New report on suicide prevention in Welsh children and young people

Reducing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), preventing alcohol and substance misuse, and improving education and training opportunities are some key ways to help prevent suicide in Welsh children and young people, new research suggests.

The new review, published by Public Health Wales and Swansea University, examines the deaths of all children and young people in Wales who died by suicide between 2013 and 2017. A number of themes were identified which should be targets for preventing these terrible tragedies in the future.

There is evidence from across the UK of an increase in deaths by suicide in young people since 2010. Combining a number of sources, the review sought to identify the factors related to suicide in 10-18 year olds in Wales.

The review examines 33 cases of children and young people who took their own lives. Some of the issues surrounding these suicides included substance misuse; poverty; sexual abuse and assault; bereavement; shame; difficulties in education, employment or training; and lack of awareness around self-harm.

The review notes there is rarely a single reason why a child or young person takes his/her own life. It’s usually due to a variety risk factors, circumstances and adverse experiences. Despite this, suicide is potentially preventable.

The review identifies six key opportunities for suicide prevention in children and young people. These are:

1.    Prevention of alcohol and substance misuse. Including ongoing action to restrict the access of children and young people to alcohol, along with the full implementation of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance to prevent substance misuse.

2.    Mitigation of ACEs. Including continued interventions for children who have experienced adverse childhood experiences such as sexual abuse, sexual assault or domestic violence. This should also include greater engagement with safeguarding boards to raise awareness of the importance of protecting children from the effects of domestic violence and sexual abuse to prevent suicide and self-harm.

3.    Management of self-harm. Including full implementation of the NICE guidance for the management of self-harm relating to children and young people.

4.    Raising the age of participation in education, employment or training. Including an exploration of support mechanisms to ensure children and young people between the ages of 16 and 18 are supported in education, employment or training; including work-based training.

5.    Better information sharing. Including an exploration of how information can be shared between non-state education settings, such as private schools, and state services.

6.    Better knowledge and awareness of self-harm and other risk factors for suicide. Including an exploration of evidence-based ways of increasing knowledge and awareness of self-harm and other risk factors for suicide, safety planning, help seeking and accessing services, as well as tackling stigma.

Prof Ann John, National Lead for Suicide and Self-harm Prevention, Public Health Wales said:

“Whenever someone takes their own life, it is a huge tragedy that causes distress for family, friends, professionals, as well as the wider community. This is particularly true when it’s a child or young person who dies by suicide.

“However, suicide is not inevitable and we all have a part to play in the prevention of further deaths. This review offers an excellent framework to begin to tackle some of the issues leading to suicide in children and young people. We need to be tackling issues such as alcohol and substance misuse in young people and making sure young people who are abused, sexually assaulted or bereaved are able to access the talking therapies that we know can support them.”

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please contact the Samaritans at 116 123 or jo@samaritans.org; or see their website https://www.samaritans.org/wales/samaritans-cymru/ for additional information.