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Coronavirus: Half a million access suicide prevention course

More than half a million people have accessed online training that aims to prevent suicide in the last three weeks alone, a charity has said.

The Zero Suicide Alliance said 503,000 users completed its online course during lockdown. It aims to help spot the signs that a person may need help.

It comes as health leaders warned front-line workers tackling coronavirus could suffer from mental ill health.

NHS England launched a mental health hotline to support staff last month.

The surge in demand to complete the suicide prevention programme - funded in part by the Department of Health - means the Zero Suicide Alliance reached a total of one million participants worldwide since its launch in 2017.

The online training takes around 20 minutes and leads users through the skills they might need to help someone who may be considering suicide, tackling stigma and promoting open communication.

A shorter introduction module - requiring five to 10 minutes - is also available.

The alliance's Joe Rafferty said the true impact of the coronavirus on mental health will not be known until the pandemic ends.

But he said "the stress and worry of the coronavirus is bound to have impacted people's mental health".

"Suicide is a serious public health issue and every single death by suicide devastates families, friends and communities," he added.

There were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK in 2018, with three-quarters of them among men, according to the Office for National Statistics.

'Damaging toll'

Meanwhile, medics are warning the pandemic is likely to lead to long-term mental health conditions that the NHS needs to prepare to address.

The NHS Clinical Leaders Network warned of the possible impact of the pandemic on the mental health of front-line and other workers.

The group wrote in a paper released on Monday that past outbreaks show "we can expect notable increases in mental ill health and related issues for front-line workers as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic".

They added: "While preventing the spread of Covid-19 is still a public health priority, we're saying that this emergency will also leave a mental health legacy in its wake, a legacy that could inflict a damaging toll on NHS and other front-line staff as well as the public at large."

The group said an "urgent call to action" was needed so health leaders do not "wait until this problem is upon us".

Launching its staff mental health hotline last month, NHS England said more than 1,500 volunteers from charities such as the Samaritans will be on hand to support those who call.

The NHS has also partnered with Headspace, UnMind and Big Health to offer support via apps free of charge.

For information and support on mental health and suicide, access the BBC Action Line.

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