Health: Identifying those at high risk of taking life

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Councillors are to discuss efforts to raise awareness of suicide across Leeds. Katie Baldwin reports.

Every 40 seconds, someone across the globe dies by taking their own life.

And with the death of actor Robin Williams, apparently through suicide, the issue has been brought to the forefront once again.

Last week the World Health Organisation (WHO) called suicide a “major public health problem”.

WHO said that only 28 countries have a national suicide prevention strategy, which has been shown to be effective at cutting the numbers of people who take their own lives.

Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO, said: “This report is a call for action to address a large public health problem, which has been shrouded in taboo for far too long.”

Health experts in Leeds have previously looked at the numbers of suicides in the city through an audit of deaths between 2008 and 2010.

Though rates were as expected for the city, some areas had a higher incidence than others with the highest number in the west Leeds area.

On August 10, Leeds City councillors will discuss the issue at their full council meeting, while a deputation of people bereaved by suicide will also attend Leeds Civic Hall.

The event will mark World Suicide Prevention Day and will highlight efforts in the city to tackle the issue, including the Council’s commitment of £200,000 to develop support groups for those whose loved ones take their own lives.

Coun Fiona Venner, who is also the director of mental health charity Leeds Survivor Led Crisis Service, said: “A suicide is not like any other death.

“We know the statistics highlight the risks, but every suicide is an individual tragedy for the person who believed they had no other option and the friends and family who loved them.

“There is support available which can make a huge difference and prevent suicide.

“There’s also support for people bereaved by suicide. We want to raise people’s awareness of the help out there and the things you can do if you need help yourself or you know someone else who does.”

Next week will see the launch of a “crisis card”, a credit card-sized information sheet giving advice which will be distributed across the city.

A scheme is already running which aims to prevent suicide by teaching members of the community to identify those at risk and help them find help.

Funded by Leeds City Council, the SafeTALK training programme is provided by charity Community Links and is free for anyone over 15 who lives or works in Leeds.

GPs in west Leeds are also being given specialist training by Community Links to help those at risk of killing themselves.

Dr Jeanette Turley, clinical lead for mental health and learning disability for NHS Leeds West Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “Suicide is a terrible waste of a life and it also has a devastating effect on the friends and families involved.

“We want people to understand that whatever the problems they are having to deal with, there is always an alternative way of escaping from their distress. We hope that by giving GPs the ability to spot warning signs, then those at risk can be identified earlier and given the support that they need.”

Efforts by Leeds City Council’s Public Health team includes community development work with men in high-risk groups in the LS12 area, led by charity BARCA. The men reported that having someone to talk to often saved them from acting on suicidal thoughts.

NHS Leeds West CCG has also funded BARCA to provide sessions in west Leeds to help men and women at risk of depression and suicide.

Some of these organisations will be hosting stalls at tomorrow’s meeting to explain more about their work.

Coun Lisa Mulherin, chair of Leeds Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “If we make it easier to talk about our mental health, then it will be easier to help people find appropriate help and support.

“As almost two thirds of the people who were identified in the audit had not made contact with mental health services, we know how important it is for people to talk about how they are feeling and seek support from organisations which can offer help.”

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