Suicide is a significant public health issue in Scotland and NHS Health Scotland leads the National Programme for Suicide Prevention in Scotland. You can find information below on

  • national and local strategies designed to reduce suicide rates
  • research and evidence to support epidemiology, preventive activity, and policy making.
  • There remains an overall decrease in suicide rates in Scotland based on five year rolling averages.
  • The highest suicide rates for males and females were observed for persons in the 35–44 and 45–54 age groups.
  • In 2012-2016 the suicide rate in Scotland showed a narrowing of the inequality gap in deaths by suicide.

You can read more data on suicide on the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) website (external).

Suicide and health inequalities

Four suicide risk factors have been identified 

  • pressures within communities including stigma, poor social cohesion, deprivation and lack of safety
  • pressures within Scottish society including inappropriate reporting and representation of suicidal behaviour by the media
  • the quality of response from services including insufficent focus on the prevention, identification and assessment of needs
  • pressures on individuals including family breakdown, low educational qualifications, insecurity of employment  and alcohol and substance misuse.

There are inequalities in suicide risk. People in the lower socio-economic positions are at highest risk of suicide whichever indicator is used - job, class, education, income or housing. As you go down each rung of the social ladder the risk of suicide increases, even after taking into account underlying mental health problems. The suicide rate is more than three times higher in the most deprived areas compared to the least deprived areas.

Suggestions as to why low social position increases suicide risk include

  • powerlessness
  • social exclusion
  • poor mental health
  • unhealthy lifestyles
  • stigma and disrespect
  • more adverse experiences.

There is a well-known link between unemployment and suicide. This is related to the decline of predominately male types of employment such as manufacturing. Men have also been affected by the general trend towards irregular work patterns, insecure or temporary work and self-employment and the recession.

National and local action

Later in 2017, the Scottish Government will engage with stakeholders with a view to helping inform the development of a new suicide prevention action plan for publication in early 2018.

The Scottish Government Suicide Prevention Strategy

The Scottish Government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy 2013 – 2016 sets out key areas of work to reduce the number of suicides around the following themes

  • talking about suicide
  • developing the evidence base
  • responding to people in distress
  • supporting change and improvement
  • improving the NHS response to suicide.

The strategy highlights the need for local and national agencies working across different disciplines to work together to reduce the number of suicides in Scotland.

The strategy makes 11 commitments that aim to continue the downward trend in suicide and contribute to the delivery of the National Outcome of enabling people to live longer, healthier lives.

National suicide prevention programme

We lead on the implementation of key aspects of the suicide prevention strategy through the National Programme for Suicide Prevention in Scotland.

Our main tasks include

Research and evidence

A research briefing published on the Choose Life website in May 2014 ‘Prevention of suicide and self-harm’ (external) gives an overview of rates of suicide and self-harm in Scotland. It also reviews

  • factors that make societies and individuals more or less at risk of suicide and self-harm
  • the effectiveness of interventions to prevent and reduce socio-economic inequalities in suicidal behaviour.

You may also want to read the NHS Scotland Information Service’s Division’s report of the Scottish Suicide Information Database (external PDF; 816KB). This is a central repository for information on all probable suicide deaths in Scotland. The annual report includes demographic information, contact with health services and related health data.

Local action plans

Local action is fundamental to reducing suicide. Community Planning Partnerships develop local suicide prevention action plans which focus on 

  • preventing suicide within communities
  • delivering prevention and intervention activities
  • involving a range of partners in preventing suicide
  • providing practical support to those affected by suicide
  • improving the capacity of local communities to educate and raise awareness of suicide.

Our Choose Life website provides details of Scotland’s 32 local authority area plans. You can also find the coordinators with responsibility for delivering the plan (external).

If you are interested in our work in this area, you can email the Suicide Prevention team.

The Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) programme provides a framework for a compassionate and effective response to people in distress, making it more likely that they will engage with and stay connected to services or supports that may benefit them over time.

The programme is being piloted in four areas. The Scottish Government will commission an independent evaluation to give recommendations for the future. You can read the initial evaluability assessment which aims to identify possible evaluation options.