Action needed to tackle link between poverty and suicide in Wales says Samaritans Cymru

Samaritans Cymru have launched a new report which highlights the devastating link between poverty and suicide. The report, ‘Socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – Finding a way forward for Wales’, sets out a number of recommendations to tackle this link in Wales, including a call to Welsh Government to set out a Wales poverty strategy.

Each year, between 300 and 350 people die by suicide in Wales, which is around three times the number killed in road accidents. It is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 and the leading cause of death of people under 35. Alongside this, almost a quarter of the Welsh population (23%) live in poverty. It costs Wales £3.6bn a year; a fifth of the Welsh Government budget.

In 2016, Samaritans released a research report titled, ‘Dying from Inequality’, which found that suicide rates are two to three times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent.

Amongst other key findings, the research found that –

  • There is a strong association between area-level deprivation and suicidal behaviour: as area-level deprivation increases, so does suicidal behaviour.
  • Admissions to hospital following self-harm are two times higher in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to the most affluent.
  • Multiple and large employer closures resulting in unemployment can increase stress in a local community, break down social connections and increase feelings of hopelessness and depression, all of which are recognised risk factors for suicidal behaviour.
  • Suicide risk increases during periods of economic recession, particularly when recessions are associated with a steep rise in unemployment, and this risk remains high when crises end, especially for individuals whose economic circumstances do not improve.

Following this release of the research, Samaritans Cymru held an event with partners and stakeholders, including a number of frontline staff, to discuss how these findings could be addressed in Wales. Following the discussion, Samaritans Cymru have produced a report and developed a number of recommendations which they believe need to be adopted in order to tackle the relationship between suicide and poverty in Wales.

Amongst their ten recommendations, Samaritans Cymru believes that a Wales Poverty Strategy is of critical importance. The Welsh Government does not currently have an over-arching, broad poverty strategy or action plan to address poverty in Wales, but the suicide prevention charity believes a specific and targeted approach to tackle it is crucial.

Amongst the other recommendations, Samaritans Cymru are also calling for better public information to support financial literacy and help to reduce unmanageable debt, better support for those bereaved by suicide and a call for specific investment in community groups to tackle loneliness and isolation.

Sarah Stone, Executive Director for Wales said –

“There is now overwhelming evidence of a strong connection between socioeconomic deprivation and suicidal behaviour in Wales. We are pleased to launch our report today, which sets out the actions we believe are needed to address this link. Suicide is not inevitable; there are actions we can take so that difficult times do not result in people dying.”

“We also want to highlight that the power of communities in Wales. The skills and abilities of the people within them are a major asset which needs to be recognised, supported and utilised. Communities in Wales already have the solutions; we just need to forge the links. We also need to realise, as a society, that deprivation is closer to us than we think; we must stop seeing these communities as separate to us.”

John Griffiths AM who is sponsoring the report launch said –

“I am very glad to sponsor Samaritans Cymru’s report launch which aims to highlight the tragic and disproportionate impact poverty can have in the circumstances that lead to suicidal behaviour.

This is unacceptable and it is vital that we gain a greater understanding of socioeconomic deprivation throughout Wales.

On a larger scale, individuals facing difficult social circumstances need access to preventative health measures prior to the point of feeling suicidal in order to reduce strain on services.

I hope this report will raise awareness of this sadly wide-spread issue and also emphasise the importance of ensuring services are in place to best support those people with suicidal feelings. 

Organisations like the Samaritans do extremely important work for people feeling suicidal. However, further support is needed to help mental health organisations to support those who are vulnerable to suicide and tackle the detrimental effects of poverty on those most in need in our society.”