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Letter to the PM: Suicide and self-harm prevention in the Online Safety Bill

Some of the UK's leading mental health organisations and experts, including Place2Be, have written to the Prime Minister urging her to ensure that the regulation of harmful suicide and self-harm content is retained within the Online Safety Bill. The full letter, and list of signatories, can be read below.

Teenage boy sat on stairs with head in hand, looking at mobile phone

Dear Prime Minister,

Suicide and self-harm prevention in the Online Safety Bill

We are writing to urge you to ensure that the regulation of harmful suicide and self-harm content is retained within the Online Safety Bill.

Our organisations work to improve mental health, prevent self-harm, reduce the number of people who die by suicide, and provide treatment to people who need clinical support.

While the internet can be an invaluable resource for individuals experiencing feelings of self-harm and suicide, online content can also act to encourage, maintain or exacerbate self-harm and suicidal behaviours. Although suicide and self-harm are complex and rarely caused by one thing, in many cases the internet is involved: a 2017 inquiry into suicides of young people found suicide-related internet use in nearly 26% of deaths in under-20s, and 13% of deaths in 20-24 year olds.*

The Online Safety Bill is a major opportunity to make the UK the safest place to be online, as set out in the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto, by reducing access to harmful content relating to suicide and self-harm.

We consider the types of suicide and self-harm content that is legal, but unequivocally harmful, includes (but is not limited to):

  • Information, instructions, and advice on methods of self-harm and suicide
  • Content that portrays self-harm and suicide as positive or desirable
  • Graphic descriptions or depictions of self-harm and suicide.

We have been pleased to see continued commitment from the Government to protecting vulnerable children as it considers modifying the Bill. But susceptibility to harm from suicide and self-harm content does not end when people reach the age of 18. Anyone, including young adults aged 18-24, can be just as vulnerable to harm from this type of content, especially given the way that everyone’s mental health can fluctuate. It is therefore vital that the Bill protects people of all ages from legal but extremely harmful suicide and self-harm content on large and small platforms.

We urge you to commit to returning the Bill to Parliament as soon as possible in a form which protects the public from all extremely dangerous suicide and self-harm content. With every day that passes, we lose an opportunity to save lives.

Yours sincerely,

Mark Rowland, CEO, Mental Health Foundation

Julie Bentley, CEO, Samaritans

Ged Flynn, Chief Executive, PAPYRUS – Prevention of Young Suicide

Simon Blake, Chief Executive, Mental Health First Aid England

Sarah Hughes, CEO, Centre for Mental Health

Kadra Abdinasir, Strategic Lead, Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition

Chris Martin, CEO, The Mix

Sean Duggan, Chief Executive, NHS Confederation Mental Health Network

Emma Thomas, Chief Executive, YoungMinds

Professor David Strain, Board of Science Chair, British Medical Association

Catherine Roche, CEO, Place2Be

Victoria Hornby, Chief Executive, Mental Health Innovations

Matthew Smith, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer, If U Care Share

Brian Dow, Deputy Chief Executive, Rethink Mental Health Illness

 

* The National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness (NCISH) (2017)

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