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by Andrew Learmonth
17 August 2021
Decrease in the number of suicides in Scotland during 2020

Decrease in the number of suicides in Scotland during 2020

There was a decrease in the number of suicides in Scotland last year, according to the latest figures from the National Records of Scotland (NRS).

The new data shows there were 805 probable suicides in Scotland in 2020 - down from 833 in 2019, a reduction of three per cent. 

However, there was a stark increase between June and September, with the number of suicides up by 28 per cent compared to the five year average for those months. 

Men accounted for 71 per cent of suicides in 2020, though at 235, the number of female suicides is the highest annual total since 2011.

The data also shows that the highest number of suicides are consistently recorded in age groups between 20 and 59, with the 30-39 age category having the highest suicide rate in 2020.

The suicide rate in Scotland's most deprived areas is three times the rate in wealthy areas.

Over the last five years, Dundee has had the highest rate of suicide while East Renfrewshire has had the lowest.

Rachel Cackett, executive director of Samaritans Scotland, said: “Every one of these 805 deaths represents a life lost, with devastating consequences for families, friends and communities.  

"We know that the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted all our lives, creating new challenges for mental health and exacerbating existing risk factors for suicide.

"However, it is important to remember that there is no single reason why someone takes their own life and that a range of factors contribute to suicide risk. 

"Deaths by suicide in Scotland had been rising since 2017, and so today’s data is a small but positive step."

Cackett added that the figures were also a "stark reminder" of the impact of inequalities on mental health. 

She said: "The suicide rate in Scotland’s poorest areas is three times the rate in the least deprived areas.

"Scotland's next suicide strategy must focus on reducing this gap, particularly as more people may experience economic hardship following the pandemic."

Rose Fitzpatrick, chairwoman of the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, set up in 2018 to advise on and support delivery of the Scottish government's suicide prevention action plan, said: "Whilst there has been a small decrease in deaths by probable suicide in 2020, which of course we welcome, we will never forget that every life matters.

"Suicide is preventable, and so the release of this data is a reminder that our work must continue to focus on giving everyone a role to play in saving lives."

Fitzpatrick said it was still too soon to asses the full impact of the COVID pandemic on people. 

Pete Whitehouse, NRS director of statistical services, said: "Suicide deaths decreased slightly on the 2019 level. Monthly figures show that suicide deaths between June and September of 2020 were consistently above the highest numbers seen in these months over the last five years."

Scottish Conservative Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Craig Hoy, said: “The number of lives we lose to suicide each year is a tragedy and it confirms the need for rapid action to reach more people at the point of crisis.

“The loss of life is far higher than was anticipated in the Scottish Government’s most recent action plan, which can only now be judged as a failure.

“Reducing the scandalous waiting times for mental health treatment would go a long way to reversing this trend. 
 
“The SNP Government must now invest more in early intervention and we hope that ministers will accept the need for the NHS budget to include a guaranteed and permanent increase for mental health treatment services.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton called for a rapid expansion of mental health services. 

He said: "More than two people a day are dying by suicide. Today's news will be painful for thousands of families.

"Every life matters and further work to prevent suicide and save lives must be the priority.

"The Scottish Government's suicide prevention plans should be seamless but last time there was a 586-day gap between plans. Now ministers will prolong the current plan by nine months because they didn't have its replacement ready to go.

"Alongside the immediate acceleration of the replacement suicide prevention plan, we need a rapid expansion of the mental health workforce to reduce waiting times and 24/7 crisis care for those in the most urgent need. This is backed by the £120 million extra for mental health that Scottish Liberal Democrats secured in this year's budget negotations.

"We have led Parliament in formally declaring a mental health crisis and now the Scottish Government must meet that challenge."

The Samaritans can be contacted for free, and in confidence, at any time from any phone on 116 123. The number won’t show up on your phone bill.

Read the most recent article written by Andrew Learmonth - Time is right to reform Scotland's exams, says education minister

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