British Prime Minister Theresa May has appointed what is thought to be the world’s first minister for suicide prevention.
The move, intended to tackle the tragedy of 4,500 people taking their own lives in England each year, comes on World Mental Health Day.
Jackie Doyle-Price, a Conservative MP and current health minister, has been appointed to lead the government’s efforts to confront the issue, which is the leading cause of death in men aged under 45.
The new role will head up a ministerial taskforce, working with experts in suicide and self-harm prevention, charities, clinicians and those personally affected by suicide.
May said: “We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence. We can prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives.”
Doyle-Price, in her new role as minister for mental health, inequalities and suicide prevention, said: “In my time as health minister I have met many people who have been bereaved by suicide and their stories of pain and loss will stay with me for a long time.
“It’s these people who need to be at the heart of what we do and I welcome this opportunity to work closely with them, as well as experts, to oversee a cross-government suicide prevention plan, making their sure their views are always heard.”
May has also pledged more support for mental health services for children and young people, as well as funding for the Samaritans’ helpline — a confidential 24/7 freephone service.
The measures come as London hosts the first ever Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit, organized together with the OECD and supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Tuesday’s opening session was attended by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who previously launched the Heads Together mental health campaign with Prince Harry. Organizations, ministers and representatives from more than 50 countries will continue to discuss the many issues surrounding mental health in the capital today.
They are likely to debate the findings of a new report from WHO, which states that mental health should be explicitly included in global policy as mental health problems kill more young people than any other cause worldwide.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death globally for young peope aged between 15 and 19, according to the report, which also suggested there is little difference reported in mental health services and support between countries of low and middle average incomes and those of high incomes.
Mental health disorders have “dramatically risen” around the world in the last 25 years, according to Dr. Pattel of Harvard University, who presented his findings in The Lancet and described the global mental health situation as “extremely bleak.”
May’s announcement comes a day after the National Audit Office said the UK government may be “even further away than it thought” from achieving its goal of equal access to physical and mental health services for young people.
While the UK’s move was welcomed, critics blamed shortfalls affecting mental health services on the government’s austerity drive.
Barbara Keeley, mental health spokeswoman for the opposition Labour Party, told the Press Association: “A focus on suicide prevention is long overdue given the appalling increase in suicide rates since 2010, particularly among young people, but it also needs proper funding of front line services.
“Mental health services are still being underfunded by the Conservative government.”