Mental health: Karl Lauterbach presents a strategy for suicide prevention
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Mental health: Karl Lauterbach presents a strategy for suicide prevention

The federal government wants to reduce the number of suicides in Germany with better prevention. Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) has presented a national suicide prevention strategy that is intended to serve this goal. Among other things, it provides for more information on this topic. “We have to overcome the social taboo of death and suicide, free mental illnesses from their stigma and better bundle offers of help,” said Lauterbach.

The number of Suicides has not been losing weight for about 20 years, said the minister. “Around 10,000 people take their own lives in Germany every year.” According to the Federal Statistical Office, the number actually increased in the year before last: 10,119 people died by suicide in 2022, an increase of almost ten percent compared to the previous year. According to the German Society for Suicide Prevention (DGS), that is more people than die annually from traffic accidents, acts of violence, illegal drugs and AIDS combined. The DGS assumes that the number of suicide attempts is around 20 times higher than the number of registered suicides.

The new suicide prevention strategy should “provide more targeted help and prevention,” said Lauterbach. A central coordination point should be set up for this purpose. According to the ministry, the strategy is based on recommendations from science, politics and practice. Above all, she relies on education.

For example, a website should inform potentially affected people, relatives and professionals about suicide and point out offers of help and prevention. The strategy also provides for an awareness campaign on mental illnesses. “Between 50 and 90 percent of suicide victims had a mental illness, often depression, psychoses, addictions or personality disorders,” said the Federal Ministry of Health.

In addition, a central crisis service emergency number and an online counseling service are to be set up and healthcare and nursing professionals are to be better trained to deal with people at risk of suicide. This should enable them to refer those affected to further help or therapy services if necessary.

Less access to places suitable for attempted suicide

According to the Ministry of Health, the scientists also recommend significantly expanding so-called “method-limiting” measures. This means restricting access to places and means for a suicide attempt, for example in high-rise buildings, bridges and railway tracks.

In addition, she wants to Federal Government examine whether a suicide register should be created in which people should be entered under pseudonyms. This could help to identify risk groups more easily. The strategy paper names people over 50 as potential risk groups – as well as men: according to the ministry’s figures, three quarters of the people who die by suicide are men. Research into suicide prevention should also be expanded.

In July 2023, the Bundestag decided with a large majority that the federal government should present a concept for preventing suicide – according to the MPs’ demands at the time, by the end of January. A suicide prevention law should be submitted by the end of June. The National Suicide Prevention Program and the German Academy for Suicide Prevention also called for more preventative measures. Existing low-threshold help offers such as telephone counseling or online prevention offers are overloaded.

“A society that looks the other way when 30 people commit suicide every day in Germany is not the society we want to live in,” said Eva Maria Welskop-Deffaa, President of the German Caritas Association. Especially for the “Corona generation”, loneliness and fear of life are drivers of suicidal thoughts in young people. “We strongly demand that politicians do not reduce suicide prevention to advice and emergency telephones.” The Caritas president called for “concrete protection concepts that also counteract the spontaneous desire to commit suicide with structural measures.”

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