To mark World Suicide Prevention Day, Scotland’s leading suicide prevention charity is calling for urgent action following a deeply concerning increase in deaths by suicide among young people under 25.
Today, Samaritans has published its Annual Suicide Statistics Report highlighting the scale of the challenge. This report pulls together the latest available suicide data across England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and ROI to analyse overarching trends and provide new insights.
Last year in Scotland, deaths by suicide increased from 680 in 2017 to 784 in 2018, a rise of 15%. Among under 25s, the suicide rate increased by 50% with a particularly sharp rise among young women.* The suicide rate among under 25s in Scotland is now at its highest level in over a decade.
As self-harm is a strong predictor of future suicide risk, the leading suicide prevention charity is focusing more attention on understanding the rise in self-harm among young people. We need to better understand the link between self-harm and suicide to be able to support those who self-harm.
Samaritans’ Annual Suicide Statistics Report explains why the increase in self-harm among young people over the last 15 years is a major concern:
- Self-harm is much more common among young people than other age groups, and particularly young women. More than a quarter of women aged 16-24 have self-harmed at some point.
- Self-harm is a sign of serious emotional distress and while most people who self-harm will not go on to take their own life, longer term self-harm is associated with developing thoughts of suicide.
- The increase in self-harm among young people may lead to self-harm being seen as the usual response to struggling for this group, and becoming a long-term response to emotional distress.
- Young people (aged 16–34) are less likely to have contact with health services following self-harm than older people so may not be getting support they need.
Samaritans is launching a new policy and research programme which aims to improve understanding around self-harm and the support available to people who self-harm. The charity will be carrying out research directly with young people who have self-harmed and working closely with policy makers to address the link between self-harm and suicide.
Over the next 12 months, Samaritans will be undertaking a programme of activity, including qualitative and quantitative research with young people who have experienced self-harm and research addressing the link between self-harm and suicide, to gain a better understanding of why people self-harm, what can be done to prevent it and what support works best for those who do self-harm.
Mairi Gordon, Samaritans Scotland, comments:
“World Suicide Prevention Day is a timely reminder of why we must continue to make suicide prevention an urgent public health priority. Every death by suicide is a tragedy with heart-breaking and far-reaching consequences for family, friends and communities all over Scotland.
At a time when we’ve seen deaths by suicide increase both here in Scotland and across the UK, it’s crucial that we re-double our efforts to better understand the factors that contribute to suicide and the interventions which can save lives.
We are particularly concerned to see rates increase among under-25s. Reducing suicide among young people requires research, investment and services to take account of young people’s whole experience. As one of the strongest indicators of future suicide risk, it’s crucial that we improve our understanding self-harm and its impact.
The increase in self-harm amongst young people is extremely worrying and we need a better understanding of what’s causing this trend and how we reverse it. We also need more evidence on the link between self-harm and suicide, on effective ways to prevent self-harm, and how best to support those who self-harm.
We hope that our work to better understand self-harm will act as a catalyst for wider action, with government, services and the third sector coming to reduce self-harm rates. That means working together to ensure all young people are aware of healthy coping mechanisms when they are struggling to cope, reducing the stigma which can prevent people from seeking help, and ensure that every young person in Scotland can get the right support at the right time, through properly resourced and accessible clinical and community services.
Preventing suicide cannot be achieved by one organisation or service alone. But by working together we can take action to address risk factors like self-harm we can realise our shared ambition for a Scotland where fewer people die by suicide and where everyone can get the right support at the right time.”
Notes to the editor
*Figures for Scotland from Suicide Deaths Registered in Scotland: Scotland overview Scottish Public Health Observatory
- Deaths by suicide in UK rose by 11.8% in 2018, according to new figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) Data available here
- In 2018, 6,507 suicides were registered in UK, up from 5,821 the year before. The rate of deaths among under 25s increased by 23.7% from 2017 to 2018 with 730 under-25s taking their own lives in 2018, up from 590 in 2017. The overall increase in suicide in the UK appears to be driven by the increase in male suicide. Males aged 45-49 years still have the highest rate of suicide (18.1 per 100,000).
- Samaritans Suicide Statistics Report 2019 will be available here on 10 September 2019
- Samaritans defines ‘self-harm’ as any deliberate act of self-poisoning or self-injury without suicidal intent. This excludes accidents, substance misuse and eating disorders.
- Additional data on self-harm in Scotland found one in six young people have self-harmed. Among young women this increases to one in five. See the full findings here
- Samaritans Media Guidelines on reporting suicide can be found here
 S. McManus et al., “Mental Health and Wellbeing in England: Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey 2014.,” no. Generic (2016), http://digital.nhs.uk/media/32987/APMS-2014-Full-Report/pdf/Mental_health_and_wellbeing_in_England_full_report.
 E. Townsend et al., “Uncovering Key Patterns in Self-Harm in Adolescents: Sequence Analysis Using the Card Sort Task for Self-Harm (CaTS),” Journal of Affective Disorders 206 (2016): 161–168.
 Sally McManus et al., “Prevalence of Non-Suicidal Self-Harm and Service Contact in England, 2000–14: Repeated Cross-Sectional Surveys of the General Population,” The Lancet Psychiatry 6, no. 7 (July 1, 2019): 573–81, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(19)30188-9.