One of the ways in which we can better look after people with mental health issues is to recognise that they often have physical issues as well. Sometimes that has been poorly regarded in the past, and it can add to feelings of depression, isolation and not being considered and so play into the issues that we are discussing. It is important to address premature mortality in people

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with mental illness, and we have committed NHS England to doing so through the NHS mandate,. One way in which we can do that is to look at the person behind the illness and provide treatment and care for the whole person, so that we also address the physical health and social care needs of people with mental illness.

Let me say a brief word about children, because this starts early. I am particularly keen to ensure that we get the right support in place for young people. We have committed to invest an additional £1.25 billion over the life of the Parliament to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. We know that, for many people, mental illness can manifest itself early in life, and that the first experience of psychosis is often during adolescence. We are using that additional investment to improve awareness of mental health issues in our children and young people and to improve the information and support they receive at school on mental health and wellbeing.

There cannot be enough warning about the dangers of peer pressure and social media and the ways in which they can induce depression and harm among young people at a sensitive age. My hon. Friend the Member for Telford referred to Twitter, and we see that what young people face on Facebook and other social media can be immensely damaging. New technology is a boon, but it has risks and dangers and it is important to talk about that.

May I commend the report issued just this week by the British Youth Council’s youth select committee on young people’s mental health? It made this recommendation:

“Cyberbullying and sites which promote self-harm can have a significant impact on the mental health of young people. Hoping that children will simply stop using social networks is not a solution. We recommend that the Government should facilitate a roundtable for charities, technology companies, young people, and the Government to work together to find creative solutions needed to help young people stay safe online”.

The Government will issue a full response from both my Department and the Department for Education, but I commend the Youth Council and that select committee for the hard work they have put in, which will certainly be taken seriously.

About a month or so ago I got a letter from a young lady not in my constituency—she had written to the Prime Minister. She said:

“I am writing to you to express my ideas on new legislation…The topic I have chosen is extremely personal to me. I have lost a friend to suicide, and I feel as though if he had had a better understanding of his own illness, he would not have felt the need to take his own life. Not only this, I also feel that if the people surrounding him at his time of suffering were better educated on the topic, it would have helped him to feel less alone and unaccepted in today’s society.”

It was a good, brave letter and I hope to see the young lady at an event we are doing to combat stigma. She made the point that the problem starts early, and I am pleased that the Government now have a Minister in the Department for Education, the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr Gyimah), who is devoted to mental health issues in schools. I appreciate his work. We are working together on that, which demonstrates the Government’s determination to work across Departments on these issues.

Finally—I appreciate the House’s indulgence—I turn to talk about suicide and men.

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Mr Robin Walker: One issue that we have not touched on much in the debate is homelessness. Men are more likely to be homeless and sleep rough: I think that 87% of rough sleepers are men. A constituent of mine, Hugo Sugg, has talked about how sleeping rough drove him to thoughts of suicide. He now wants to campaign for a better attitude towards youth homelessness and how we encourage people to look at those who are suffering from homelessness, to give them a chance to turn their lives around, working with some of the fantastic charities in this space. Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to the charities and organisations that campaign on homelessness for the job they do in saving men from suicide?

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Those connected with housing increasingly recognise the relationship between housing, mental health issues and suicide. When I was with my hon. Friend the Member for Derby North, I met the lady responsible for the YMCA there and its housing outreach, and she made some pertinent comments. Housing and homelessness are closely connected with the problem we are discussing, and I commend the constituent that my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester mentioned.

We know that men are often reluctant to talk about mental health problems. Many colleagues have referred to men’s attitudes, so I do not think that I need to labour that point. They are reluctant to seek help when they need it. In part, we know that is because some men feel that it may be a form of weakness. We need to assure men that that is not the case, as many colleagues have said. We, along with the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, are seeking to reduce the stigma around mental illness through the Time to Change campaign.

Time to Change aims to empower people to challenge stigma and speak openly about their own mental health experiences—particularly men—and to change public attitudes towards those with mental health problems. The campaign has improved the attitudes of more than 2 million people. However, we know that men can be a particularly hard-to-reach group, and we are looking at further ways to improve reach in that area.

We know, tragically, what the outcome of unacknowledged mental ill health can be for a person. When someone bottles it up—that phrase was used in this Chamber today—their condition can worsen and may, in the worst cases, increase the risk of suicide. As I mentioned earlier, suicide rates in England remain low compared with in other European countries and other UK administrations, but I am concerned, as we all are, to see that rates have been rising in recent years. We anticipated that after the global financial crisis in 2008, and it has been seen in other countries around the world, as the hon. Member for York Central said. We know about that, but it is important that the inevitability of that does not go unchallenged. We can appreciate that such times bring extra pressures, but we need to ask what we can do when we know they are coming.

We know that the recent rise in suicide rates has been driven by an increase in male suicides, which is what led my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley to call for the debate in the first place. The threefold difference between male and female suicide rates has increased further, and we know that is a common experience in other countries around the world. It is right, therefore, that preventing

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suicide is dominated by efforts to prevent male suicide, but we recognise that this issue affects everyone. Whether men or women, boys or girls, when it happens it is an immense tragedy.

The greater risk of suicide among men is a complex issue. Many of the clinical and social risk factors for suicide are more common in men. Cultural expectations that men will be decisive and strong can make them more vulnerable to psychological factors associated with suicide, such as impulsiveness and humiliation. It is critical that, in addressing those issues, we provide information and support in a way that suits men’s needs and behaviours, and that we provide services that are appropriate for men, which may include moving away from traditional health settings.

What are we doing about it, and what will we do about it? We published the cross-Government suicide prevention strategy for England in 2012, and I am committed to implementing it by working across Government and with our partner organisations in the NHS and other sectors such as transport and the community, voluntary and charitable sectors. I will also be speaking to our partner organisations soon to discuss how we can review and strengthen the national suicide strategy. I want to make it clear that I see that as a dynamic and flexible instrument, not as something that we will do and then I will see how it works and make some decisions in years to come. We are looking at it now. It needs to be reviewed and refreshed now. It is an ongoing process, and I am committed to it.

The objectives of the strategy are to reduce suicide and to support the people bereaved or affected by it. It is right that men are identified in the strategy as a high-risk group for whom our suicide prevention activities should be and are prioritised. The strategy also recognises that schools, social care and the youth justice system have an important contribution to make in suicide prevention by promoting mental wellbeing and identifying underlying issues such as bullying, poor self-image and lack of self-esteem.

As well as having the strategy, we continue to provide financial support for the National Suicide Prevention Alliance, which brings together our key partners across Government and the community, voluntary and charitable sectors with expertise in suicide prevention. I am particularly pleased to say that many of the organisations that campaigned for the debate are members of the NSPA. It has been working with all those organisations to develop its strategy for delivering improvements in suicide prevention, which I welcome. My Department of Health officials are helping with that work. Those organisations make tremendous individual contributions to suicide prevention. The Campaign Against Living Miserably, which was prominent in calling for this debate, works tirelessly to target men specifically, and to support them, so that they feel able to talk about mental health issues. The Department of Health provided financial support to CALM in its early days, and I am proud to see how it has grown in size and profile.

I have had a variety of meetings on the issue since I took office; I have mentioned some already. I went to see the Samaritans bereavement centre in Peckham for World Suicide Prevention Day, and to mark the launch of a new initiative between Cruse Bereavement Care and the Samaritans. I met the British Transport police and saw the extraordinary work they do with Network Rail.

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I saw some of the triage work going on in Birmingham, including placing a mental health professional in the police control room 24 hours a day to help provide necessary information. I held a meeting on suicide prevention on 29 June, with researchers, the Samaritans, and representatives from areas such as Merseyside, the east of England and the south-west.

We have started to look at something called zero suicide. I have an interest in the concept and ambition of zero suicide. It was pioneered in Detroit by a college acquaintance of mine from many years ago, Ed Coffey, and I am very interested in his work. We can follow part of it, although some things are different in the States and will not be pertinent here. The whole concept of zero suicide—recognising that as an ambition, and challenging the inevitability of suicide—is really important and has very much grabbed my attention. Public Health England also recently published the refreshed “Help is at Hand” document, which provides compassionate support and information to people bereaved by suicide.

I will conclude by saying a little about research and data, as it will cover a number of issues raised by colleagues. One of the key drivers for improving our approach to suicide prevention is investing in research and data. I want us to lead the world in suicide prevention research, and to be at the forefront of service delivery, using the best knowledge and information to provide the best care. We have invested over £1.5 million in suicide and self-harm prevention research since bringing in the national suicide prevention strategy, to inform and target our strategy for reducing suicide rates. I will have a look at whether that is enough, and at what more needs to be done.

The hon. Member for Bridgend mentioned longitudinal studies. We are committed to carrying on the work on that. We have provided the Multicentre Study of Self-harm in England with £300,000 this year. I will very much bear in mind the opportunities that there might be for us to do more.

The zero suicide ambition I mentioned is being piloted in three areas: Merseyside, the south-west and the east of England. Early learning from the pilots has identified some innovative practice, which I am sure will help other areas to develop innovative plans for reducing suicide in their communities. There will be more research that we can work through to find whether it could have applications elsewhere.

Luciana Berger: Will that work extend to our prisons, which are a particular area of concern?

Alistair Burt: I know the Ministry of Justice is looking closely at the increase in prison and detention suicides. Again, it is not huge, statistically, but any increase is a matter for concern.

The work capability assessment has been mentioned. It started in 2008, which is about the time that the rise in suicides began. The authors of the recent study that has been mentioned have said that they were cautious about making a link or claiming cause and effect, but I have already asked the Department of Health to have a look at that study, because I feel it is important that my Department looks at the matters involved.

This has been a really good and important debate. First, it has put the issues connected to International Men’s Day on the agenda and allowed us to talk about

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male issues, in a way that is not a zero-sum game. We have been able to make reference to some difficult issues that are not discussed enough, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley for that. We have spent the bulk of our time discussing suicide, and Members on both sides of the House have been able to work together and demonstrate a common interest in things that affect us all. The sense I get from everyone is that none of us is prepared to accept the status quo and simply see the statistics accepted—my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North made that point.

These will not be easy issues to tackle. More men commit suicide than women, not because someone is making them do so—it is not anyone’s fault—but that is a fact. What more can we do? What can we learn from overseas and from the work being done in different areas of this country? I am absolutely confident that this House will talk about this issue again. I hope that when we do, we will have learned still more. People and organisations outside the House do such excellent work on this; with the benefit of that work, perhaps our ambition to make this the country with the best suicide prevention strategy in the world can, in time, become a reality.

4.24 pm

Philip Davies: Thank you, Mr Rosindell, for chairing this debate, along with the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes). We very much appreciate that.

I echo the Minister’s remarks: we have had a very good debate. We had the expertise of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon), who chairs the all-party group on suicide and self-harm prevention, and represents a constituency that has been more tragically affected by suicide than most. It has been great to have my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller) here, as she is Chairman of the Women and Equalities Committee. I certainly support her view that we need greater genuine gender equality.

I am grateful for the presence of the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who, as a good constituency MP, rightly drew attention to how the issue affects York. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) is a member of the Backbench Business Committee and so helped to grant this debate, and I am grateful to him for that. I was very struck by his point about how stubborn the levels of suicide have been for many years, and how difficult it is to tackle the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Derby North (Amanda Solloway) talked powerfully about the need to end the stigma around some of these issues.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who went on to make a very good speech after her early criticisms of me; I will forgive those. She spoke about her son, who sounds like a hero to me—I very much hope to meet him sometime soon—and her genuine belief in true gender equality. I echo the Minister’s remarks to her on not worrying about Twitter; I have 11,000 Twitter followers and all of them hate me.

We were very grateful for the perspective from the Scottish National party, given by the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Dr Monaghan). He spoke about what the Scottish Executive are doing and how seriously they treat the issue, before going slightly off piste on the work capability assessment;

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I am sure we will forgive him for that. The shadow Minister spoke about how much more there is to do on this issue. Everyone here would echo that. We all appreciate the Minister’s commitment to this difficult issue, and how hard he works to try to tackle it. He comprehensively covered everything he personally and the Department are doing to tackle it.

The debate was enhanced by the passionate and important contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately), for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), for Christchurch (Mr Chope), for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner) and for Worcester (Mr Walker). I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester about homelessness. I spent some time volunteering with a wonderful charity in Leeds called St George’s Crypt, which does great work on that. The hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) has stayed here for the duration of the debate, which does her an awful lot of credit. I should also mention my hon. Friends the Members for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) and for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), who have also sat and listened to the debate with great care. We are grateful for that.

Before we conclude, I will say that I do not agree with the Minister and the hon. Member for Bridgend about language and the word “committed”. One problem we have in our society is political correctness. Lots of people in this country are petrified of saying anything

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in case someone takes offence. I do not believe that any word or phrase is offensive; the context in which it is used and the intention behind it are what makes it offensive. When people start taking offence where none was ever intended, we get into terrible problems, because people will not speak out lest someone complain that they were offended. If people feel offence where none was intended, that is more their problem, as far as I am concerned, than the problem of the person who made the remark. I cannot agree with the Minister and the hon. Lady on that point.

This has been an important debate. We have raised issues that very rarely get discussed in the House of Commons. Lots of people throughout the country are delighted that some of those issues have finally been raised, as they have been campaigning on them for years and years, and not really getting the recognition they deserve. We have done the country and the House a great service by debating these things, and for that I am incredibly grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate. It has shown why that Committee is so important to the House; long may that continue.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of male suicide and International Men’s Day.

4.30 pm

Sitting adjourned.