Gambling features alongside physical illness, financial difficulty, alcohol and drug misuse, social isolation and domestic abuse on the list of suicide reasons. These are areas that ministers say will be addressed by providing early intervention and tailored support between 2023 and 2028.
The cross-government Suicide Prevention Strategy has been published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). It aims to reduce the suicide rate over the next five years – with initial reductions observed within half this time or sooner. Other priorities are to improve support for people who have self-harmed and improve support for people bereaved by suicide.
The last suicide prevention strategy was published more than a decade ago. The new plan sees ministers set out more than 100 actions to reduce suicides in England. In 2021 there were 5,583 suicides in England and Wales, with three-quarters being men. While the current suicide rate “is not significantly higher than in 2012, the rate is not falling”.
Gambling can be a dominant factor
In naming gambling as one of the common risk factors linked to suicide, the report noted “increasing evidence of the relationship between harmful gambling and suicide, including in younger people”.
It added: “Although reasons for suicide can be complex, we do know that gambling can be a dominant factor without which the suicide may not have occurred. Action therefore needs to be taken to address the harms of gambling, including suicide, and reach people at risk.”
The document outlines a series of actions related to harmful gambling. These include the opening of 15 specialist gambling treatment clinics by the end of September 2023 – six months ahead of schedule. The government’s white paper on gambling, published in April 2023, already includes a commitment to consult on potential changes to make products “safer by design” to reduce harm.
The culture and health departments and the Gambling Commission are working together to strengthen informational messaging. These include content on risks associated with gambling. In 2023, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will consult on the design and scope of a statutory levy paid by gambling operators to fund research, education and treatment of gambling harms, which will lead to further opportunities to take action.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is also developing clinical guidelines to support the identification, assessment and management of harmful gambling. Publication of these guidelines are expected in spring 2024. Meanwhile, the Royal College of Psychiatrists will develop a continuous professional development resource to improve professionals’ understanding of harmful gambling.
New and emerging concerns
In the document’s foreword, Maria Caulfield, minister for mental health and women’s health, said: “In developing this strategy, we have set out how we can build on the progress made over the last 11 years, while identifying and responding to new and emerging concerns.
“While there are countless benefits, the internet also raises issues of safety for children, young people and adults. And emerging evidence continues to show links between factors such as harmful gambling and domestic abuse with suicide.”
The strategy was informed by the mental health call for evidence launched in 2022. This was developed to identify priority groups, suicide risk factors and steps that need to be taken.
Will Prochaska, strategy director of Gambling with Lives, said: “The government’s suicide prevention plan has acknowledged that gambling can kill.
“The government’s planned reforms of gambling regulation should now squarely be viewed as suicide prevention measures and should therefore give a greater leadership role to the Department of Health and Social Care.”