Tameside has third highest suicide rate in the country for middle-aged men
Friday 30th November 2018 @ 15:34 by Tom Greggan
News Tameside

Middle-aged men are more likely to take their own lives in Tameside than almost anywhere else in the country.

The shocking figures were laid bare by the town hall as it was revealed that the borough has the third worst suicide rate in England for men aged between 35 and 64. The people most at risk are those from deprived areas, and working in so-called ‘routine’ manual jobs, such as factory workers, retail assistants, cleaners and labourers.

But health chiefs believe they may have a solution for the current mental health crisis which has seen struggling people ‘fall through the gap’ between services and end up taking their own life.

More than £1 million a year is to be spent on a new project which will see more mental health services delivered locally on the ground from five neighbourhood hubs.

Its aim is to focus on early intervention and prevention, supporting residents to develop the ‘right skills’ to look after themselves, and targeting issues officers believe are critical triggers such as housing and debt.

A father in his 20s, who had a new baby, became suicidal after being told he and his partner were being evicted for late payments, a meeting of the strategic commissioning board was told.

Young and middle-aged men are among the groups that are more at risk of taking their own lives, a ‘suicide audit’ conducted by the town hall has found.

The audit, carried out in July, examined four years of data and identified some specific suicidal triggers, such as relationship breakdown, job loss and getting into debt, chronic pain or disability, and issues with drugs and alcohol.

Officer Lorraine Kitching told members that the high suicide rate amongst middle aged men in Tameside was a ‘concern’.

“Three quarters of all people who end their own lives are not in contact with mental health services,” she said. “There are a lot of people out there that are struggling and are not known to us. We are saying that a higher proportion are happening in the most 20 pc of deprived areas in the borough.”

The board was told that communication of what services are available needed to improve, as did reducing the stigma around mental health.

Cabinet member for children’s services, Coun Oliver Ryan said they should be judging the performance of their services against the statistics.

“If we’ve got this third highest suicide rate in England, what are other places doing that we are not?” he said. “We are not the third most deprived borough, but we are the third highest for suicide. There is a correlation and it must be to do with our services.

“You hear from people all the time who say the message is when they seek help, ‘we won’t see you unless you’re going to kill yourself today’, and if you are on a waiting list you’re waiting for over a year.”

Chairman of the board, Dr Alan Dow responded that the approach to mental health issues was about to become ‘radically different’.

He said: “Part of this is shining a light on areas where we need to shine a light and doing something about it. I think that’s probably one of the most challenging areas that we have here and it will be a focus for us.”

Across 2015 to 2017, Tameside had the 16th highest suicide rate out of 149 local authorities. More than half of those who do take their own lives are people aged between 35 and 54.

Officers have now developed a draft prevention strategy for the next five years which aims to reduce the suicide rate in Tameside by 10pc by 2020. Bosses say their ultimate long-term goal is to not have a single resident taking their own life.

According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of suicides spiked at 30 in 2016, but dropped to 19 last year.

The borough also has a far higher than average rate of emergency hospital admissions for people who have intentionally self-harmed – with significantly more women hurting themselves than men. Young people aged 10 to 24 also have a much higher rate of going into hospital because of self-harm than across the rest of England.

More than a tenth of residents, nearly 24,000 people, are registered with depression.

Dr Vinny Khunger, who works at Guide Bridge Medical Practice in Audenshaw, told the meeting how one of his patients needed a different kind of help than he could offer.

He said: “I saw a chap who’s in his 20s, he’s got a job, he’s got a partner. They have got a small baby, less than one-year-old. They live in fairly cramped conditions, the partner came into to say they had a letter for housing because their accommodation is inadequate.

“Then he had a phone call from his partner to say that they were likely to be evicted because they hadn’t kept up with their payments. He finished work, he felt suicidal. He went in A&E and sat there for four or five hours.

“A&E was rammed, it was very busy. He didn’t get to see anyone so he went to his GP, turns up with me the following morning. Of course what this chap didn’t need was me, or A&E, what he needed was housing advice.”

He added: “I hope that this will massively reduce the number of contacts that public services have with people like him who we need to help and we need to find ways to build their resilience within that community.”

A prototype will be trialled first at the Hyde hub, before being rolled out across the rest of the borough, two neighbourhoods at a time.

The new model will see a focus on a ‘front door’ approach where people can access services in a straightforward manner, such as an easy referral or through welcoming drop-ins at community venues.

Mental health coaching experts from backgrounds including employment, peer mentoring, clinical, medical and psychological therapy, will work with people to design their own individual plans. People being supported will be provided with up to 12 weeks of coaching to take their plan forward, with time to take control of their own mental health and set their own goals. Eventually it will be expanded to partner with leisure centres through Active Tameside, as well as social prescribers and housing officers.

Project Lead Officer Pat McKelvey told members: “There is extreme dissatisfaction across every part of the system within our current mental health services.”

She said the new system would see a shift away from offering a ‘quick cure’ and instead teach people how to ‘live well’ with their mental health, “treating it as we would any other long term condition”.

It will have a particular focus on effectively reaching men, who are statistically more at risk of taking their own lives.

However the neighbourhood mental health team will work to support people struggling with a range of needs, including the effects of childhood abuse, ‘emotional instability’ and people who are frequently asking their GP or going to A&E for help.

It’s hoped the three main outcomes will be that ‘people are able to recover and live life well, are connected and able to participate equally in society and have control over their lives’.

Council leader Brenda Warrington said: “Mental health as an issue nationally has become very focused now, it is something that is recognised as needing an awful lot more work and support, so I am pleased to see that Tameside is really getting on with this.”

By Charlotte Green
Local Democracy Reporter