THE importance of support services has been highlighted after it was revealed the number of suicides recorded in Dorset last year rose to the highest level since 2002.

A total of 47 suicides were registered by the coroner in the Dorset Council area in 2018 – a 37 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest number recorded since local records began 16 years ago.

In contrast, the number of suicides in the Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole area decreased from 50 in 2017 to 41 in 2018.

The figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 123 people died by suicide in the Dorset county area between 2016 and 2018 - a rate of 12.2 deaths per 100,000 people. This is the highest rate recorded in a two-year period since 2002.

Marianne Storey, CEO of mental health charity Dorset Mind, said: "It's difficult to draw any conclusion as to why there may have been an increase in suicides in Dorset without closely studying and understanding the evidence.

"What is pertinent to draw attention to is the increasing demand for services in Dorset. As a charity, our resilience-based and early intervention support services are continuing to grow to meet people's needs. We now offer 23 support groups and a befriending service across the county, alongside our young people's education programme."

She added: "As a charity, we actively campaign to reduce the stigma around talking about mental health and suicide, so that anyone at risk feels as though they can speak up when they need to most. We would hope that this evidence encourages much-needed conversation."

Across the UK 6,507 suicides were registered in 2018, up from 5,821 in 2017. Statisticians say the sharp rise is "largely driven by an increase among men who have continued to be most at risk of dying by suicide."

Concern has also been raised over the rate of suicide among young adults, with females under 25 reaching the highest rate on record for their age group.

The ONS said changes made in the last year to the way coroners record such deaths may be a factor.

Samaritans chief executive Ruth Sutherland said: “It is extremely worrying that, for the first time in five years, the suicide rate in the UK has increased.

“There has also been a significant increase in the suicide rate in young men since 2017.”

She added: “Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy that devastates families, friends and communities.

“We know that suicide is not inevitable. It is preventable, and encouraging steps have been made to prevent suicide, but we need to look at suicide as a serious public health issue.”

If you are struggling, call Samaritans free on 116 123.