On Tuesday 23 May 2023, the Labour Party announced their mission to create an NHS fit for the future. In his speech, Sir Keir Starmer vowed to tackle the three "biggest killers" within a decade: heart disease, cancer, and suicide.
“Suicide is the biggest killer of young lives in this country. The biggest killer. That statistic should haunt us. And the rate is going up. Our mission must be and will be to get it down,” said Sir Keir Starmer.
Labour vowed to reduce suicide rates within five years. New policies were announced to address this, including:
- A focus on community care with emphasis on reforming primary care.
- Workforce expansion and harnessing the role of novel technologies.
- A focus on prevention and early intervention.
Suicide is complex. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours are associated with multiple, interacting, and interrelated factors. Many of the determinants of suicide lie at the heart of social adversity. Unemployment, financial instability, food poverty and insecurity, and lack of housing are only some of the challenges millions of people face every day. Suicide cannot be addressed by specialist mental health services alone, and that is why we have previously argued for the need for a coordinated approach across sectors including health and social care, education, the justice system, and the voluntary sector.
For any new policy to effect real change it needs to be informed by methodological approaches that can address the complexity behind suicide and the diverse and changing needs of the population.Dr Maria Michail - Associate Professor , Marie-Curie Global Fellow Institute for Mental Health, University of Birmingham
Labour’s mission of reducing rates of suicide is of course welcome. However, for any new policy to effect real change it needs to be informed by methodological approaches that can address the complexity behind suicide and the diverse and changing needs of the population. Systems modelling has the capacity to inform policy making and strategic action in suicide prevention by leveraging empirical data, existing scientific evidence, and the knowledge of people with lived and living experience of suicide and self-harm. Systems modelling and simulation offers researchers, policy makers, government advisors, service planners and commissioners a virtual environment in which they can test the likely impacts of different policies or interventions on desired outcomes (for example, reduced suicide deaths). This can help us better understand with what intensity, and for how long, investments are required to sustain the effects of any intervention or policy. In Australia, systems modelling has been adopted as a decision tool to inform both regional and national strategies for suicide prevention.
Our research at the University of Birmingham uses complex systems modelling which can guide the most appropriate combination of population-level suicide prevention interventions, to generate the greatest reductions in rates of suicide and attempted suicide among young people aged 12 to 25 over a 10-year period in West Midlands. By working collaboratively with a diverse group of local and expert stakeholders including young people with lived and living experience of suicide and self-harm, families and carers, policy makers, healthcare professionals, and the voluntary sector, we will ensure that different policies, interventions, and service planning decisions are relevant to the needs of the regional population.
Labour’s mission to create an NHS fit for purpose has shone a spotlight on suicide. There is an opportunity now to push for innovation in the field of suicide prevention. Systems modelling has the capacity to transform policy and practice recommendations in suicide prevention. If we are serious about reducing suicide rates, we need to invest in novel methodological approaches that can address the complexity of suicide, harness the power of data, and place young people with lived and living experience of suicide and self-harm at the front and centre of decisions that will affect their care and quality of life.
Suicide is a difficult subject. if you feel like you need support, Samaritans provides confidential non-judgemental emotional support, 24 hours a day. The Samaritans can be called on 116 123.