Thursday, 26 September 2013

Suicide attempts up at Beachy Head

There has been an increase in the number of people attempting suicide at the East Sussex beauty spot Beachy Head over recent months. The Beachy Head Chaplaincy team (BHCT), which has saved more than 2,000 lives since it began operations in 2004, reported 604 searches on the cliff up to the end of August this year. Some 252 people were saved. This compares with 428 and 423 searches for the comparable period in 2012 and 2011. In May, there were 97 searches with 39 people saved. June saw the number of searches at 87 with 39 people saved and 76 searches in July with 32 people saved. There were 92 searches, with 41 despondent people save in August. There were 771 searches on cliffs by BHCT last year with 305 despondent people saved “At the current rate we are going to reach one rescue a day dealt with by us very soon,” said Mark Pybus, director of the chaplaincy team. Typical of the calls received by the BCHT was an incident that occurred recently. ”The team received a request by Sussex Police to assist in a search for a missing person, whose car had been found at Beachy Head. The person was located on the cliff edge by the team following a short search and was spoken to by BHCT chaplains and negotiators from Sussex Police. After approximately three hours the person was successfully escorted to safety from the cliff top,” said a spokesperson for BHCT. The chaplaincy conduct routine searches and are also tipped off by emergency services, coastguard, the local pub, cafe or members of the public as to a potential suicide attempts. Not all searches result in finding a person. The number of deaths is largely unrelated, given that these are likely to be cases where there has been no connection with support services. The trustees of BHCT are reluctant about giving too much detail as in the wrong hands it could enable people to avoid the chaplaincy teams and achieve their aim of committing suicide. Since 2004, when the BHCT was set up it has responded to 5,868 searches and incidents resulting in the rescue of 2,129 despondent people. The chaplaincy began with six volunteers. It now has around 20 people working for it, recently expanding due to the increasing calls on its work. Team members are trained in negotiation techniques similar to those used by law enforcement agencies around the world to try to establish connections with despondent people at the cliff top and try to diffuse high levels of stress. As well as talking to people who appear distressed and who look like they intend to jump, they also work with the coastguard and emergency services. Mr Pybus revealed that the chaplaincy team also undertake bereavement counselling. “I spent three hours with someone on Sunday whose partner jumped three years ago,” said Mr Pybus. “ We have rescued 252 people so far, so that is looking like another record year,” said Mr Pybus. "It is hard to say exactly why there has been such a rise but the recession has a part to play. Financial reasons usually have a part to play but it is usually a number of things coming together.” The chaplaincy team are concerned that insensitive media publicity surrounding deaths at Beachy Head also helps encourage people to come and attempt to take their lives. They point to the case of the Puttick family, who died on 1 June 2009. The case, where parents Neil and Kazumi, killed themselves at Beachy Head after five year old son Sam died of meningitis, drew international media attention. In the month that followed there was a surge in the number of people coming to the beauty spot seeking to end their lives. The week that followed the BHCT conducted 33 searches, saving 15 despondent people. Similar patterns have been noted with other high profile cases. It is difficult to know how this can be changed. The media will cover the story, simply not talking to them, may only ensure that the exposure is even more sensational. What is needed is greater understanding of what drives people to the point where they are prepared to take their lives. Depression and the underlying pressures of society no doubt play a part and a greater understanding is needed of these issues in the public at large. * see Tablet - "Back from the Brink" - 28/9/2013

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