Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has used World Mental Health Day to call on the Scottish Government to urgently replace the Suicide Prevention Strategy which expired more than nine months ago.
Scotland’s Suicide Prevention strategy expired at the end of 2016 and has yet to be replaced. Recent figures showed that there were 728 suicides in Scotland in 2016 - an increase of 8% compared to 2015.
He was joined by Samaritans who highlighted the 18% fall in suicide during the period of the first national suicide prevention strategy Choose Life, created in 2002, and called for a renewed commitment towards securing such a decline.
Mr Cole Hamilton said:
“World Mental Health Day is an important reminder of the struggles that many people face in getting the help and support they need.
"The recent mental strategy was 15 months late and and campaigners and charities have warned that it is unambitious and underresourced.
"Similarly, the suicide prevention strategy expired in December 2016 and is yet to be replaced. We can't afford for services in this area to be short.
"Evidence shows that prevention strategies do work and with resources in place we can save lives in the future. Staff working in mental health services face increasing demands. We need a new strategy and a holistic cross-government approach, backed up the necessary resources, to prevent mental ill health leading to more tragic and unnecessary deaths.”
Samaritans’ Executive Director in Scotland, James Jopling, said:
“With suicide rates falling so consistently in recent years, we are concerned to see the rise in the number of deaths from suicide in 2016. While we know that rates can fluctuate year-on-year, what we desperately don’t want to see is this rise in deaths turning into a trend.
"We saw an 18% fall in the suicide rate during the time of the first strategy, at a time when rates were rising in other parts of the UK. We now need a renewed commitment and bold action to ensure deaths by suicide in Scotland continue to further decline. The investment made in local suicide prevention programmes has often been held as one of the main reasons for this previous welcome decline. Samaritans along with other organisations have expressed our concern that investment is now not at the same level locally and we need to re-dedicate our efforts to ensure work on a whole range of programmes that can help to prevent suicide aren't lost in the process of integration of health and social care.’
“Suicide is preventable and 728 deaths – 2 every single day in Scotland - is simply too much heartbreak for too many people. With work now underway on the Scottish Government’s new suicide prevention plan, it is more important than ever that we see Scotland return to being a world leader on suicide prevention. Written commitments alone aren’t likely to be enough.
“A truly cross-government approach is vital because suicide is not simply a mental health issue. Suicide prevention is an issue of poverty, housing, education and so much more.”