St Helens has the fourth highest suicide rate in England, the borough’s director of public health has revealed.
Sue Forster told St Helens Council’s health and adult social care overview and scrutiny panel that there were 28 recorded suicides in St Helens in 2017.
She told members it is generally young and middle-aged men who are the worst affected.
“Although our numbers are low, we are the fourth highest in the country,” she said.
“Suicide numbers are low generally when you compare it to other conditions like cardiovascular disease.
“However, it affects younger people and specifically younger men.
“It’s often middle-aged men, but we are starting to see some younger cohorts come through.”
Ms Forster said intelligence suggests the number of suicides for 2018 are on course to surpass last year’s total, although they may not all be recorded as suicides by the coroner.
“The numbers we’ve got coming through at the moment don’t look like that’s going to come down considerably,” Ms Forster said.
“Bearing in mind we’re getting a bit more intelligence at the moment that some of them aren’t going to a definite verdict of suicide.
“Some of them are a narrative verdict and some of them are an open verdict.”
Rainford ward councillor Linda Mussell, suggested the actual figure could be far greater than the recorded verdicts.
“That’s 28 that have left a suicide note,” she said.
“The ones who don’t, who just go and kill themselves – we know they are a suicide – but it’s an open verdict.
“It’s probably masking a huge problem that might be out there.”
Ms Forster said some of the underlying issues related to suicide are poverty, childhood trauma, alcohol, substance misuse, employment and other financial problems.
She said people who have had a family member or friend who has taken their own life are nine per cent more likely to commit suicide themselves.
Cllr David Baines, ward member for Windle, said he has been affected by suicide after a close relative took his own life.
Cllr Baines said the family member had been taking anti-depressants for numerous years but did not receive a follow-up from his GP, even in the months leading up to his death when he stopped taking the medication.
He said: “There’s so many people who take their own life, it’s impossible to predict.
“You don’t know what’s going on in somebody’s head if they don’t reach out for help.
“But those people who have been to the GP, who have asked for support, we know about them, so we should be helping them.”
Ms Forster said St Helens is a high-prescribing area of anti-depressants and work needs to be undertaken to understand why.
As well as recording suicides, Ms Forster said the authority is also looking at how it can collate information relating to near miss situations.
She told members of the panel that identifying the risk of somebody who will eventually commit suicide is “notoriously difficult” to do.
The council’s director of public health was at the panel to take questions on the authority’s suicide prevention action plan, which sets out actions to reduce the risk and number of suicides in the borough until 2020.
Ms Forster called the document a “dynamic” action plan that will change based off new information and intelligence.
The action plan will go before the council’s People’s Board in July.