Opinions

Targets are welcome, but they’re not the whole picture

Written by: James Jopling, Executive Director, Samaritans Scotland

Published: 16/08/2018

James tells us why lived experience was crucial to the new Suicide Prevention Action plan and why it will continue to be.

Along with the Health and Social Care Academy, we’ve welcomed the Scottish Government’s new suicide prevention action plan. The plan aims to reduce deaths by suicide in Scotland by 20% over five years and ensure that support before, during and after a crisis is available.

While the new Mental Health Minister, Clare Haughey MSP’s input was invaluable, particularly as she has a background in mental health nursing, really central to these actions for change were people with lived experience of suicide in Scotland. Throughout the development of the plan, they shared their experiences and told us all loudly and clearly what needed to change.

Even prior to the development of any proposals, Samaritans, the Health and Social Care Academy, and NHS Health Scotland, supported by the Scottish Government, went across Scotland to hear from people who had supported someone, lost someone or experienced suicidal thoughts or attempts themselves. To ensure this plan would be shaped by lived experience, we needed to hear their thoughts before any proposals were set. We heard of the sheer devastation of losing someone to suicide, the shattering stigma and the feeling that there was often no one to turn to in times of crisis. At the worst time in their lives, many felt alone.

Our collective recommendations for change were finally presented to the then Minister for Mental Health, by participants in the pre-consultation events earlier this year. However, when draft proposals were published, we were truly disappointed. Not only did these not reflect the recommendations, but they didn’t demonstrate the ambition necessary to produce the significant change we clearly need to see. For us, we felt that suicide prevention wasn’t being treated as a priority.

Yet suicide impacts thousands of us every year. 680 people took their own lives in Scotland in 2017. 680 families, and many thousands of friends and colleagues felt that particular, devastating loss. Many more people will have made suicide attempts and more still will have experienced suicidal thoughts. When we were clear to the press and politicians that the plan wasn’t good enough, we were listened to. The First Minister subsequently reassured Parliament that the final action plan would take account of the recommendations from those with lived experience. And when a Scottish Parliament inquiry was launched into suicide prevention in June, people bravely told MSPs of their experiences of stigma and lack of support.

Our recommendations included that support for those in crisis and those bereaved by suicide should be improved across Scotland. They also called for mandatory suicide prevention training for certain professions such as those who work in the NHS and improved public awareness. So we are pleased that those are reflected in the plan.

Targets can tell us part of the story but not all of it. And the target to reduce suicides in Scotland by 20% by 2022 will focus minds and prompt action. But we need to work towards a Scotland where no one affected by suicide is alone: where help and support is available to anyone contemplating suicide and to those who have lost a loved one to suicide. These much-needed changes are about the lives lost around us each and every day and the impact that has. They’re about being in crisis and not knowing where to go for help. So whilst the plan, target and the investment are a huge step in the right direction, the Leadership Group, the Chair and people who care about this issue at a local and national level need to use this a focal point for change.

The real experiences of those affected by suicide must continue to be a central part of that. This is where we start to create the step change we all hope for: a Scotland where no one affected by suicide is alone.

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Samaritans Scotland

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