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Why ethnicity matters for suicide prevention

Written by Natalie Creary Director of Black Thrive and Sadiki Harris Communication Lead of Black Thrive

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted why it is so important to collect data on equalities. It also shone a light on how inconsistent the statutory sector has been in their approach to collecting this data. This hindered their ability to mobilise their workforce and services to effectively respond to the needs of communities when they were faced with desperate situations.

The absence of equalities data is no different when we look at rates of suicide. The only demographic data available is on age, sex and geographical location. To some degree, this has been helpful in that we know men are disproportionately affected. The Office for National Statistics reports that in 2018, three-quarters of deaths in the UK were among men. Men between the ages of 45 – 49 are most at risk of dying by suicide. However, there has been an increase in the number of suicides among people aged between 25 and 44. The Office for National Statistics states that one of the reasons for this data gap is because ethnicity is not recorded on death certificates:

“Unfortunately, we do not hold information on suicide statistics by ethnicity. The information we hold on deaths is limited to what is recorded on the death certificate by a doctor or information about the cause and circumstances of the death provided by a coroner”.

We know from our work that data is essential to help us identify areas for improvement and to focus our energies on narrowing the inequalities gap. Due to structural racism, Black people are exposed to a range of stressors that impact on their wellbeing. We also know that there are barriers to accessing preventative services, and current provision is often not culturally sensitive. Various research studies have highlighted that particular groups may experience higher levels of inequities in mental health—for example, people living with disabilities and the LGBTQ+ community. However, the data available is either not collected or so poor we have no idea about the experiences of Black people at the intersections of age, race, sexuality and so on. Without this data, we are left to make assumptions about who is at risk, and neither are we able to provide culturally appropriate support. We continue to be surprised that despite everything we know about the mental health outcomes for Black communities, there has been little movement on this issue.

     On World Suicide Prevention Day we wanted to highlight this issue and to encourage you to do your part to make it easier for us as a community and system to provide the right support for members of our community when they are most vulnerable. We have seen the impact that suicide has on our community, this year Marcus Malachi, a poet from Lambeth died by suicide. His death is a reminder that our local system was not able to provide him with the support he needed.

    There is so much more we can be doing as a community and a wider system to better support people in our community.

    Many people find it difficult to talk about suicide. Research shows that stigma about mental health and suicide can prevent people from seeking support. As a community, we need to be open, non-judgmental and reassure people who may be in crisis that help is available and they not alone. We also need to get actively involved in local and national decision making.

    Policy makers, commissioners and service providers need to use their levers to change the system by collecting equalities data, to involve communities in the development of policies and the design of services.

    Understanding racial and ethnic differences in rates of suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and deaths by suicide are essential to help us focus our efforts on prevention. If we all take responsibility and do our part, we will be able to create supportive environments and contribute to reducing suicides within the Black community.

    How you can help

    1. Work with us to raise the profile of this issue by sharing this blog through your network
    2. Follow us on social media and share a series of tweets we will be posting on this issue over the coming months
    3. Sign our petition and share it through your network
    4. Develop your skills and confidence to identify the warning signs and have supportive conversations by completing the Zero Suicide Alliance’s FREE training course
    5. Raise this issue at home, work and in spaces where there may be an opportunity to change current practice






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