Despite some progress made in our cultural attitudes to death, suicide remains very much a taboo subject. This discomfort has serious consequences, as it may be preventing proper analysis of the root causes of suicide. While some of the risk factors for suicide – such as gender and mental illness – are well-known, there is a vast hinterland of research waiting to be done on other potential factors.
Physical illness is one such factor. Through a literature review, FOI requests, semi-structured interviews with coroners and an in-depth case study of Norwich District Coroner’s office, this pamphlet investigates the truth about suicide and serious physical illness. It finds that at least 10 per cent of the suicides that take place in the UK are by people who are chronically or terminally ill. But it also finds wide variation in how verdicts of suicide are recorded by coroners and made available to the public and policymakers.
Better data will generate better policy. This pamphlet recommends that, as part of the Coalition Government’s ongoing consultation on preventing suicide, they should consider making local suicide audits compulsory, and that coroners’ duty to share information should be formalised. Only when we have a clear idea of the causes of suicide can we hope to develop an effective policy response.