Suicides are grossly under-reported. Here are a few reasons for that:
- Criminal standard of proof, “beyond reasonable doubt”, is required when determining the cause of death as suicide. Many suicides are recorded as ‘undetermined deaths’ because of that. The Chief Coroner is supportive of the change which would reduce the standard of proof for suicide to the civil standard and has expressed his view to the Ministry of Justice but the MoJ has steadfastly refused to change the way that coroners reach a suicide verdict despite persistent requests from Suicide Prevention charities such as PAPYRUS. This leads those of us campaigning on this issue to conclude that they deliberately want to suppress the figures around the number of people who take their own lives each year.
- MoJ argues that a change to the law would offend certain faith groups. We, at PAPYRUS believe that determining a cause of death should be about establishing facts, not about appeasing any particular sector of the community.
- Many families who have lost loved ones to suicide, particularly when the deceased are their children, do not want to hear that they ended their own life. Coroners are understandably sensitive and hence, reluctant to reach a verdict of suicide and conclude that the death occurred because of an accident or misadventure. An open or narrative verdict is often returned even when the evidence clearly shows that the person took his or her own life.
- Death is taboo and suicide is a deeper layer of taboo underneath. Mental illness is taboo and suicide is a darker layer of taboo underneath. The stigma attached to it stops everyone from being open about it.
Research by Professor Colin Pritchard at Bournemouth University suggests that if coroners used the civil standard of proof – “on the balance of probabilities” – we would see a 30-50% increase in recorded suicides. His research validates the view held by Papyrus that the current arrangements mask the true number of suicides in the UK.
Unless we can face the enemy, how can we ever hope to vanquish it?