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Welsh Government unveils ten-year mental health and suicide strategies

THE WELSH GOVERNMENT has unveiled new ten-year mental health and suicide prevention strategies amid concerns about stubbornly high numbers of people taking their own lives.

Lynne Neagle launched 16-week consultations on the draft mental health and suicide and self-harm prevention strategies on February 20.

The deputy minister for mental health said the consultation documents have a clear focus on tackling inequalities in terms of access and outcomes.

She told the Senedd the strategies are separate but interconnected, recognising that suicide and self-harm are not diagnosable mental health conditions.

She said: “There is a prevailing misconception that people who die by suicide have a mental illness, and it is vital that we challenge this perception to remove the stigma.”

Ms Neagle said a key theme is not to medicalise mental health: “We want to see a shift in how we talk about and support mental health issues to better reflect the needs of individuals. 

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“The majority of people who we might define as having a mental health issue do need support, but don’t need specialised mental health services.

“For those that need specialised mental health services, we have also been clear about how we intend to strengthen these further.”

Warning of unprecedented financial pressures, she told MSs the strategies will ensure value-based targeting of resources rather than set out a list of new funding commitments.

She said: “All available modelling suggests mental health demands will continue to increase.

“Without continued cross-government and multi-agency support, as set out in these strategies, the NHS is likely to become overwhelmed.”

James Evans urged the Welsh Government to engage with as many people as possible, particularly young and middle-aged men who are more likely to take their own lives.

Conservative MS James Evans
Conservative MS James Evans

The Conservatives’ shadow minister also raised the importance of getting buy-in from health boards, given the challenging financial climate.

Mr Evans, who is currently steering the mental health standards of care bill through the Senedd, said: “Reducing the rates of suicide and self-harm in our society is vital.

“Suicide and self-harm, especially suicide, leaves far too many families and people and loved ones across Wales with a hole that can never be filled.”

Mabon ap Gwynfor, Plaid Cymru’s shadow minister, raised concerns about the planned reprioritisation of £15m from the mental health budget.

Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor
Plaid Cymru MS Mabon ap Gwynfor

He said: “It is a tragedy and a damning indictment of how our society is failing the most vulnerable that suicide is the main cause of death for men under the age of 50.

“My own family and too many others here continue to grieve and suffer … suicide rates for both men and women remain high and well above the average for England and Wales.”

Calling for a focus on prenatal mental health, Mr Gwynfor said as many as one in four women experience a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after birth.

He told the chamber: “The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are instrumental in shaping their lifelong well-being….

“If we are to develop a truly holistic and preventative mental health strategy, it must be effective at the very start of life.”

Jack Sargeant – who recently shared his own experience with mental health following the loss of his father, Carl, and best friend of 20 years, Jamie – welcomed the draft strategies.

Labour MS Jack Sargeant
Labour MS Jack Sargeant

He said: “I shared that experience and the experience of my own personal battles with mental health because I want to help others. I genuinely want to help others. I don’t want another family to go through what mine and Jamie’s had to.”

The Alyn and Deeside MS applauded the example set by Connah’s Quay Town Football Club, which encourages players and fans to seek support.

Jayne Bryant, a fellow Labour backbencher, who chairs the Senedd’s cross-party group on suicide prevention, raised social determinants of poor mental health.

The Newport West MS warned that poverty and inequality remain key risk factors.

Huw Irranca-Davies spoke of losing a childhood friend to suicide.

The Labour MS for Ogmore said: “One of our tight little group took his own life, out of the blue – the most vivacious, the most outgoing, the most extroverted, the most talented of all of us, and I often stop and think, ‘What if?’”

Labour MS Huw Irranca-Davies
Labour MS Huw Irranca-Davies

Stressing that mental health remains a priority, Ms Neagle told MSs that the funding ring fenced for frontline services has increased by £25m.

“We are committed to reducing the number of people who die by suicide,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, one person dying by suicide is one too many.

“The rates have been largely stable over the last few years, but we want to drive those rates down much further, and that’s what this new strategy is about.”

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