Primary care services can help people at risk of suicide before they reach crisis point if they are given the right support, according to research published today by Centre for Mental Health and Samaritans.

Strengthening the frontline: Investing in primary care for effective suicide prevention explores the role of GP services in helping people who are at risk of suicide. About 6,000 people die by suicide each year in the UK. Only a third are in contact with mental health services in the year before their death, but many visit their GP in the months before their death.

Strengthening the frontline reviewed evidence about what GPs and their colleagues could do to help save lives among people with suicidal feelings. This included a survey of people with personal experience of seeking help about suicidal feelings and interviews with GPs and experts in the subject.

Strengthening the frontline identifies five areas for improvement to help GPs to offer life-saving support:

  1. The provision of effective, ongoing training for GPs
  2. Investment in the capacity of primary care services to enable longer appointments and continuity of care for patients needing ongoing support
  3. Emotional support for GPs themselves
  4. More effective care pathways for people who feel suicidal to clinical and social support
  5. Opportunities to refer patients who need more specialist support.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sarah Hughes said:

General practice is the heart of the NHS and GPs are often in contact with people with suicidal feelings. Knowing how to help and having the right structures in place to do so can be critical in saving a life. This may be as simple as ensuring someone sees the same GP at each visit and following up when they don’t come to an appointment. But we know that GP services are under pressure and GPs themselves get little support for their own mental health. Strengthening the frontline makes a clear case for investing in the capacity of primary care to save lives and for testing out at scale additional support that may help GPs to support people at risk of suicide.

Jacqui Morrissey, Assistant Director of Research & Influencing, Samaritans commented: “Suicide is preventable, and we are constantly exploring how to optimise existing pathways to help save more lives. GPs are uniquely placed to be able to identify and support people who are struggling and may be at risk of suicide. As suicide is very complex and specific, our GPs need specialist training and enough time in their appointments to listen to their patients, recognise those who need their help and know what support to provide each individual. Investment from a national and local level to equip our frontline physicians with the right knowledge and skills to support people at risk of suicide could make a life changing difference.” 

Strengthening the frontline was produced with funds raised by the staff of Investigo, which generously made Centre for Mental Health its charity of the year in 2018. The report was produced in partnership with Samaritans, a charity working across the UK and Ireland to reduce the number of people who take their own lives and help people who are struggling to cope with how they’re feeling with life’s challenges. 

Download the report here