Sir John Hayes addresses the subject of suicide – and backs a new strategy to tackle the problem…
The importance of mental health is much more recognized than it was officially. However, even if the extent and importance of psychiatric and psychological problems are better known, the issue too often remains taboo.
We talk about suicide with even more reluctance.
That’s why I welcome the suicide prevention strategy published by the Government last month. It sets out measures to be taken over the next five years to address tragedies which affect around 16 men out of every 100,000 people. Three quarters of those who decide to take their own life are men – the equivalent figure for women is five in 100,000.
Among people with mental health problems, men are three times more likely to become addicted to alcohol and more likely to use and die from illegal drugs. Despite this, only a third of people referred to psychologists are men.
Having learned a lot over the years about this issue, including from Vanessa Browning, the founder of Spalding’s Community Mind Matters, who has done such good work at a local level, I strongly support the new approach taken by Ministers.
Prevention depends on identifying the warning signs and taking them into account. So early intervention is at the heart of the new strategy, with a focus on what more the Government, the NHS, local and wider public services, businesses and community groups can do to prevent people to get to the point where they are considering taking action. end life with their own hands.
Even when it is too late to intervene quickly and anticipate a tragedy, quick and effective measures can be taken to save lives. £150 million of funding for emergency crisis care has been committed by the government, alongside policies designed to reduce access to suicide materials and methods. Wherever devastating loss of life cannot be avoided, greater support will now be available to those whose hearts are broken by grief.
One of the core principles of this valuable new strategy is the Online Safety Bill. This bill aims to regulate greedy tech giants who fail their users by allowing harmful and malicious content to erode vulnerable individuals’ sense of dignity and self-esteem.
Frances Haugen’s whistleblower leaks last year revealed that Mr Zuckerberg’s Meta – the company behind Facebook – was a company fully aware of the damage it does to the mental health of its adult users or children.
It is deeply shocking that, among the many evils of the Internet, sinister algorithms not only reflect distress by reporting suicide, but actually encourage it!
That’s why the Online Safety Bill, which I helped strengthen, is at the heart of this new suicide prevention strategy. This will prevent top executives of “Big Tech” conglomerates from washing their hands of the damage they cause by making them legally responsible for dangerous content.
Disturbing, illegal or violent content is targeted at impressionable users – especially children – by algorithms created by people who should know better. Whatever the authors’ claims, some make vulnerable individuals more likely to consider suicide.
The new strategy encourages closer cooperation between the government and internet companies to ensure they provide a favorable environment for their users. Yet whatever the results of cooperation, it is clear that harmful content must be removed and those who perpetuate it must be held accountable.
Preventing the tragedy of suicide should concern us all, as the precious lives of too many young men in particular are cut short. Because what harms each of us harms all of us.