As we welcome the launch of the new ten-year Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan for Scotland, it is an opportunity to reflect on the wide range of work Public Health Scotland (PHS) has been involved in to date. We have worked closely with partners to develop and deliver educational resources, raise awareness and promote conversations, develop guidance to support local action and take an intelligence-led approach. Partnership working is key to where we are today and remains central to the new strategy as we continue to prioritise suicide prevention and make it everyone’s business.

Promoting compassionate conversations and responses – Ask, Tell, Respond

The first output from the previous action plan Every Life Matters was the series of Scottish specific awareness-raising animations created with NHS Education for Scotland. Developed by those with lived experience and local suicide prevention leads, the animations are supported by a Framework that provides staff and managers across Scotland’s workforce with the key knowledge and skills to look after your mental health, have compassionate conversations with others and help keep people safe from suicide. Following feedback, we then worked with young people to produce specific animations on what they wanted those supporting them to ask about their mental health.

Organisations such as Police Scotland, DWP, Scottish Prison Service and local community groups have adopted these animations as core learning on mental health and suicide prevention. Identified facilitators can now offer workshops to expand learning and support across a range of settings, and a series of resources [external website] for those who want to know when and how to support people beyond a conversation.

These digital resources came into their own during COVID-19 when face-to-face training and education ceased and so provided a bridge to continuous learning during lockdown. With the transition from the pandemic, we see these resources continuing to have a key role in supporting the mental health and suicide prevention learning needs of our Scottish workforce.

Raising awareness of suicide prevention and responding to lived experience – United to Prevent Suicide

Working with SAMH, we have supported United to Prevent Suicide as the social movement developed and led by people across Scotland who have one thing in common – sharing a belief that everyone has a role to play in preventing suicide. The movement helps us to have conversations about suicide (and say the word ‘suicide’), share our experiences of suicide and support each other’s journeys at whatever point they are at. Listening to people of all ages who have been affected by suicide underpins all activities – from the naming of the movement to developing the campaigns, FC United and Better Tomorrow.  

Reducing Access to Means

Over the last year, we have been working with Samaritans, Police Scotland, our national lived experience panel and local suicide prevention leads on three specific pieces of guidance which will help address potential triggers for suicide as well as helping local work to reduce access to locations of concern. These include steps to address clusters, use of memorials and how local areas can respond to locations of concern. These will be released over the next few months as part of the new action plan.

Improving our intelligence on who takes their own life

Data and evidence are essential not only in identifying the prevalence of suicide, but in understanding the factors that contribute to it and determining the preventable actions that can be taken.

Our ScotSID Open Data give an overview of how and where people engaged with services in the year preceding their death. These give valuable information on where services could better identify and support those in suicidal distress. Our 2021 profile of deaths in Scotland 2011 to 2019 gives detail on those who accessed NHS 24, Scottish Ambulance Service and GP out-of-hours services.

In September this year, we published Suicide among young people in Scotland: A report from the Scottish Suicide Information Database. The report found that one in four deaths among 5-24 year olds were probably suicides and two out of three had contact with healthcare services. Supporting healthcare staff to have mentally healthy conversations reduces missed opportunities when young people are in distress.

Helping local implementation

Linking national work with what is happening at local level is key to our goal of reducing suicides by promoting an evidence-into-practice approach. PHS hosts the National Suicide Prevention Network which provides the opportunity and space to share best practice and identify key areas of concern that require national input. We now have staff resource to work with local areas to develop and implement their local suicide prevention action plans, support local tests of change and share learning around promising practice, and review/advise on education and training needs.

We look forward to continuing to work together as part of a collective approach to reducing suicides in Scotland and supporting the implementation of the new action plan.

Read Creating Hope Together: suicide prevention strategy 2022 to 2032

Last updated: 06 October 2022