THE Highlands has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK – and a major contributory factor is linked to loneliness and social isolation.
Now, a new campaign is being launched in a bid to tackle the problem in the region.
NHS Highland is calling on community groups in the region to get involved in the initiative.
And the health board has urged them to consider applying for funding designed to support community projects tackling social isolation.
The Voluntary Action Fund, which manages the Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund, is seeking funding applications from small to medium-sized charities and community groups.
The fund has a £500,000 kitty, and there is a deadline of 20 May for applications for grants of up to £20,000.
Latest figures show the Highlands have a high suicide rate, despite a national trend for falling figures. The number of people killing themselves in Scotland declined by 12.5% in 2014, compared to 2013, according to figures from the National Records of Scotland.
The fall shows the suicide rate of 13.3 per 100,000 people, compared with 15.2 per 100,000 in 2013. A total of 696 people took their own lives in Scotland in 2014. However, in the Highlands the figure was about 15.9 per 100,000.
Joanna Macdonald, NHS Highland’s director of adult social care, said: “The board will be launching ‘Reach Out’, a major campaign designed to encourage individuals and community groups throughout the Highlands and Argyll and Bute to make a difference for someone who’s lonely.
“We’ll be inviting people to complete a ‘pledge’ form in which they will undertake to carry out a task of their choosing to address loneliness.
“These tasks can include anything from chatting to an elderly neighbour twice a week to organising a social event or social opportunities for lonely people.
“We hope our campaign will help to eradicate the scourge of loneliness and social isolation our part of Scotland, but we know that ‘Reach Out’ won’t do that on its own.
“That’s why we are urging organisations to consider tapping into the Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund if they have, or are planning, projects that tackle social isolation.
“It’s a great opportunity to source cash which, we believe, can help them to play a vital and considerable role in addressing this problem.”
Ms Macdonald added: “Loneliness may not be an obvious issue for a health board to tackle but there is strong evidence that it can have a devastating impact on both mental and physical health.
“For example, the charity Age Concern has estimated that it is as bad for people’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and it’s believed that loneliness increases the risk of dying earlier by 10 per cent. Facts like these have convinced us of the need to mobilise members of the public, local groups in an all-out effort to make a difference for lonely folk throughout our area.
“We hope people throughout our area will embrace our campaign, and we’d be delighted if some cash from the Social Isolation and Loneliness Fund found its way to Highland to complement whatever good ‘Reach Out’ achieves.”
James Jopling, Executive Director of Samaritans in Scotland, says, “Feeling connected to others is a basic human need and essential to our wellbeing. Growing evidence shows that social connections, with a partner, family, friends and work colleagues for example, can promote good health.
“However, the lack of supportive relationships or belief that there’s no one to turn to can lead to depression and feelings of not being able to cope. We would welcome any such measures that look to tackle this kind of social isolation.
“At Samaritans, we’re here to listen to whatever people need to say. Our branches are staffed entirely by volunteers, including the branch in Inverness. We provide a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.”
The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 (you don’t even need credit and this number won’t show up on your phone bill), or visitwww.samaritans.org to find details of the nearest branch.”
Anyone contemplating suicide, or in need of someone to talk to, can also call Breathing Space on 0800 838587 or Living Life 0800 328 9655.