Four suspected suicides in Northumberland with possible links to the pandemic

There have been four suspected suicides in Northumberland this year with possible links to the pandemic, according to a council report.
County Hall at MorpethCounty Hall at Morpeth
County Hall at Morpeth

The figure is included in a scoping paper, which accompanied a mental health report presented to Northumberland County Council’s health and wellbeing board.

The document explains that the ‘possible links to the current Covid-19 situation, range from being furloughed and financial worries to anxiety/depression due to the restrictions’.

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The report, which was discussed at the board’s Thursday, December 10, meeting, was an overall update on mental health and wellbeing in the county and the various initiatives taking place, but unsurprisingly the potential impact of coronavirus was a key element.

Maggie Bailey, representing Northumberland’s community and voluntary sector, asked if there would be additional funding from the council ‘to meet the tsunami of need which will follow the pandemic’.

Cath McEvoy-Carr, the authority’s executive director of adult and children’s services, responded: “We are considering how we support our community sector to be able to offer some continuing support. I’m not going to make any promises, but it’s always on our agenda.”

Summing up, the chair, Cllr Richard Dodd, said: “We all know that Covid will be a breeding ground for mental-health issues and what we have heard is that there’s an awful lot going on to help us with these problems.”

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This includes the ‘really good partnership working going on in Northumberland’, according to Yvonne Hush, a public health manager at the council, who presented the report.

Addressing the board, she said: “What I would probably ask from you is to continue support for the Prevention Concordat for Better Mental Health, it’s an excellent framework. It’s just been relaunched and they are really pushing to get other local authorities involved.”

Implementing the concordat, which promotes a focus on prevention and the wider determinants of mental health, was one of the recommendations of the 2018 annual report by Northumberland’s director of public health, Liz Morgan – Mental Wealth.

“We need to focus on social determinants and health inequalities,” Ms Hush added. “They need to be at the forefront of our minds.

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“We also need to consider the longer-term impacts we are going to face, so keeping mental health and wellbeing really high on the agenda and not taking our eyes off the ball.”

Cllr Susan Dungworth was interested in the efforts to tackle suicide rates in men, which are higher both in Northumberland and nationally.

The report referred to an initiative being developed for barbers and hair professionals to have special training on mental health issues, given that most men will come into contact with them.

‘It is acknowledged that barbers are in a unique position to help their clients, through the trust and bond they build with their clients,’ it said.

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Cllr Dungworth welcomed this and suggested that gyms may be another possible option for this type of approach, while also seeking assurances that there is as much work going on in schools that caters for boys as there is for girls.

“I would like to think our whole-school approach was reaching boys as well as girls,” Ms Hush replied. “A lot of what’s going on in schools is focusing on younger children because we have to build resilience.”

The meeting also heard that there are only two schools in Northumberland which haven’t yet designated a senior mental-health lead.

This follows an educational psychologist being appointed to roll out the wellbeing for education training programme, which ‘supports staff working in schools and colleges to respond to the additional pressures some children and young people may be feeling as a direct result of the pandemic, as well as to any emotional response they or their teachers may be experiencing from bereavement, stress, trauma or anxiety over the past months’.

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