How disadvantage ups the risk of suicide

James Jopling, Executive Director of Samaritans in Scotland

James Jopling

In 2015, 672 people took their own lives in Scotland.

It's clear however, that some people are unequally bearing this burden.

It is simply not acceptable that the risk of a person taking their own life is substantially increased according to how disadvantaged they may be.

We have made significant progress in Scotland in bringing the suicide rate down. In the ten years from 2002, when the first Choose Life Suicide Prevention Strategy was published, there was an 18 per cent fall in the suicide rate. Yet despite real progress, a significant difference in rates between the most and least deprived people in Scotland persists.

Latest figures for Scotland show that the rate of suicide was three times higher in the most deprived tenth of the population compared to the least deprived tenth.

Increasingly, Samaritans are working with others to benefit those on the margins of society.  We are providing our services in foodbanks, in homeless drop-in centres and other locations where contact from us with people in crisis can play a role in helping them manage the situation they find themselves in.

For the first time, Dying From Inequality sets out exactly what contributes to suicide risk in disadvantaged people and communities. This gives us the vitally important opportunity to galvanise other agencies and decision makers into action. So, we’ll be talking to those who can influence change in housing, stigma, lifestyle behaviours and many of the other factors highlighted in the report. We’ll be talking about Scottish solutions, in a Scottish policy and political context, with key agencies that can help us affect change.

As a starter, we think we need to target local suicide prevention work in areas of deprivation within individual local authorities. We need the forthcoming suicide prevention strategy in Scotland to be joined up with welfare, education, housing and employment policies in Scotland.  When we see large employers downsize or shut down, and local and national government seek to help, let’s make sure that help includes consideration of the mental health of the employees affected during a very difficult period in their lives.

We’ve also previously had targets to train NHS staff in Scotland to recognise and understand individuals who are in distress and may be suicidal, we believe we need this kind of programme to be extended to those agencies who might be dealing with people struggling financially, such as welfare agencies or financial services companies.  An effective and appropriate response could make all the difference.

Because it’s simply not right that so many people struggling with deprivation and poverty across Scotland find taking their own life as the only way out.