Collective action to prevent suicide

Written by: Andrew Strong, Assistant Director (Policy and Communications), the ALLIANCE

Published: 15/08/2018

Image of the front cover of the Scottish Government's Suicide Prevention Action Plan

The Scottish Government's new Suicide Prevention Action Plan aims for a 20% reduction in the next four years.

As a football fan, it was a welcome interjection to the quiet pre-season months when four clubs in North Lanarkshire announced plans to display a suicide prevention logo on their shirts for the 2018/19 season (this link will take you away from our website). As part of the initiative, Motherwell, Airdrieonians, Albion Rovers and Clyde will all prominently display the Suicide Prevention North Lanarkshire logo to raise awareness of an issue that claims the life of one person almost every week in the local area.

Co-ordinated public awareness campaigns like this could become more widespread in the coming years, following the publication of Scotland’s new Suicide Prevention Action Plan (this link will take you away from our website). The plan has been months in the making, with statutory bodies, third sector organisations, people with lived experience and other stakeholders coming together to propose collective actions to prevent suicide in Scotland.

The action plan, which begins with a foreword from the new Minister for Mental Health, Clare Haughey MSP, is much stronger than the draft versions published earlier this year. In evidence to the Scottish Parliament (this link will take you away from our website) both SAMH and Samaritans Scotland called the previous versions “disappointing” with the Mental Health Foundation calling for new leadership and drive. No further is this change emphasised than in its opening line, “no death by suicide should be regarded as either acceptable or inevitable.”

Rejecting the notion that any suicide is inevitable has been a theme of the ALLIANCE’s work with people across Scotland over the last year. Alongside colleagues from Samaritans Scotland and NHS Health Scotland, our Health and Social Care Academy programme heard directly from people with lived experience of suicide who noted that while services available to support people in crisis are effective, they are limited in number and badly coordinated with other parts of the health and social care system.

As part of the action plan, the Scottish Government intends to create a new leadership group, comprised of national and local policy makers alongside people who have been affected by suicide, which will have oversight of new training initiatives, local prevention action plans as well as future public awareness campaigns. Backed by £3m investment, it is crucial that this group reflects on the views expressed in the report.

For instance, we heard that there are very few opportunities for people affected by suicide to come together and share their significant lived experience. It is in this respect that we think the plan could go further. Almost one third of Scots have experience (this link will take you away from our website) of supporting a close friend or family member through feelings of suicide or have lost a close friend or family member to suicide. We believe that there is a great deal of experience across Scotland’s communities on the best way to support people in crisis and therefore a much greater emphasis must be placed on gathering the perspectives of people who are affected by suicide and supporting them to co-produce ambitious plans for the future.

It is vital that people working for services should be trained to provide support in a calm, respectful and compassionate way. Mandatory suicide prevention training of specific professional groups was also seen by our participants as a priority, with GPs highlighted as the most important recipients, however other frontline services were also mentioned, including people who will work for Scotland’s new Social Security Agency. As a first step, the action plan prioritises NHS staff but notes that people working in social security will be equipped with the confidence to handle and talk about mental health and suicide awareness.

These are all crucial steps. The proof of these series of actions will be in the implementation, and with a target of a 20% reduction in suicides by 2022 underpinning the strategy, the ambition is clear to see. It will, however, be important to assess the impact of these actions on the lives and experiences of people most at risk of suicide and those closest to them.

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