Scottish Parliament mental health education debate

The Scottish Parliament is debating mental health education and it's place in the forthcoming mental health strategy today, Thursday 29th September. Samaritans Scotland have briefed health spokespeople and other MSPs on why we believe mental health education is a key part of prevention and early intervention. Our briefing is below.

Members' Business Motion S5M-01183 - Mental Health Education

Samaritans Scotland Briefing


Samaritans is the leading suicide prevention charity in the UK and ROI. Last year we dealt with around 5.4 million contacts from people who needed our trained listening volunteers, including around 300,000 of those in Scotland. We also help young people prepare for life's challenges by running workshops and providing materials for schools with our teaching resources DEAL*, as well as supporting secondary schools in the aftermath of a suicide, through our Step by Step service. We are members of the Scottish Mental Health Partnership, a coalition of third sector mental health organisations, service providers and professional bodies working together to promote mental health awareness and improve outcomes for people experiencing mental health problems.

While there has been success in bringing down suicide rates in Scotland over the past decade, there were still 672 deaths by suicide in 2015 and the rate in Scotland remains higher than the UK as a whole. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK and young people aged 20-34. The data also shows a strong and clear relationship between deprivation and the suicide rate in Scotland, with those in the most deprived 20% of the population three times more likely to take their own life than those in the least deprived 20%.**

The forthcoming Mental Health Strategy

The six-week consultation on the next mental health strategy closed on 16 September.*** In our response, we welcomed the 10-year view of this strategy as the longer term look allows the opportunity to transform mental health. In order to travel towards a mentally healthy Scotland however we need to move from a system of crisis management to ensuring that Scotland is mentally well. That fundamentally means moving from a proposed strategy which looks overwhelmingly at service provision to one which considers the emotional health and wellbeing of Scotland’s communities. Education is a vital part of this.

Protective factors in education

Suicide is often considered to be a combination of vulnerability, environment and life events. In order to really address suicide rates then we need to promote protective factors which will help people to cope with life’s challenges. A key strand of this has to be focused at our young people, ensuring that they are equipped to build resilience against suicide’s risk factors throughout life. If we promote protective factors that allow people to more adequately cope with some of life’s challenges, then this really could save lives.

While the proposals in the strategy’s framework to promote good mental health through work with children’s services -and on ‘prevention and early intervention’ for young people- are to be welcomed, we feel there is real merit in going further. Schools are in a unique position to promote good mental health among young people and therefore the promotion of emotional health and resilience in schools can act as a key form of prevention and early intervention across the population. While Curriculum for Excellence includes health and wellbeing as one of the eight areas contributing to experiences and outcomes, a clear focus as part of the curriculum on developing emotional awareness could have a lasting impact across generations.

Addressing inequalities in health and length of life

Young people in Scotland have some of the highest rates of health and social inequality in Europe and North America (including life satisfaction).**** Affluence should not be a determinant of the happiness or wellbeing of a child in 21st Century Scotland, yet we also know that the less affluent you are the more likely you are to take your own life in Scotland.***** In this way, suicide remains an unjust and avoidable difference in length of life that results from being disadvantaged. There is however evidence to suggest that protective factors can offset health inequalities, with schools and the school environment acting as a key protective factor.6 By promoting emotional awareness within schools we can encourage a supportive environment whereby children learn how to face life’s challenges. In giving prevention this focus and commitment we can work towards ensuring that the wellbeing of our young people is not determined by the salary or education status of their parents -nor is the length of their life.


  • Schools are in a unique position to promote mental health among young people and therefore the promotion of emotional health and resilience in schools can act as a key form of prevention and early intervention across our population.
  • A clear focus as part of the curriculum on mental health education and developing emotional awareness could have a lasting impact across generations and would begin to address health and wellbeing inequalities.
  • We all want to see mentally well young people equipped with the skills to deal with life’s challenges and support each other. That is out of our reach if we continue to focus on overwhelmingly on services for those who present with mental ill health. In order to give the next strategy the vision it currently lacks, mental health education should be part of it.



**Scottish Suicide Information Database (ScotSID) Report 2016:

***Mental Health in Scotland -a ten year vision (Scottish Government, 2016):

****Health behaviour in school-aged children (WHO, 2016):

*****Scottish Suicide Information Database (ScotSID) Report 2016: 6 As above.

For further information, please contact Jen Gracie, Policy and Communications Officer, at or 0131 556 7058