Kerry McCarthy MP hosted a panel discussion on May 18 at Speaker’s House at the Houses of Parliament – Suicide Prevention: Breaking the Silence. Joining her were Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris of the band Joy Division / New Order and suicide prevention charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).
Following the panel discussion, chaired by Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham, the Minister for Mental Health Gillian Keegan MP and Leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer MP also spoke about their respective plans to reform the mental health system.
Suicide should be considered a public health emergency in the UK, with 125 lives lost to it every week. In 2021 suicides rose to their highest ever recorded level, underlining the urgency of the situation.
Tragically 75% of all suicides are male, and it is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Despite this, mental health conditions and suicide can be hard to talk about and hard to understand. Unlike other illnesses, it is hidden from view. An internal, personal struggle for millions of people, many of whom fight it in silence.
And each suicide directly affects 135 friends, family and colleagues.
The panel discussed the current state of mental health in the UK, the cultural stigma surrounding suicide, and the issues faced those suffering mental health problems in accessing appropriate support treatment.
Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris discussed their own experience of suicide and whether the discourse and landscape has changed since the death of their Joy Division band mate Ian Curtis in 1980. Founder of Joy Division and New Order’s record label, Factory, the late Tony Wilson, was an early supporter of CALM.
Bernard’s own more recent experience engaging with children’s mental health services informed the discussion. The band said that they wanted to come to Parliament to engage directly with MPs and to reinforce the idea that mental health conditions should be treated as seriously as physical health conditions. All sides support that principle but changes are needed to put it into practice.
With a new Mental Health Bill confirmed in last week’s Queen’s Speech, now is the time for serious discussion about what needs to be done to reform the mental health system and take action to save the thousands of lives lost to suicide every year in the UK.
Leader of the Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer MP: “The level of need is rising and we are facing nothing short of a mental health crisis in this country. This can and must change. We can’t walk away from this.
We have to make good on this pledge to make mental health as important as physical health. We have talked about parity for a long time, but we are nowhere near it.
That is about our priorities. My priorities as Leader. Putting parity of esteem for mental health into action. I believe that this is about treating people with basic respect.”
Minister for Mental Health, Gillian Keegan MP, said: “Suicide is a tragedy and devastates the lives of families and communities. I‘m committed to improving mental health and wellbeing outcomes and to reducing rates of suicide.
“Our mental health call for evidence will support development of a new, 10-year, cross-government plan for mental health and wellbeing, and we are working with the suicide prevention sector over the coming year to review the 2012 suicide prevention strategy and develop a new national suicide prevention plan.
“The action we take over the coming decade to support the nation’s mental health will ultimately contribute towards preventing suicide – both among people in contact with NHS services, and people in the community.
“Suicide is preventable. If anyone is struggling, I urge them to ask for help – the NHS is open 24/7 for anyone in crisis.”
We are concerned by the loss of a dedicated minister for suicide prevention, which is why it’s crucial that suicide prevention is at the centre of the UK Government’s plans. Whilst mental health and suicide prevention organisations are more determined than ever to reach the people most in need we can’t do it alone, and lessons must be learnt from the past If we are to prevent what is looking more and more like an imminent mental health crisis.”
Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris said: “We would like to thank everyone for coming together to discuss such a vital topic. We were very young when we lost our friend and bandmate in 1980. Both ourselves and the times were unprepared to understand the complex issues involved to help him before it was too late. Over 40 years later, there is still a way to go and mental health needs to be treated on a par with physical health. If we can reach one person by speaking out about this, it will be worth it.”