Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan: Every Life Matters – 12th September

Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan: Every Life Matters

Debate in the Scottish Parliament

12 September 2018


I welcome Clare Haughey to her post, and I wish her well in her future endeavours.

More than 40 years ago, as a fresh-faced young man in my early 20s, I joined the Samaritans in my home city of Inverness.

I had been inspired by an article that I had read by the founder of Samaritans, the Rev Chad Varah. He was the vicar of St Stephen’s church in London.

His first ever funeral was that of a 14-year-old girl who died by suicide. That tragic death drove him to prevent future suicides. In 1953, he set up a “999 for the suicidal”.

He was a man who was willing to listen, who had a base and an emergency telephone.

The service received substantial press coverage.

The Daily Mirror coined the term “telephone good Samaritans”, and the name stuck and became synonymous with the volunteers who were there for others who were struggling to cope.

I trained with more experienced local Samaritans, whose philosophy was simple but effective.

It was to provide a safe space so that people could talk and be listened to without judgment.

I did night shifts, day shifts, weekends and holidays.

I learned from watching, listening and observing older, more experienced volunteers.

Nearly all the calls were heartbreaking.

There were calls from the lost, the lonely, the sad, the sorrowful, the young, the old, the rich and the poor.

My youngest caller was 15; my oldest was 75.

Today, the inspiring work continues.

Samaritans has more than 200 branches across the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which are still operating Chad Varah’s framework of providing confidential, non-judgmental support.

As we have heard from other speakers, it is everyone’s job to prevent suicide, not walk on the other side of the street, as in the parable of the good Samaritan.

As Samaritans says in the briefing for the debate, suicide is not inevitable; it is preventable, and concerted action can save lives.

Historically, Scotland has led the way on suicide prevention strategies.

In 2002, the choose life programme was set up. It was perhaps the most ambitious and comprehensive plan to tackle suicide in the western world.

A large research study to support the implementation of choose life was undertaken by the University of Edinburgh, the University of Dundee and the University of St Andrews, which covered the years from 1989 to 2004.

The findings, which were shocking, showed that the suicide rate for males had gone up by more than a fifth and that the suicide rate for females had gone up by 6 per cent.

There were regional issues.

The suicide rate in Glasgow was significantly higher than the Scottish average in all years for both men and women.

Also of concern was the fact that the rate of death by suicide was particularly high in my region of the Highlands and Islands.

The rates for Highland, Western Isles and Argyll and Bute were well above the Scottish average of 13.5 deaths per 100,000 population:

Highland had a rate of 17.5 deaths per 100,000 population, Western Isles had a rate of 17.1 and Orkney had a rate of 19.4.

The rates have not changed much today.

The study showed that the male rate was three times higher than the female rate, male vulnerability was greater in more rural and remote areas and there was a clear link between suicide and socioeconomic deprivation, which other speakers have identified.

My view is that suicide is a class, health and inequality issue.

Unless we tackle inequality, we cannot get to the root of the problem.

If we drill down into the statistics, we find that the poorest men in the poorest communities in Scotland have a suicide risk that is 10 times greater than that of the wealthiest men in the wealthiest communities.

As the Scottish public health observatory has argued, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 34—a quarter of male deaths and a fifth of female deaths were caused by suicide.

Suicide prevention needs to be embedded in all key Government functions.

As Samaritans told the Health and Sport Committee in June,

“Not every suicide prevention project has that title plastered above the door.”

Dan Proverbs, from Brothers in Arms, which is a men’s mental health charity working across Scotland, spoke to the committee and made it clear that although inequality is an issue so, too, is gender.

He called it

“brothers hiding in plain sight.”—[Official Report, Health and Sport Committee, 12 June 2018; c 12, 13.]

He referred to men putting on a mask at work and in social situations to hide their true feelings of isolation, loss and depression.

The Mental Health Foundation Scotland’s recent report called on the UK Government to conduct an impact assessment of its austerity agenda and to look closely at the impact of welfare reform on mental health.

There is clear evidence that the austerity agenda and welfare reform has a significant impact on individuals’ mental health.

The suicide prevention plan should be welcomed.

I particularly support the target to further reduce the rate of suicide by 20 per cent.

The big picture is clear.

Every suicide is a suicide too many.

We must understand the social determinants of poverty and inequality and our suicide prevention policy should be embedded in all policies that the Government engenders.

Comments (2)

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Peter Todd NHS Highland management should be reminded every life does matters.

Thank you as always along with certain other politicians, I just wish certain other politicians were so speedy in helping their constituents.


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Peter Todd Mental health services are a shambles in Caithness buidlings failing apart, we now have our 3rd locum psychiatrist in 5 months which mental health patients need stability, the waiting list for clinical psychology is a scandal & only those patients who …See more


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