World Suicide Prevention Day offer a chance to make changes that will save lives, says Mairi Gordon
Tomorrow marks World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s a day for us to remember that, across the world, suicide ranks among the top 20 causes of death for all age groups. It’s a day to remember the 15 people in Scotland who lost their lives to suicide every week in 2018. And it’s a day to remember the partners, parents, siblings, friends, schoolmates and co-workers who will be forever by touched by every one of those deaths.
But it’s also a day to remember that suicide is not inevitable. By working together, we can save lives. Recent figures on deaths by suicide in Scotland underline why we must continue to make prevention a priority. In Scotland, deaths by suicide rose to 784 in 2018 from 680 the previous year, an increase of 15 per cent. Among young people under 25 in Scotland the increase was even starker, rising by 50 per cent to reach the highest level in over a decade.
These figures cast a shadow over what should be an exciting moment for young people across the country. September is a month of anticipation and change. Those still at school are now a few weeks into a new year, adjusting to new classes and new freedoms. For others, trading in school for university, college, a first job or apprenticeship these changes are even more marked. If your school days are an increasingly distant memory, you might look in envy at today’s young people, who appear to have everything ahead of them.
But this can also be a time of uncertainty, anxiety and loneliness for a lot of young people. The rise in deaths by suicide among under-25s is one among several concerning indicators, suggesting that many young people in Scotland are facing new pressures and challenges. We see this reflected in rising rates of depression and anxiety. At Samaritans, we are particularly concerned about rising rates of self-harm among young people, which can be an indicator of increased risk of suicide.
As with all age groups, suicide among young people is complex. The factors that shape young people’s wellbeing are varied. To support youth mental health and reduce suicide, we need research, investment and services to take account of young people’s whole experience. We can’t expect a single service – from education to health – to hold all the answers. Instead we need a public health approach that brings together different groups and services to realise that shared goal. We need local and national government, health and care services, schools, colleges and universities, internet companies, youth groups and communities all to play a role.
Most of all, we need to put young people at the heart of this work and recognise that they can be the most powerful advocates for mental health.
So this World Suicide Prevention Day, let’s re-double our commitment to young people. Let’s work together to ensure that every young person feels able to ask for help and that when they do they get the right support at the right time. And let’s support young people to develop the skills and resilience to look after their own wellbeing and to look out for those around them. If we get these lessons right today, the benefits will last a lifetime.
Mairi Gordon, Samaritans Scotland