We submitted a report to the Health Committee inquiry on suicide prevention – here – showing that the key driver of male suicide is the state, through its actions and inactions. We requested the opportunity to give oral evidence to the committee, a request which was denied.
The committee’s 28-page interim report has just been published – here. From the ‘Introduction and Summary’ (p.3):
1. The scale of the avoidable loss of life from suicide is unacceptable. 4820 people are recorded as having died by suicide in England in 2015 but the true figure is likely to be higher. The 2014 suicide rate in England (10.3 deaths per 100,000) was the highest seen since 2004, and the 2015 rate was only marginally lower at 10.1. Suicide disproportionately affects men, accounting for around three quarters of all suicides, but rates are rising in women. It remains the biggest killer of men under 49, [our emphasis] and the leading cause of death in people aged 15–24.
2. Suicide is now the leading cause of death directly related to pregnancy in the year after mothers give birth – the latest Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths, published this month, reveals that between 2009 and 2014 111 women in the UK died by suicide during or up to a year after pregnancy. There are also rising levels of suicides in prisons and particular concerns about the risks following release from prison. [our emphasis]
The conflation in one paragraph of 50 words concerning suicides related to pregnancy in the space of six years (2009-14), and 19 words concerning suicides in prison – overwhelmingly men – is bizarre, even more so when you know the latter suicides are far more common… but comparative numbers aren’t provided here.
111 suicides of women ‘related to pregnancy’ in the course of six years equate to about 18.5 per year. What is the figure for suicides in prison? For this you need to click on the link to a report by the Howard League for Penal Reform. From the Background (p.2):
The prison population of England and Wales was 85,242 in January 2016 (Howard League, 2016). In 2014 there was a marked increase in suicides in English and Welsh prisons, when 89 prisoners took their own lives. This was the highest number of suicides since 2007. In 2015 another 89 prisoners took their own lives (Howard League, 2016).
The number of suicides in prisons has remained high for two years, and by the end of March 2016 there had already been 27 self inflicted deaths in our prisons (MoJ, 2016). Additionally rates of both self-harm and assaults have risen (Ministry of Justice, 2015).
The bottom line? Suicides of (overwhelmingly male) prisoners account for about five times as many deaths every year, as of women in the year after their pregnancies. Why, then, do we find more coverage of the latter phenomenon in the Health Committee report, along with numbers, followed by little coverage of the former, and no numbers? The committee is more concerned over female suicide than male suicide, that’s why. And that in a society that is meant to be ‘equal’.
You will search in vain for recognition in the report that more men than women commit suicide because of differentials in highly stressful life events caused by the state’s actions and inactions e.g. denial of access to children following family breakdowns, a lack of support for male victims of domestic violence, homelessness… and so much more. Much of the report’s language is couched in mental health terms, and for men we get the predictable victim blaming and subtle allusions to ‘toxic masculinity’, including this example (p.8):
14. We should embrace innovative approaches that reach out to those in distress in order to offer an alternative before an avoidable loss of life to suicide. Supporting this group of people who are vulnerable to suicide involves tackling the stigma that persists – particularly for men [my emphasis] – in talking about emotional health…
From p.6 of the report:
8. The clear message given to us by stakeholder groups is a simple one—implementation of the Government’s 2012 suicide prevention strategy has been characterized by inadequate leadership, poor accountability, and insufficient action. Over the past four years, there has been a failure to translate the suicide prevention strategy into actual improvements.
From p.16, ‘Conclusions and recommendations’:
1. The refreshed suicide prevention strategy must be underpinned by a clear implementation strategy, with strong national leadership, clear accountability, and regular and transparent external scrutiny.
The government clearly took no notice of the 2012 suicide prevention strategy, why should it take any notice of the next one? From the same page:
3. Our evidence suggests that there are three distinct groups of people at risk from suicide, and different approaches are needed for each:
The most obvious ‘distinct group’ – men – is not deemed worthy of mention.
This report is, as we predicted, a whitewash. It doesn’t move on from the plain facts – suicide is a highly gendered problem, affecting mainly men – to considering how to reduce the male suicide rate.
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Sarah Wollaston (C, Totnes), the chair of the committee, and her colleagues (7 of the 10 are women) simply don’t care enough about men killing themselves in large numbers, to do anything about this long-running tragedy.
If the situation were reversed, and three-quarters of suicide victims were women, Sarah Wollaston and her colleagues would care greatly, and the state would invest enormous resources to bring down the female suicide rate.