Madeleine Moon: We must enhance our safety policies around harmful content online

Posted On: 
28th October 2018

The UK’s first suicide prevention minister must champion a coordinated multi-agency approach to ensure every local area has plans in place to save lives, says Madeleine Moon

The Government announced a new ministerial role overseeing suicide prevention

I have been working on suicide prevention for over a decade and much progress has been made. People are increasingly aware of mental health and emotional wellbeing issues – both of which have a crucial role to play in removing the taboo of talking about suicidal feelings and self-harm.

Talking really does save lives and Samaritans has been at the forefront of encouraging this message. It is welcome that the government pledged £1.8m so that Samaritans can continue offering its free helpline service for the next four years.

I am glad that Jackie Doyle-Price has been appointed as the minister for suicide prevention. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on suicide and self-harm prevention, I have met with the minister on several occasions and invited her to speak at Samaritans’ Christmas reception.

While this is an important symbolic statement from the government, I hope she will use this role to provide added impetus to further champion suicide and self-harm prevention – she will have the full support of the APPG. Although signals from government appear to be on the right path, there are areas which require urgent attention which the minister can immediately refocus energy towards.

We need to be aware of how easy it is to access harmful material online that can encourage or assist suicide. There may be individuals who have taken their life after browsing the internet for suicide methods on popular websites like Wikipedia, and through social media channels where individuals read accounts of suicidal feelings and behaviour. Suicide-related internet use is particularly common in young people and people at high risk of contemplating suicide.

There are legal complexities of internet regulation, but we must enhance our safety policies around harmful content online. The internet may have its pitfalls for suicide prevention, however, it can also be a powerful ally. We have had some productive meetings where Google and Facebook were invited to discuss the importance of online help provisions and improving online safety. Consequently, the government should ensure the internet safety strategy has more of a focus on suicide prevention and work with internet companies to refine safety measures.

Support for those affected or bereaved by suicide is another area growing in importance. The University of Manchester and the Support After Suicide Partnership launched a national survey to identify the experiences of those bereaved by suicide. They found that people bereaved by suicide are at 65% greater risk of attempting suicide themselves. The minister should engage with the findings of the study which will help prevent further loss of life. Academic research into suicide and self-harm prevention is vital and I hope the minister will ensure funding is available.

There are regional variations of suicide rates across the four nations. Whether the other nations introduce a minister for suicide prevention will be a matter for them. However, governments cannot shoulder the burden of suicide prevention alone. They have an overall responsibility for coordination and leadership, but more importantly all the agencies involved in suicide prevention must work together. The police, health staff, coroners, third sector organisations, local authorities, media, academics, as well as political figures, locally and nationally, all have a role to play. No one person or agency carries full responsibility or capability to tackle suicide, which is why suicide prevention planning is vital at both a local and national level.

No one should ever have to feel like they are struggling alone. A multi-agency approach is needed to ensure that the most effective support is available to those that need it. By continuing to build resilience across the country, educating every community to identify risks, we can minimise self-harm and suicide attempts through implementing a cohort of prevention measures. The new minister for suicide prevention must be the champion coordinating different agencies and initiatives. I know she will take up this mantle with a resolute determination to reduce the number of suicide deaths. 

Madeleine Moon is Labour MP for Bridgend and chair of the APPG on suicide and self-harm prevention