THE number of male suicides in Halton may have halved last year despite the pressures of lockdown.

Figures published by Halton Council suggests only five men in the borough took their own lives in 2020, compared to 10 in the previous year.

Meanwhile, the number of women taking their own lives rose only slightly, from three to four.

Halton Council’s health protection team suggested support provided by its 24-hour crisis line and a campaign specifically targeting middle-aged men may have contributed to the drop.

A spokesperson for the council said: “It’s too soon to tell what is responsible for the reduction in Halton last year but we do know that the financial support that has been put in place during the pandemic may have played a part, as well as the new 24-hour mental health crisis line which was launched in June by North West Boroughs Healthcare, and also the targeted campaign work aimed at middle-aged men.

“Other areas haven’t seen a reduction in male suicides despite also having the 24-hour crisis line and financial government support.”

The figures still need to be confirmed by the coroner, who will hold inquests into each of the deaths, but they appear to contradict fears that lockdown would see a rise in the number of suicides. The council spokesperson added that nationally there had not been a rise in suicides last year either.

Even so, the health protection team was quick to point out that the risk of suicide had increased during 2020.

A report by Public Health England (PHE) shows an increase in people reporting psychological stress last year, peaking in April and then declining slightly up to June.

The report also suggested that people in deprived areas like Halton were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially if they were not in work or had lost income during the pandemic. This was less pronounced in people who had received help from the government’s furlough scheme or other income support measures.

Other groups that had been particularly affected by poor mental health during lockdown included ethnic minorities, young adults and women. However, PHE suggested these last two categories had recovered more quickly as well.

The council spokesperson added: “Mental distress of the population has increased as a whole during the pandemic with specific groups impacted more than others.  “The fact suicide hasn’t increased during this period perhaps is more likely due to support measures put in place (both national and local) and not necessarily a reflection on the population’s mental health as a lot of people have been impacted.”

People in Halton struggling with thoughts of suicide or in need of urgent mental health support can contact the North West Boroughs Healthcare crisis line for free 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 0800 051 1508.

Details of other support services for people struggling with mental health problems can be found on Halton Council’s website.