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11th October 2023

Rishi Sunak’s 2023 suicide prevention plan inspires hope but falters in funding and inclusivity – are we surprised?

The Tories have finally decided to combat the UK’s suicide crisis. However, the strategy seems to be full of false hope as the topic of funding comes into question
Rishi Sunak’s 2023 suicide prevention plan inspires hope but falters in funding and inclusivity – are we surprised?
Photo: Suicide Prevention is Everyone’s Business @ RCPSG

Trigger warning: contains discussions of suicide and self-harm

As of September 2023, the ongoing struggle with suicide prevention in England is absolutely frustrating, with rates as high as they were 20 years ago. It’s also incredibly disturbing to hear that men under 50 are particularly at risk for suicide, while rates among women are on a concerning rise. Even though there have been significant efforts to address mental health issues and offer young people support services, it’s clear the government’s efforts are falling short. More focused interventions are required to address this crisis in the UK, especially in our university communities.

On September 11, the government graced us with what they consider a ground-breaking 5-year cross-sector strategy to tackle the increasing suicide rates among young people. It’s almost comical how they act as if this is some kind of revolutionary revelation! This suicide prevention strategy will ultimately demand active participation from various government departments at a national level. It will further require ongoing efforts from local government, the NHS, voluntary organisations, community groups, and individuals.

In what can only be described as a pitiful response to a grave crisis, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) established a £10 million Suicide Prevention Grant Fund in the 2023 Spring Budget. This grant will run from 2023 – 2025, in an attempt to support voluntary and social organisations to deliver suicide prevention activity for our youth. It’s utterly maddening to see the government’s cheap approach to a problem that clearly requires more significant and ongoing financial support. If the government could miraculously dig up £450 billion to give away to their friends, then surely they can muster the decency to allocate some additional funding for a cause as critically important as this one.

Approximately a further £150 million will be invested into NHS England, alongside the £10 million invested into the Suicide Prevention Fund. With the help of this sizeable grant, specialised mental health ambulances, creative crisis cafés, and contemporary mental health assessment facilities will be built. The government’s sudden dedication and commitment to mental health care should promise significant outcomes for university students across the country. It’s long overdue, considering the challenging years students have experienced with COVID-19 and lockdowns.

University counselling services may feel less pressure now that specialised mental health services are available. This will enable universities to focus on long-term counselling and support while the specialised services handle crisis situations. Furthermore, the government’s commitment to mental health care and investment in these services will also contribute to increased mental health awareness and conversations. This ultimately has the potential to reduce stigma and encourage more students to seek assistance when necessary. Maybe now they can finally make up for their years of neglect and indifference to students.

Moreover, Sunak’s pledge to fund senior mental health leads and establish mental health support teams in every UK school is not just a positive step; it is a vital lifeline for the mental health of our students. Rishi Sunak and his government are finally stepping up to address the pressing issue of young people’s mental health, something that has long been overdue. This proactive move comes after years of Tory austerity and “the longest NHS waiting lists in history.”

Whilst these measures may sound promising, Rishi Sunak and his government appear to lack any clear plan when it comes to financing these investments. One might wonder if they were too busy partying during lockdowns to draft a robust funding strategy.

So, what exactly is the Tories’ strategy for funding these initiatives, if they have one at all?

Although the suicide prevention strategy is new and has been greatly praised, much of the funding mentioned is old or about to come to an end. A key example is the £57 million that has funded significant local work for the past few years, which is about to end in March 2024. The funding promised for the voluntary and community sector is of course vital, but it’s a tiny fraction of what’s truly required.

Furthermore, there has been no mention of how the implementation of mental health support teams in UK educational settings will be funded. What makes matters more frustrating is that councils are already “on their knees” due to a slew of service cuts and job losses. Because of this, any effort by the government to combat youth suicide will be a difficult challenge.

In response, Julie Bentley, chief executive of Samaritans, has urged the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, to make funding for suicide prevention an “urgent priority.” This request comes ahead of his expected autumn statement on November 23 2023, which will disclose plans for taxation and public spending. Bentley hit the nail on the head with her statement, echoing the sentiment of countless students “a plan without proper funding is like a car with no petrol – it’s not going to get you where you need to be.”

As students, it’s shocking to see the recent data highlighting a significantly higher suicide rate among first-year university students compared to those in other academic years. This should act as a glaring indication that our government’s efforts to address this issue just aren’t cutting it. Although it’s great that Mental Health Support Teams are being rolled out in every UK school, it’s past time the government brings this crucial help to universities too. We need it.

The government further failed to announce the creation of dedicated hubs for young people in the strategy. This would have greatly targeted the most vulnerable individuals and students, who are susceptible to self-harm. Plus, these hubs would have significantly benefited students who engage in self-harm by offering them direct access to essential support and resources within their own communities. It’s about time the government begins to pay attention to students and their concerns, rather than assuming what they believe to be our primary concerns and priorities.

This situation has many students across the country wondering, as we anticipate the autumn statement in November. Are there plans for the government to increase funding for mental health support initiatives in our universities across the UK? And if that’s the case, could this potentially mark a turning point in addressing the growing mental health concerns among our students?

If you are in need of mental health support, you can call Samaritans on 116 123, or text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 for support.

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