Billy Watson: We need to switch focusto prevention and early prevention to save lives

Billy Watson chief executive of SAMH
Billy Watson chief executive of SAMH
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Suicide. A subject so difficult to talk about that often we just don’t. And yet more than 12 people a week will die by suicide. Something as simple as talking, asking someone how they’re feeling, could help to save a life.

This week is Suicide Prevention Week (September 5-11) and tomorrow is Suicide Prevention Day. I’d like to take the opportunity to encourage people to start a conversation which could help us all prevent suicide.

SAMH carried out 177 suicide interventions last year alone.

It’s clear from our work that talking is the simple tool that can help keep a person thinking about suicide safe.

It’s OK, and in fact essential, that we can talk openly and directly about suicide. Asking someone if they’re thinking about suicide may be difficult, but it’s the first step in starting this conversation. Talking gives the person time and space to open up and, crucially, to not act on their thoughts right now.

In terms of age and gender, the group most at risk of suicide are men in their mid-years.

In fact men are two-and-a-half times more likely to take their own lives.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising when we think about the pressures men face to conform to gender stereotypes and bottle up their emotions.

Another useful fact is that most people who die by suicide are in employment. Have you thought about a colleague recently?

Most people who die by suicide in Scotland have had no contact with specialist mental health services in the year before they die, with just one in 20 having a psychiatric outpatient appointment and one in eight leaving psychiatric inpatient care.

Men are even less likely then women to have been in contact with these services.

However, conversations can begin at home, at work, or in those places we gather . . . in the supporter stands?

SAMH’s manifesto calls for a generational change to our mental health system, to one which has a greater focus on prevention and early intervention, and which tackles health inequalities relating to men and suicide in particular.

If implemented, these changes could help to not just improve lives, but to save them.

Billy Watson is chief executive of SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health). SAMH is Scotland’s largest mental health charity, providing suicide prevention information, services, support and training. If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide and want to speak with someone immediately, call the Samaritans on 116 123; Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87 or NHS 24 on 111. If you need immediate medical attention dial 999 and request an ambulance