UCL News


Queen Mary and UCL launch largest UK study of suicide in black and ethnic minority groups

10 February 2005

Researchers at Queen Mary, University of London, and University College London, are hoping to reduce the rate of suicide in black and ethnic minority groups by launching the biggest UK review of the field to-date.

Around 5,000 people take their own lives in England every year and suicide is the most common cause of death in men under 35. As part of the Government's target to reduce suicide rates by a fifth by 2010, the Department of Health and the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE) have produced a National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

But culturally distinct groups are not targeted specifically, and there is surprisingly little accurate and contemporary data available on the risk of suicide in different ethnic groups in the UK. This is due, in part, to the fact that British death certificates do not record any details of an individual's racial or cultural identity. It remains unclear who is at increased risk, and why.

The new study will analyse data from a wide range of sources, identifying key risk areas, and developing culturally specific approaches to reduce the rate of suicide in ethnic groups.

Professor Kamaldeep Bhui, joint lead researcher on the project explains: "Although Mental Health is a Government priority, it's vital to ensure that any policy or mental health strategy is relevant to all citizens and that all ethnic groups benefit from such work.

"We're hoping to get the best picture we've ever had of suicide risk factors in black and ethnic minority groups. This will help support the national suicide prevention policies and strategy."

The study is being carried out in conjunction with Dr Kwame McKenzie of the Royal Free University College London Medical School. Dr McKenzie said: "The UK's National Suicide Prevention Strategy is one of the best in the world. It is built on evidence, but the evidence of who is at risk and what works to decrease the risk is lacking for ethnic minority groups. This project should plug that knowledge gap."

The duo are asking all researchers and institutions in the UK with data on suicide or attempted suicide in ethnic minorities to contact them. They will reanalyse the data to investigate social, psychological, economic and geographical risk factors for suicide in ethnic groups. This information is vital for policy development.

High rates of suicide are found among young South Asian Women. Rates of mental illness in young people of Caribbean origin have increased dramatically in the last 10 years.

Notes to editors:

  1. Any researchers with data sets that may be of use are asked to contact the research team directly (k.s.bhui@qmul.ac.uk and k.mckenzie@medsch.ucl.ac.uk). Data analyses can be undertaken in collaboration with data owners.
  2. The National Suicide Prevention Strategy is chaired by mental health tsar Louis Appleby and is intended to be an evolving strategy which will develop in light of progress made and emerging evidence. The Strategy aims to take forward the Government's commitment to reducing suicide deaths by at least a fifth by 2010, a target that was set out in the White Paper 'Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation' in 1999. Implementation is led by the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE) which makes suicide prevention one of its core policy programmes.

Further information:

To arrange an interview or obtain a copy of the paper, please contact Siân Wherrett, Queen Mary, University of London, 020 7882 7454 or s.wherrett@qmul.ac.uk