It's likely you've seen the headlines: new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that deaths from suicide for men in England and Wales have reached a 20-year high. That's 16.9 deaths per 100,000 men, the highest levels since 2000.
But, contrary to what you might expect, this data is not a result of the pandemic nor its accompanying job losses. These are the results from 2019, in line with those from 2018. This trend was established long before lockdown – and future forecasts are not optimistic.
There were 5,691 suicides registered in England and Wales in 2019.— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) September 1, 2020
Accounting for the age structure of the population, the mortality rate was 11.0 deaths per 100,000 population, consistent with the rate in 2018 https://t.co/HD1uJeHg0K
At present, provisional data shows low rates for the period between April and June this year. But this is misleading, and the ONS itself cautions against taking these numbers as read, concluding that "this likely reflects delays to inquests" due to the impact of the coronavirus.
Men still account for three quarters of deaths by suicide, a trend which has held since the mid-1990s. What stands out most from 2019's data is the sharp rise among men aged 45-49.
The ONS speculates as to why this group might be at higher risk, suggesting that middle-aged men are more likely to be affected by economic adversity, alcoholism and social isolation – all concerns likely to have been worsened by the events of this year – as well as being less inclined to seek help when struggling.
Recent research backs this up, suggesting that the number of people experiencing depressive symptoms doubled during lockdown, with one in five adults reporting issues such as persistent low mood, anxiety and fatigue.
If you’re finding things tough, our helpline and webchat are open from 5pm until midnight. Call us on 0800 58 58 58, or chat to our trained helpline staff online.— CALM (@theCALMzone) August 30, 2020
No matter who you are or what you're going through, it's free, anonymous & confidential.https://t.co/TJQrbFZQdD pic.twitter.com/N7NJOQ9gl7
It's a concern echoed by Samaritans charity earlier this year, which reported that middle-aged men with financial struggles are the group most at risk from suicide as a result of the pandemic.
"It is not inevitable that suicide rates will go up as a result of coronavirus, but we know that the pandemic is impacting on lots of people’s lives and exacerbating some known risk factors for suicide for people who are already vulnerable," a spokesperson for the Samaritans reports. "Suicide prevention must be a priority right now, so we can save lives."
If you or someone you know would benefit from outside advice on dealing with a mental health issue, Samaritans' free helpline (116 123) is open 24 hours a day, and – crucially – you don't need to be at crisis point to use it.
The CALM helpline (0800 58 58 58), aimed specifically at men, is open from 5pm to midnight and is free, anonymous and confidential. They have a web chat service, for those who are more comfortable typing than talking.
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