Charity bosses have said they are “hugely concerned” over the rise in suicides as new figures reveal Aberdeenshire recorded its highest rate since 2004.
And the number of people who took their own lives in Aberdeenshire in 2019 was 37 – four short of the 41 recorded 16 years ago.
The report has established a “known link between deprivation and suicide” with the probable suicide rate between 2015 and 2019 three times higher in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived.
Number of probable suicides in Scotland increases by 6.25%
The statistics – which predate the Covid-19 pandemic – have prompted calls for a transformation to mental health services, with campaigners concerned this year’s lockdown and coronavirus restrictions have made it harder for people in need to access support.
Across Scotland, there have been 833 probable suicides registered in 2019, up 6.25% on the 784 recorded a year previous.
There were 37 cases in Aberdeenshire compared to 31 in 2018.
Angie Wood, Chief officer of the Aberdeenshire Health & Social Care Partnership, said: “That number, 37, represents 37 individuals, their families, friends, loved ones and colleagues.
“Suicide casts a long shadow over everyone it touches and we must all work to ensure that we listen and look after each other to help prevent any further loss of life.
“Across our services, we work very hard to help anyone in crisis, however too often those who take their own lives are not known to us. So, please if you are struggling yourself or worried about someone else please reach out there is help available.”
Figures in Aberdeen are down five since 2018 with 25 deaths by suicide registered, a significant drop on the 2015 total where 43 deaths were attributed to suicide.
Moray registered 17 suicides in 2019 and 16 the year before.
Transformation needed for mental health services
Wendy Halliday, See Me director, said: “We are hugely concerned to see a rise in the number of suicides across Scotland for the second year running, especially as this latest publication covers the period before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The high rates of males taking their own lives and an increase in young female suicides are particularly worrying.
“Too many people in Scotland struggle alone because the stigma and discrimination around mental health can make it difficult to ask for help.
“No-one should ever be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone they are struggling with their mental health, and we have to remove the stigma so people can speak about how they’re feeling before they reach a point where suicide feels like an option.
“We hope that with the hard work of the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, and the new United to Prevent Suicide approach, we see these tragic numbers start to come down.
“If you’re struggling right now, it is okay to say that you’re not feeling okay. Speak to someone you trust, and if you don’t find the right person straight away, ask again, it is hard, but you aren’t alone and you deserve help. If you’re worried about someone in your life, don’t avoid the conversation, ask them if they are okay.”
Over the last five years, 3,697 people across Scotland took their own life with the average suicide rate over the same timeframe standing at 13.9 deaths per 100,000.
Man Chat Aberdeen founder Wray Thomson said that while the figures for the city are “encouraging”, he feels the impact of the coronavirus crisis may lead to a spike.
He set up the group to give men an opportunity to discuss their feelings online and in a weekly support group.
He said: “I fear the figures will, unfortunately, see a rise next year.
“Since the start of the pandemic, there’s been a distinct rise across all mental health sectors in people reaching out for help, which whilst encouraging is also something people need to keep in mind.
“Fantastic news that whilst things were “normal” to see a reduction in certain areas, but myself and I’m sure many other organisations and charities will be continuing to tackle the difficult issue of suicide and poor mental health brought about this year’s circumstances and I would encourage anyone that is struggling during this time to reach out for support.”
Samaritans Scotland, the leading charity for suicide prevention and crisis support in the country, is calling for urgent action.
Rachel Cackett, executive director of Samaritans Scotland, said each death is “a devastating loss with far-reaching consequences for family, friends and communities”.
She said efforts have been enhanced to strengthen suicide prevention, however, “it is clear there is still so much more to do”.
She added: “It is important to recognise that today’s data only covers 2019 and it is still too early to know what the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be on mental health and well being.
“But by taking action, here and now, to renew and redouble their commitment to suicide prevention, government and services can help to reduce future risk.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the figures are “devastating” and called for major improvements of mental health services.
He said: “These devastating statistics show the urgent need for the full weight of our proposals.
“We need a serious expansion of the mental health workforce to end the waiting times scandal, fast access to talking therapies at your GP practice and new 24/7 crisis care.”
Mental health minister Clare Haughey said: “While these statistics do not reflect the period of the coronavirus pandemic, we know that this is taking a significant toll on many people’s mental health and we are doing all we can to support people at this difficult time.
“Our recently published Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan sets out the wide range of actions we are taking to address those additional pressures on the population’s mental health, brought about by the pandemic.”
Claire Sweeney, director of place and wellbeing at Public Health Scotland added: “Each of these deaths are a tragedy arising from profound distress, and are all preventable. They will have left immeasurable grief across families and communities.
“The unprecedented challenges we have all faced in 2020 perhaps make it easier to understand that anyone can experience mental illness.
“That’s one of the reasons why Public Health Scotland is prioritising improving mental well being as part of our strategic plan. We will work with our partners to help grow the understanding of levels of suicide in the communities they work with, and more broadly to support better mental wellbeing across Scotland.”
Samaritans provide free anonymous and confidential emotional support for people experiencing crisis and distress, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
You can contact Samaritans by phone on 116 123, by email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.samaritans.org/branches to find your nearest branch.
For mental health help in Aberdeenshire go to https://bit.ly/ShireMentalHealth