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Socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour: Finding a way forward for Wales

Almost a quarter of the Welsh population (23%) live in poverty. It costs Wales £3.6bn a year; a fifth of the Welsh Government budget.

Each year, between 300 and 350 people die by suicide in Wales, which is around three times the number killed in road accidents. It is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 and the leading cause of death for people under 35.

We know that poverty is linked to people taking their own lives. We also know that suicide is not inevitable and that there are actions we can take so that difficult times do not result in people dying.

There is now overwhelming evidence of a strong connection between socioeconomic deprivation and suicidal behaviour. Areas of higher socioeconomic disadvantage tend to have higher rates of suicide and the greater the level of deprivation experienced by an individual, the higher their risk of suicidal behaviour.

In 2016, Samaritans commissioned eight leading social scientists to review and extend the existing body of knowledge on the connection between socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour. The report, titled ‘Dying from Inequality’ was launched in March 2017 and included key findings on the link between suicide and deprivation and recommendations for mitigating this connection.

To explore the implications, challenges and opportunities of this report for Wales, we invited key partners, stakeholders and experts to join us in discussion. The conversations that followed were revealing, troubling and inspiring. We heard from a wide range of participants, many of them frontline staff, from the police service to third sector organisations to job centres. All recognised the reality of the link between poverty, distress and suicide and the urgency of doing all we can to tackle it.

Poverty means facing constant insecurity and uncertainty. Its features include inadequate housing, poor mental health, low educational attainment, unemployment, loneliness and low social mobility. Knowing that these are also risk factors for suicide should add urgency and energy to efforts to mitigate both poverty and its impact on individuals and communities. One of the comments from our seminar was that everyone wants to be a competent member of society and to feel a sense of
belonging and meaning. This emphasis on connection between people is close to our own values as an organisation. The power of communities in Wales and the skills and abilities of the people within them are a major asset which needs to be recognised, supported and utilised.

Suicide is preventable. It is crucial that we have effective collaboration across central and local government, multi-agency groups, communities and all the local agencies which can play a role in preventing suicides in Wales. While reading this report, we must remember that behind the figures there are individuals who have left behind a family and community devastated by their loss. By taking action together, we can reduce suicide.