What images does New Year evoke? For some, it will be gathering with friends and family, or sharing hopes for the year to come. However, a lesser-known, and very disturbing, phenomenon associated with New Year is a marked increase in the number of people dying from suicide. Last year, researchers from the University of Manchester examined data on suicides in England over a five-year period and found a 40% increase on New Years Day. This increase was statistically significant and clearly represented a very real phenomenon.
The reason for the spike in suicides at New Year requires further research. For example, one may be tempted to attribute the rise to a lack of mental health service provision during a national holiday. However, the rise in suicide was only found in the general population and not in a sub group with diagnosed mental health conditions. In addition, a spike in suicides was not found on any other national holidays.
Researchers examined data on suicides in England over a five-year period and found a 40% increase on New Years Day
Another explanation may lie in the flip side of the positive New Year images mentioned earlier. For many people it’s a time when the absence of friends and family comes into sharp focus. Contemplation of a new year may not bring hope, but despair and anxiety. And alcohol may act to facilitate the impulsiveness and emotional intensity that can lead to a suicide attempt. In short, New Year may present a ‘perfect storm’ of feelings that rocks our resilience and leaves some of us vulnerable to suicide.
It is local communities that give us the best chance of weathering that storm. While professional health and care services are crucial, it is only by collaborating closely with the voluntary sector and resident-run community groups that we can hope to provide the accessibility and scale required for a robust suicide prevention strategy. Community based offers of support, companionship, financial or legal advice can make all the difference – especially if they are local and accessible.
Community based offers of support, companionship, financial or legal advice can make all the difference
The central place of community support is outlined in recent guidance by Public Health England and the National Suicide Prevention Alliance. This excellent resource sets out the key considerations for local suicide prevention planning which Professor Jim McManus rightly says “is a jigsaw, which requires many pieces to come together.”
So, that’s the key question. With New Year fast approaching, as local authorities, health services, community groups and charities, are all our jigsaw pieces in place? For some in our community, a perfect storm is coming, and they will need somewhere to turn. It is up to every local authority and its partners in other public services and civil society to ensure that they are there when people most need them.
Christmas and New Year can be a difficult time – if you’re struggling and need to speak to someone, please call Samaritans on 116 123 – it’s free to call from within the UK and Ireland and they’re available 24 hours a day. You can also email email@example.com