Shock Leeds suicide figures

CONCERNS: Fiona Venner, manager of Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service.
CONCERNS: Fiona Venner, manager of Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service.
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More than 800 people have sought help from a Leeds suicide prevention charity in the last year, and numbers are rising.

The Leeds Survivor-Led Crisis Service (LSLCS), based in Halton, has brought hundreds of people back from the brink.

In the past year alone, 1,280 visits were made to their Dial House facility, and 832 were from people wanting to kill themselves. Many had already made attempts on their own lives.

The charity receives around 5,000 calls a year from people in crisis, and has seen a huge surge since the impact of the recession started to bite. Call numbers have doubled, and the service is struggling to cope with demand.

Manager Fiona Venner says poverty and unemployment are a big factor.

“There’s been an increase in demand and we are turning more people away,” she said. “There’s an increase in desperation and of issues with housing and finance.

“More people are going into crisis as [public] services are being cut.

“The council and the NHS are really supportive .

“But it will get worse. The numbers of people in crisis is rising because of welfare reform, and most of the cuts haven’t actually happened yet.”

A new Suicide Prevention Strategy launched by the Government yesterday - to coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day - has promised to pump money into new research, and to focus on ‘at risk’ groups as well as supporting bereaved families.

But some experts say it doesn’t go far enough, and it may have little impact, especially on reducing young suicides.

Ged Flynn, chief executive of suicide-prevention charity PAPYRUS, said: “We welcome the strategy itself. We believe that the high number of suicides that occur every year in Britain is something that we can work on together, as a nation, to reduce.

“But we note that there is no new funding to support its delivery, no action plan for implementation and no simple means of measuring its success. With its reliance on local authorities and a multiplicity of agencies to deliver the strategy, its implementation will not be easy.”

A recent suicides audit of Leeds found that nearly 80 per cent of those who took their own lives across the city were men, higher than the national proportion.

Latest figures from the West Yorkshire coroner’s office show that the number of suicide verdicts recorded among men went up by 15 percent in three years.

There were 56 male suicides in the city in 2008, but that had risen steadily to 66 last year.

The audit also found that Armley was the city’s suicide hotspot, with 21 suicides in the LS12 postcode alone in a two-year period.

Leeds as a whole had a higher rate of suicides compared to other similar-sized cities. Unemployment and relationship breakdowns, often combined with alcohol abuse, were major triggers.

Ms Venner said the vast majority of visitors to Dial House are from the LS9, LS11, LS12, LS14 and LS15 postcodes, some of the most economically deprived areas of the city.

“It’s not a coincidence it’s higher in deprived areas,” she said.“The value of suicide prevention work is that people don’t want to die, they just want their suffering to stop.

“If you can make the right intervention, and get in there at the right time, you can save them.”

LSLCS, which has 23 paid staff and around 40 volunteers, was set up by a group of campaigning mental health service users.

Ms Venner has suffered from anxiety and depression herself, as have many of the staff at Dial House.

She believes this unique, personal perspective is vital to the charity’s success.

“These were people who had their own experiences of the gritty end of mental health services and wanted an alternative to hospital,” she said of the charity’s founders.

The charity runs a helpline from 6pm to 10.30pm and the building is also open for face to face support.

“Most mental health services are 9 to 5,” Ms Venner explains.

“That’s completely illogical.

“If you are in crisis, the worst time is at night, when you feel at your most lonely and vulnerable.

“Last year, we had 832 times when people came and said they were suicidal.

“A lot of the time we consider people to be actively suicidal.

“They plan to end their lives and they have the means to do so or have tried before.

“We work with people on very high risk of suicide and most of our work is around that.

“But because we are not open all the time, we cannot meet demand for the service, and the reality is we only work now with people at highest risk.

“That means turning people away when they are in crisis.

“The helpline misses a lot of calls as well as taking them.

“We are under-resourced for a city the size of Leeds.”

Ms Venner is especially concerned at figures which show that the majority of people who have committed suicide in the city have not had any known involvement with mental health services, and that they have effectively slipped through the ‘preventative’ net.

“The suicide audit highlighted that most people who are suicidal are not in mental health services,” she said.

“That’s really worrying.

“We are really aware that a lot of people go into crisis and try to end their life, but don’t know where to get help.

“That’s why we are targeting places like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

“I think there’s a real issue about people who are not in mental health. That should be a priority. “

Following the Audit of Suicides and Undetermined Deaths in Leeds, an action plan is now being created to tackle the issues which contribute to suicide.

Armley councillor Alison Lowe, who is also the chief executive of mental health charity Touchstone, said the work at Dial House was vital but wants the city’s suicide prevention strategy to go even further.

And she is calling on the council to target more resources towards hotspots like Armley - before things get worse.

“We know that where there is deprivation and you have got white single men , where drugs and alcohol are easily available, the chance of those people committing suicide are way higher,” she said. “So there’s got to be a targeted response from agencies.

“A lot of these cases will be people who don’t know they’ve got mental health difficulties.

“As a city, we have an insight into where the individuals are and where we need to be targeting our resources and responses.

“We’ve got a major responsibilty to do something about it. Because we know that with the right sorts of response, people choose to live. It’s about catching people when they are at their lowest. Because if they can pass that lowest ebb, they can come back up again.”

Contact Dial House’s helpline on 0808 800 1212 or book an appointment via 0113 2609328.

Graham Pearce of KPMG

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