THE North-East had the highest suicide rates in England last year, with a "significant increase" among men, official figures show.

According to figures published yesterday from the Office for National Statistics, the region had a rate of 12.5 deaths per 100,000, whilst Yorkshire and the Humber had a rate of 12.2, the second highest.

The North-East also had highest rate of male suicides for the second year in a row, at 20.4 deaths per 100,000, whilst Yorkshire and the Humber had the highest rate of female suicides in 2018, at 5.7 per 100,000.

Samaritans chief executive Ruth Sutherland said the findings were "extremely worrying" and it was "crucial" to obtain a better understanding of why there has been such an increase.

A total of 6,507 suicides were registered in the UK last year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said, up from 5,821 in 2017.

The ONS said that the exact reasons for the rise are unknown but changes made in the last year to the way coroners record such deaths may be a factor.

Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, said: “The latest figures from the ONS make for alarming reading. Mental health and well-being must be taken as seriously as physical health and we need to ensure services are adequately funded and staffed.

“Since 2010 mental health funding has been cut. In order to protect services, Labour will ring fence mental health budgets and ensure funding reaches the frontline.

“Here in Middlesbrough there are many organisations and charities working hard to improve people’s mental health. We have some superb initiatives such as the Men’s Shed and Lad’s Shed at Berwick Hills encouraging men of all ages to get together, talk and learn new skills, but those initiatives need to be underpinned by a real commitment from Government that is currently sadly lacking.”

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, with 686 more deaths than in 2017.

"Every single one of these deaths is a tragedy that devastates families, friends and communities. Whilst the overall rise has only been seen this year - and we hope it is not the start of a longer-term trend - it's crucial to have a better understanding of why there has been such an increase.

"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."