THE rate of suicides in St Helens has continued its downward trend even through the first lockdown, new data has shown.

In 2018, St Helens was shown to have the highest suicide rate in England, prompting a renewed focus on tackling the devastating issue.

This was after figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that between 2015-2017, St Helens had a suicide rate of 17.9 per 100,000 population – more than 80 per cent higher than the 9.6 national average.

The most recent calculated rate for the three years up until the end of March 2020 shows a rate of 12.9, from 60 deaths, according to a report published by St Helens Borough Council.

St Helens Star:

Real time surveillance data collected by the council has shown that so far this year, 16 suicides have been recorded in St Helens.

This data shows that numbers were high at the beginning of 2020, but started to decrease from March as the country went into lockdown, before rising again from June onwards.

A council report says that, despite the impact of Covid-19 on mental health, there has not been a corresponding rise in suicides in St Helens.

However, the report notes that access to methods were more “constrained” during lockdown, which can influence the number of suicides.

The report was presented to the council’s adult social care and health scrutiny committee on Monday after councillors requested an update on the work carried out as part of the council’s suicide action plan 2017- 2020, and how this is reflected in the data.

The official suicide and undetermined deaths were published at the end of August 2020 for the years 2017-19, and showed the three-year rate had fallen to 13.9 per 100,000 population,

While this has continued St Helens’ downward trend, it is still above North West and England rates and remains one of the highest in the country.

The number of suicides involving females also increased between 2017-19, from 10 to 12 per 100,000 people.

Looking at ONS data from 2001-2003 to 2015-2017, male suicides increased by 148 per cent, while female suicides remained relatively consistent.

The data also shows a disproportionate number of suicides in the most deprived areas on the borough.

But Cllr Linda Mussell, a former district nurse, stressed that the factors driving someone to take their life is often complex, and said focusing on deprivation is “unfair”.

Cllr Mussell, Conservative councillor for Rainford, said: “Deprivation is often cited as a cause of suicide but it’s not as simple as that.

“It’s a breakdown of family units, it’s divorce, it’s a multitude of things and to just focus on one element of it is unfair.

“But I am pleased I have to say that the rates in St Helens, particularly are coming down. It is a league table that we would really rather not be top of.

“As you say, a race to the bottom is what we require.

“And I think it’s a mark of the good work that we’ve been doing over the last 12 months, that it is coming down.”

Between January 1, 2017 to September 30, 2020 there were 87 recorded suicides in St Helens.

A total of 57 of these deaths were people aged between 26 and 55 years.

Around three quarters (65) were male and 22 were female.

In addition, 49 of the 87 were previously known to have mental health issues and 35 were known to have made previous suicide attempts or self-harm.

Just under half (43) were unemployed at the time of death, something that Labour councillor Dennis McDonnell said was not a “surprising statistic”.

Cllr McDonnell, chairman of the committee, suggested the financial crash of 2007-2008, coupled with the Conservative government’s austerity agenda that came after it, was the reason the suicide rate St Helens doubled between 2008 and 2018.

Cllr McDonnell, ward councillor for Billinge and Seneley Green, said: “What went wrong in that period? We was always below the national average.

“The answer appears to be the economic crash and the introduction of austerity.

“I am now very worried because we are now heading for another economic crash and the government are to reintroduce austerity with pay freezes.

“It isn’t a surprising statistic that 50 of those who have died were unemployed.

“Unemployment and austerity can kill. We need to push for better employment prospects if we are to have any chance of continued reduction in the suicide figures.”

St Helens Star: Cllr Dennis McDonnell, Labour councillor for Billinge and Seneley Green and chairman of St Helens Borough Council's adult social care and health scrutiny committee Cllr Dennis McDonnell, Labour councillor for Billinge and Seneley Green and chairman of St Helens Borough Council's adult social care and health scrutiny committee

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