Suicide prevention overview
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.
NHS inform (external site) has information for the public. This includes helplines and support for people who are having suicidal thoughts or who are worried about someone else.
Take action to help raise your own awareness and others on talking about mental health and suicide.
Public Health Scotland and NHS Education Scotland (NES) have jointly developed a series of animations that help individuals have supportive conversations on mental health and suicide.
The animations highlight the range of communication skills that should be used when discussing mental health and suicide. These include
They also provide information on how to get immediate help and support.
Please note that these animations are hosted on NHS Education Scotland’s TURAS platform. Registration may be required.
- Animations for supporting adults (external site)
- Animations for supporting children and young people (external site).
Together we can ensure that everyone is ready to have supportive conversations.
- There were 805 probable suicides registered in Scotland in 2020, compared to 833 in 2019.
- Just under three-quarters (71.4%) of people who died by suicide in 2020 were male (575 males, 230 females).
- The highest crude rate per 100,000 of the population for males occurs in the 35 – 44 age group and for females in the 45 – 54 age group.
- In 2016 to 2020 the suicide rate was three and a half times higher in the most deprived tenth of the population compared to least deprived tenth.
You can read more data on suicide on the Scottish Public Health Observatory (ScotPHO) website (external website).
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 insufficient 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 nearly 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
- 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
The Scottish Government Suicide Prevention National Action Plan 2018
The Scottish Government’s Suicide Prevention National Action Plan 2018 sets out 10 key actions with the aim to reduce the number of suicides in Scotland by 20% by 2022.
- Establishing a National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group.
- The creation and implementation of refreshed mental health and suicide prevention training.
- Ensuring a coordinated approach to public awareness raising campaigns.
- Developing a Scottish Crisis Care Agreement to support those affected by suicide.
- Making recommendations to service providers on differing models of crisis support.
- Developing and supporting the delivery of innovations in digital technology that improve suicide prevention.
- Preventative actions targeting at risk groups.
- Ensuring the needs of children and young people are considered in relation to all the actions within the plan.
- Ensuring that data, evidence and guidance is used to maximise impact in reducing numbers of suicide.
- Developing appropriate reviews into all deaths by suicide and ensuring these are shared and acted upon.
The action plan highlights the need for local and national agencies working across different disciplines to work together to reduce the number of suicides in Scotland.
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
- providing evidence informed guidance
- workforce development including raising awareness and intervention skill training.
Research and evidence
A research briefing published in May 2014 ‘Prevention of suicide and self-harm’ (external site) 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 Services Division’s report of the Scottish Suicide Information Database (external site). This is a central repository for information on all probable suicide deaths and provides a comprehensive exploration of the nature of suicide in Scotland.
The annual report includes demographic information, contact with health services and additional related health data.
Local action is fundamental to reducing suicide and can cover a range of aspects including
- 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.
Contact the Public Mental Health Team if you have a query or are looking for more information.