Much action is already taking place here and we welcome the Scottish government’s decision to extend Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan until 2022, recognising the impact of the pandemic on people’s mental health and that there is more to do.
In 2020, 805 people tragically lost their lives to suicide, and we feel for everyone they left behind. This number was slightly lower than the previous year's but still above the five-year average; we await publication of the latest Covid mental-health tracker data next week.
What we already know, however, is that the pandemic is having an impact on people’s mental health and well-being which is likely to be significant and long term, and action is critical.
Our National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group’s (NSPLG) lived-experience panel members have each personally gone through the impacts of suicide and are hopeful about the action we’re taking together.
Their contribution is invaluable, so we were thrilled when they received recognition this year from the World Health Organisation as an example of international best practice in suicide prevention.
But preventing suicide isn’t only down to those of us taking formal action: we all have a role to play. Simply by having the confidence to ask someone how they are, giving them the space to speak about how they’re feeling, any of us is taking action that could save a life.
This time last year we launched our United to Prevent Suicide movement to raise awareness and reduce stigma about suicide. Men continue to be most at risk of suicide but sadly the number of women losing their lives is rising.
Our current campaign is using the power of football and FC United to Prevent Suicide to encourage men and women to talk about their mental health and suicide. It’s been wonderful to have support from people in sport who’ve generously shared their own experiences to encourage others to speak openly and without fear.
Young people have been hugely affected by the pandemic, so our next United to Prevent Suicide campaign will focus on them. It’s currently being co-developed and co-produced with people aged 16 to 19 who are passionate about suicide prevention.
We’re also recruiting a new NSPLG youth advisory group to help us understand the issues young people face and how best to support them.
Every suicide happens in a family and a community, so it’s important that local action is relevant to the people living in those communities. This year we launched a local suicide prevention guidance toolkit which was distributed with Cosla to all 32 local authorities in Scotland. It will help create suicide prevention plans that tailor best practice to local needs, maximising local knowledge and opportunities.
Central to our suicide prevention work is giving everyone in Scotland the confidence to know we can all act without being an expert. Importantly, we want people to know that by asking someone if they’re OK, by specifically asking about suicide, we can’t put the idea into someone’s head. What we can do is start a conversation that saves a life.
Our website www.unitedtopreventsuicide.org has resources and animations which anyone can use to prepare themselves for having that conversation. On this World Suicide Prevention Day, with its theme “creating hope through action”, this could be the action you take, preparing you to offer help to someone you know, or to someone you simply meet, at the right moment.
Recognising that people seek help in different ways and may prefer not to speak face to face, we’re also working with NHS 24 and others to explore how we can use technology to help and support people while protecting them from material that may increase their distress or risk of suicide.
Alongside this our academic advisory group is working to understand what puts some groups of people at greater risk of suicide, and what we can do to reduce that.
While all this preventative work continues, there’s still more to be done to better support people at the point of crisis and immediate risk of suicide. In the context of the national mental health transition and recovery plan, we’ll be making recommendations focused on the capacity and culture necessary for effective action.
When any life is lost to suicide, those left behind experience a particularly complex form of bereavement that may in turn increase their own risk. Last month we launched a two-year pilot scheme in Ayrshire and Arran and Highland to help families bereaved by suicide, funded by the Scottish government.
In this pilot, a named person agrees tailored support with each family. Those who take up the offer may need help with practical issues arising from suicide, such as liaising with the police or arranging a funeral, or bereavement counselling when they’re ready. In due course we’ll recommend to the Scottish government whether and how this pilot should be extended.
Action to prevent suicide in Scotland will continue locally and nationally over the coming year, and on this World Suicide Prevention Day I continue to believe that no suicide should be considered inevitable.
If you share my belief, you can “create hope through action” too by starting a conversation with someone who needs it. You could save a life.
Rose Fitzpatrick CBE QPM is chair of Scotland’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, which supports delivery of the Scottish government’s suicide prevention action plan. For more information visit: www.unitedtopreventsuicide.org.uk.
If you need support contact your GP, NHS24 on 111, Samaritans on 116 123 or Breathing Space on 0800 83 58 87.