Behind the headlines

The government’s national suicide prevention strategy has been
launched with the ambitious aim to cut suicide rates by one fifth
in the next three years. It will be overseen by the
newly-established National Institute for Mental Health in England.
The Strategy has been widely welcomed.

However, a few eyebrows were raised by the seeming inconsistency
between the suicide strategy and other planks of government policy.
Some were concerned that plans to introuduce more compulsory powers
under new mental health legislation would deter people with
suicidal feeelings from seeking help. Research by Mind suggests
that 37 per cent of people would be deterred, rising to 52 per cent
in the case of 15 to 24-year-olds. Others were concerned about new
powers to remand 12 to 16-year-old children in custody, despite the
known suicide risk. Of 4,000 children interviewed by the Children’s
Society while on remand in prison, 340 had mental health problems,
318 had attempted suicide or self-harm, 252 were victims of
bullying, and 27 had child protection issues.

Karen Warwick, senior practitioner, Barnardo’s
“The government’s emphasis on remanding 12 to 16 year olds
may increase the risk of the suicide figures going up. Prior to my
current post, I worked with young people aged 12 to 14 who were
labelled as persistent or serious offenders. I saw a number of
young people sent in to custody. There was always a concern about
the risk of suicide and the worry that they would not receive
adequate support in penal institutions. My view is plain and simple
– children should not be locked up in prison.”

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the
“I welcome the strategy to reduce suicide rates and there
is clearly a need to focus some action on young men, where suicide
rates are proportionately higher. There seems to be a lack of
co-ordination between this policy and the new power of the courts
to give custodial sentences to young people between 12 and 16 who
would be at greater risk of suicide when in custody. However, there
is a need to deal with persistent young offenders so there should
be urgent action to examine the causes of suicide in the prison

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and
“The collision of images of children alone in prison cells
and government targets to reduce child suicides is grotesque. The
suicide of a child alone in a prison cell is a terrible indictment
of all of us. So many children whose offending is out of control
are terrified of themselves, terrified of being alone, with no
family in touch or no real friends. So what do we do? We lock them
up and when the doors shut we withdraw the protection of child care
legislation. Strategies may be fine, but let’s have a level playing
field for all children first.”

Phil Frampton, national chairperson, Care Leavers
“Government moves to imprison more children appear to be
less about the protection of society than ministers aiming at
short-term performance targets. With one in eight remanded children
attempting suicide or self-harm, it appears that government policy
is creating the conditions for more suicides. It’s easy to get
tough on children who commit crime. The real need is to get tough
on the issues that push young people into crime. A sincere
government would tackle poverty and despair, which means first of
all stopping Tony Blair’s planned redistribution of wealth – to the
rich. Young people’s problems require imagination not locked up

Bob Hudson, principal research fellow, Nuffield
Institute for Health, University of Leeds
“Health minister Jacqui Smith, has acknowledged there is
no quick fix on suicide prevention, and the national strategy is a
welcome reflection of this reality. The cross-government network to
look at the wider social causes of suicide is to be welcomed. But,
it is a strategy without resourcing, and there is worrying evidence
that thinking at the centre is very far from joined-up.”

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