New statistics from the Office For National Statistics (ONS) have shown male suicide to be at a two-decade high in England and Wales.
Datasets released by the ONS have revealed the number of deaths registered as suicide in 2019 as well as quarterly figures on suicide deaths up to June 2020.
What do the statistics show?
In 2019, 5,691 deaths were attributed to suicide in England and Wales, a rate consistent with that recorded in 2018.
Yorkshire and the Humber accounted for the highest rate of suicides, with a rate of 20.6 per 100,000 of the population for men and 7.3 per 100,000 of the population for women.
Men accounted for around three-quarters of these deaths, following a trend that goes back to the mid-1990s. This rate of 16.9 deaths per 100,000 is the highest rate of male suicide since 2000.
Middle aged men - aged 45 to 49 years - had the highest age-specific rate of suicide in 2019. For women, the worst-affected age bracket was those aged 50 to 54 years.
While rates of suicide among under-25s is low overall, the numbers of people in this age group taking their lives has increased in recent years - particularly among women.
The rate of 10 to 24-year old females taking their lives has increased significantly since 2012 to its highest level - 3.1 deaths per 100,000 women in 2019.
While quarterly statistics on suicide appear to show that the suicide rate in England and Wales dropped during lockdown in 2020, the ONS warns that this may simply reflect delays to inquests due to the effect of the pandemic on coroner’s services.
Why is the suicide rate higher among men?
Dr Liz Scowcroft, Head of Research & Evaluation at Samaritans, cautions against simplifying the causes of suicide, stating that “there is no single reason that three-quarters of suicides are by men and middle-aged men have consistently had the highest suicide rates for decades”.
However, she does add that there are several social, cultural and economic factors that influence suicide risk among men particularly:
“Our research has shown that things like relationship breakdown, unemployment and not having the same type of social network as most women, have a role in increasing the risk of suicide for middle-aged men”.
Dr Scowcroft also points out that the Samaritan’s research has shown that men’s relationships may be “based more around shared activity than directly speaking about how they’re feeling in more formal support settings”.
Middle aged men may be particularly affected, she says, because:
“Problems such as job loss or relationship breakdown are felt more acutely at this life-stage, as people have typically invested a great deal into their work and relationships, and the possibilities for making changes in these areas might seem limited when difficult life events happen”.
Why have suicides among young women increased?
A spokesperson from the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) said that while it’s “too early to say why there has been a rise [in young female suicide]”, one of the influencing factors could be “relatively new cultural pressures like social media and heightened isolation amongst today’s younger generations”.
Dr Scowcroft echoes CALM in saying that more research needs to be done in this area, adding that self-harm rates have also risen among young women in recent years:
“While most people who self-harm won’t go on to take their own lives, it can increase people’s risk of suicide”.
Have suicide rates been affected by the pandemic?
Until we have more robust data on suicide rates in 2020, says CALM, it is “impossible to confidently provide any detail on the rate during the pandemic”.
While recent data can’t tell us much about suicide rates during the pandemic, Dr Scowcroft says that it’s important to “ensure that in the coming months, support is prioritised for groups already at increased risk of suicide”.
This includes “people with pre-existing mental health conditions, middle aged men from disadvantaged communities and young people who self-harm, as they are more likely to face acute challenges”.
If you are struggling to cope or have been affected by the themes in this article, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email [email protected] or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch.
Samaritans is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.