Health

‘Hopelessness’ of pandemic could cause suicide rates to soar, experts say


Research by the Mental Health Foundation found one in five unemployed people reported suicidal thoughts and feelings (Picture: Getty Images)

Suicide rates in the UK could be increasing due to the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health, experts fear.

In late July, research by the Mental Health Foundation found that approximately half of the UK adult population said they had felt anxious or worried. One in six people felt hopeless, and one in five unemployed people reported suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Dr Zalan Alam, a GP in Greater Manchester, told Metro.co.uk he is seeing large numbers patients who have suffered from social anxiety and suicidal thoughts after shielding. He said he had ‘never seen as many cases of people close to suicide’ at his practice.

He went on: ‘Many more are socially isolated to the extreme as community networks have broken down.’



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For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org, visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

Suicide is the most common cause of death for men in the UK aged 20-49, with men in their 40s and 50s at particular risk.

Factors such as socioeconomic background, employment and general mental well-being can also contribute significantly to the risk of suicide.

The map shows the impact of social factors, like mental health and employment, on suicide rates across nine English regions (Picture: zerosuicidealliance.com)

Professor Vikas Shah MBE, who personally struggled with suicidal anxiety and depression for over 10 years after his business collapsed, said many facing unemployment were having their ‘identity challenged’ because of economic uncertainty that had torn apart their financial safety net.

Speaking of the need to have open conversations about mental health, Prof Shah said: ‘Work culture has this hyper, alpha, toxic masculinity to it. There is this sensation that men have to “man up” and deal with things, that is so unhealthy.

‘It’s completely normal when that lens through which you perceive everything is clouded over, that you don’t see the world as it really is.

‘Coming from someone who was stood on top of a car park at the lowest ebb possible of their life, I can tell you things can and will get better if you get the right help.’

Shari McDaid, senior policy manager from the Mental Health Foundation, said feelings of ‘hopelessness’ and uncertainty over the economic fallout from the pandemic may be a risk factor for suicidal thoughts and feelings.

She said: ‘What we need to see from government is messages that convey the measures they will put in place to support people so that they won’t get into situations of hopelessness.’

Suicide is the most common cause of death in the UK for men aged 20-49, in particular men in their 40s and 50s (Picture: Getty Images)

Previous studies have observed that while passive suicidal ideation is more common among white British communities, suicide rates among young black and Asian men and women are higher than their white counterparts. However general ethnicity data on suicide does not exist.

Natalie Creary, programme delivery director at Black Thrive, a charity which reduces inequality and injustices experienced by black British people in mental health services, said the need to collect data was vital for addressing the ‘different racialised experiences’ in black communities, Asian, disabled, and LGBTQ+ patients as well.

She said: ‘[Suicide] data isn’t broken down by ethnicity, so we don’t know who is affected more and who isn’t.

‘When we’re looking at whose been impacted by unemployment, the education system, we know that Black communities are likely to be hit the hardest.

‘When the furlough scheme comes to an end, we’ll be seeing an increased number of people losing their homes, increased financial insecurity. That will inevitably have an impact on their mental well-being.’

The pandemic has also put a spotlight on the broader health and social inequalities faced by BAME communities in the UK, including accessibility to culturally appropriate mental health services, which remain scarce.

Head of mental wellbeing for Bradford and Craven, Sasha Bhat said ‘stigma, silence and fear’ around mental health in BAME communities and the lack of culturally appropriate support was a huge factor.

She said: ‘We need services to be better aware and connected to communities, understand the role of stigma and fear and ensure we all work as partners to tackle the inequalities in access and provision of mental health services.’



Suicide prevention: WAIT

The advice WAIT is one good way to remember how you can support another person who may be suicidal. It stands for: 

Watch out for signs of distress and uncharacteristic behaviour

  •  e.g. social withdrawal, excessive quietness, irritability, uncharacteristic outburst, talking about death or suicide

Ask: ‘Are you having suicidal thoughts?’

  • Asking about suicide does not encourage it, nor does it lead a person to start thinking about it; in fact it may help prevent it, and can start a potentially life-saving conversation

It will pass – assure your loved one that, with help, their suicidal feelings will pass with time

Talk to others – encourage your loved one to seek help from a GP or health professional

For more information on how to look after your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic, click here.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

For more stories like this, check our news page.





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