Tackling the link between disadvantage and suicide

Written by: James Jopling, Executive Director, Samaritans Scotland

Published: 20/03/2017

James explains the need for a Scottish Suicide Prevention Strategy which recognises the link between disadvantage, inequality and suicide.

Suicide is an issue of inequality. The latest figures (This link will take you away from our website) show that the rate of suicide is three times higher in Scotland’s most deprived communities compared to our least deprived. In order to better understand why this link exists, Samaritans and eight leading academics have been gathering and analysing evidence over the past two years. Our new report, Dying from Inequality (This link will take you away from our website), sets out for the first time what exactly contributes to suicide risk in disadvantaged people and communities – and what more can be done to save lives.

We have made significant progress in Scotland in terms of reducing suicide. In the ten years from 2002, when the first Choose Life Suicide Prevention Strategy was published, there was an 18% fall in the suicide rate. Yet despite real progress, a significant difference in rates between the most and least deprived people in Scotland persists. In this way, suicide is an unjust and avoidable difference in length of life that results from being disadvantaged.

It’s simply unacceptable that the risk of a person taking their own life is substantially increased according to how disadvantaged they may be. In setting out what needs to change, our report provides the important opportunity to galvanise other agencies and decision makers into action. So, we’ll be talking to those who can influence change in housing, stigma, lifestyle behaviours and many of the other factors highlighted in the report. We’ll be talking about Scottish solutions, in a Scottish policy and political context, with key agencies that can help us affect change.

We need more work to target local suicide prevention work to areas of deprivation within individual local authorities. We need the Scottish Government’s forthcoming suicide prevention strategy to be linked into welfare, education, housing and employment policies.  When we see large employers downsize or close and local or national government seek to help, let’s make sure that help includes consideration of the mental health of the people working there during a very difficult period in their lives.

Increasingly Samaritans is seeking to work with others to be there for those on the margins of society.  We are providing our services in foodbanks, in homeless drop-in centres and other locations where contact with people in crisis can play a role in helping to manage the situation they find themselves in. We have also made our phone number free to call for everyone, so that the cost of contacting us is never a barrier. But we all need to do more to address this.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50 and young people aged 16-34 in the UK. And none of us should ignore that the lower your social class, the more likely you are to be affected by suicide in Scotland. This report is a call for us as individuals to care more and for organisations that can make a difference, to do so.

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Samaritans Scotland

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