Calls to a mental health crisis helpline in Hertfordshire have doubled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Herts Mind Network warned that the problem was likely to worsen over Christmas, when suicide helplines traditionally see a spike in calls.

A report discussed this month by councillors showed suicides in Herts, whilst below the UK average, had already been increasing every year.

The "Hertfordshire Suicide Audit”, based on coroners’ verdicts, said 270 people were recorded as having taken their lives between 2017 and 2019 – but the true figure was likely higher.

Debi Roberts, CEO of Herts suicide prevention charity the OLLIE Foundation, said that in cases like self-poisonings, deaths were unlikely to be listed as suicide unless the person left evidence of intent, such as a note.

Families also sometimes oppose a suicide verdict.

“As awful as it is to have to consider, it is true that their life insurance would not pay out,” said Mrs Roberts. “A verdict of suicide is hard for anyone, but when it also removes any life insurance, it can leave a family destitute. So it’s important that the truth is recorded, but that truth can destroy even more lives.”

Mind, along with the Samaritans, is campaigning for more accurate recording of suicides.

Of the 270 Herts deaths which were recorded as suicides, 75 per cent were men. Males aged 30 to 49 accounted for exactly one third of all suicides in the county.

More than two-thirds had a mental health issue or condition in their GP notes and more than a quarter had contacted their GP about their mental health in the four weeks before they died.

Herts Mind Network said it was delivering suicide prevention training to GPs and other health staff.

Julie Nicholson, the charity's chief executive, said: “Over the past nine months we have seen calls to our crisis helpline double and referrals to our services are higher than ever.

“This is an important issue and will become even more so due to the loneliness and isolation associated with COVID-19, alongside the usual dread of Christmas and New Year for a lot of people.”

*The Hertfordshire Crisis Helpline is 01923 256391.