urgency with which we as a society need to work together to prevent needless loss of life.”
The charity is campaigning for every area to have an effective suicide plan. The government’s latest progress report on preventing suicide in England, published in January, found that 95% of local authorities “have plans in place or in development”. Sutherland said: “Suicide is not inevitable, it’s preventable, and politicians, employers, health bodies and educators all have a role in identifying and supporting those most at risk.”
The chair of the Local Government Association’s community wellbeing board, Izzi Seccombe, said a commitment was needed to invest in local government to help tackle mental illness and prevent suicide. “Suicide is preventable, but it needs to be everybody’s business to work together to tackle this tragic loss of life,” she said.
The suicide rate in England dropped from 10.1 per 100,000 people in 2015 to 9.5 last year, a decrease the ONS described as statistically significant. In Wales it fell from 13.0 to 11.8, but in Scotland it rose from 14.0 to 15.0. The ONS says differences in Scotland’s coroner system and the way that suicides are certified and registered there make comparisons with the rest of Britain inappropriate.