Scottish Government debate: Suicide Prevention - Samaritans Scotland briefing

On the 21st November MSPs will debate suicide prevention in Scotland. Samaritans Scotland provided the following briefing for the debate. 
Samaritans is the leading suicide prevention charity in the UK and ROI. Last year we dealt with 5.7 million contacts from people across the UK, an increase of around 300,000 from 2015.  
  • Around 2 people die every day in Scotland by suicide. There were 728 deaths in 2016, which is an 8% rise on the previous year - the first such rise in six years. 
  • Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK.
  • The Scottish Government will produce a new suicide prevention action plan in 2018. To ensure this is shaped by those with lived experience, Samaritans, NHS Health Scotland, the Health and Social Care Academy and Scottish Government are currently undertaking consultation events with those who have been directly affected.
Suicide is preventable. To ensure the rise in deaths does not become a trend we should:
Commit resource to researching and understanding suicide as a major public health issue
Suicide prevention does not receive anything like the investment it needs, including when it comes to research. Scottish Government should commit to research beyond funding the Scottish Suicide Information Database (ScotSID). There has also been no evaluation of any of our previous suicide prevention work, which cannot continue. We must set out how we will evaluate the new action plan.
Tackle the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and suicide
As our Dying from Inequality report outlined, those who are disadvantaged are more likely to experience negative life events and less likely to seek help. The rate of suicide is almost three times higher in our most deprived communities. Suicide prevention activities should be targeted in areas of disadvantage however to tackle the underlying issues we also need efforts to reduce poverty and inequality overall. We urge that suicide prevention be part of policy development in these areas.
Ensure schools and teachers are equipped to discuss mental health
Suicide is now the leading cause of death in teenage girls worldwide and, concerningly, the rate of suicide in 15-24 year olds in Scotland has risen over the past three years. Education on mental and emotional wellbeing can act as prevention and early intervention, however the Education and Skills Committee’s inquiry into Personal and Social Education (PSE) demonstrated that young people do not feel that mental health is adequately discussed at school. We know from our work in schools, that teachers often don’t feel equipped to deal with the questions that talking about mental health can raise. The review of PSE must ensure mental health aspects are strengthened and, crucially, that teachers have the confidence and skills to take this forward.
Produce a bold, ambitious and funded action plan to reduce suicide further 
We must have a clear plan for implementation, robust monitoring and accountability of actions to address suicide risk, with a commitment to resources to deliver change.  A plan that simply carried over many of those actions from the previous strategy, would be a missed opportunity.
Provide resource and leadership for local suicide prevention work
While England and Wales begin to replicate our model of local suicide prevention work, we now lack ownership and oversight. Funding often does not reach frontline support and overall responsibility for this work does not sit clearly anywhere. England now have plans in place in most local authorities, with an evaluation process being developed: something we lack.  Clear reporting structures should be introduced, with real leadership behind this.   
Ensure a consistent response to those people in crisis
We frequently hear from friends and families of those who have taken their own lives that their loved one hadn’t known where to turn when they were struggling.  Samaritans has seen, along with others, a significant increase in the number of people reaching out to us, however a volunteer led organisation cannot fill in gaps in crisis care. We believe that a national agreement between services involved in the care and support of people in mental health crisis, such as the Crisis Care Concordat in England and Wales, would help ensure a more consistent, compassionate response. 
Ensure the right professionals are trained in suicide prevention
70% of people in Scotland have contact with a healthcare service in the 12 months before they take their own life, most commonly for a mental health drug prescription.** Those professionals people are most likely to meet -including pharmacists and GPs- must be resourced and trained to recognise signs then respond appropriately. Additionally, significant numbers of people who die by suicide have no recent contact with health services. From becoming homeless, losing your job or having your benefits sanctioned, we know there are key points when people are at increased risk. Training for people in these non-health areas is just as likely to save lives and should be rolled out.
To reduce suicide in Scotland, we must: 
  • Commit resource to researching and understanding suicide as a major public health issue
  • Tackle the link between socioeconomic disadvantage and suicide
  • Ensure schools and teachers are equipped to discuss mental health
  • Introduce a bold, ambitious and funded action plan 
  • Provide resource and leadership for local suicide prevention work
  • Ensure a consistent response to those in crisis
  • Ensure the right professionals are trained in suicide prevention
For more information contact Jen Gracie on or 0131 556 7058 
Samaritans works in schools by running workshops and providing materials on emotional and mental wellbeing, as well as supporting them aftermath of a suicide, through our Step by Step service. In 2015, we worked in over 600 hundred schools across the UK and Republic of Ireland.
A nominated contact, the Choose-Life Coordinator, in each local authority has the key role in updating and implementing their local suicide prevention action plan and convening a steering group to facilitate action.