DOCTORS, council workers and bus and train staff should be given suicide prevention training in a bid to stem the rising tide of those taking their own lives.
The authors of a new report, which comes after the first rise in suicides for six years, spoke to family and friends of suicide victims and found there was often little help or understanding available in times of crisis.
Among those who should get potentially life-saving training include GPs, A&E staff, prison officers, teachers and job centre staff.
The report criticises the awareness of some family doctors: “Participants highlighted inconsistent support from GPs, some of whom did not seem to know how to talk to those who had contemplated or attempted suicide” it says.
It also claims many GPs are unaware of what other services exist to help people apart from NHS mental health services – which often have long waiting lists, it notes.
The report was compiled by Samaritans Scotland, NHS Scotland and the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland, and will be presented to ministers today, as the Scottish Government looks to revise its suicide prevention strategy, which expired in 2016.
The number of people who took their own lives in Scotland rose by 56 to 728 people in 2016 according to the latest statistics, after consecutive years of decline.
As well as arguing for better training for workers in public services, members of the public also need more help to have difficult discussions with family members, colleagues or others who may be at risk, the report says.
The report says it needs to be more normal and acceptable for Scots to talk about their feelings, adding: “At the moment most people are too nervous to ask others whether they have considered suicide as they fear they could plant the idea in their head or accidentally say the wrong thing. Campaigns should focus on breaking down this misconception and giving everyone the confidence to have these tough conversations.”
The report suggests people be given the right vocabulary to talk about suicide, avoiding phrases that increase stigma, like “cry for help” or “successful” and “unsuccessful” suicide attempts.
It also warns that academic language used by professionals can be alienating and says restrictions on the availability of mental health services can be a problem. “When someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts, they cannot ever imagine feeling any different, so.. being told by your counsellor that you only have six sessions isn’t helpful,” the report says.
A spokeswoman for Samaritans Scotland said anyone who was worried about a friend, relative or colleague should ask them if they want to talk and use open ended questions. “Focus on your friend’s feelings instead of trying to solve the problem – it can be of more help and shows you care,” she said. “Respect what they tell you. Sometimes it’s easy to want to try and fix a person’s problems, or give them advice. Let them make their own decisions.”
She said the reports participants had shared deeply personal experiences of suicide. “We are extremely grateful to them. They highlighted a mixed picture in terms of the support they received throughout their experiences and some examples of good practice which can be learnt from. We encourage the Scottish Government to listen to their views, create more opportunities for feedback and take further action to prevent suicides in the future.”
Shirley Windsor, Organisation Lead for Public Mental Health at NHS Health Scotland said: “Every death by suicide is a tragedy with life changing impact on families and communities and we must do everything we can to prevent it..”
The Scottish Government aims to publish a new Suicide Prevention Action Plan this Summer, following on from the previous Suicide Prevention Strategy 2013-2016.
Samaritans’ Executive Director for Scotland, James Jopling, said: “We need a renewed commitment and bold action for deaths by suicide in Scotland to further decline. We must be ambitious: suicide is preventable and 728 deaths is simply too much heartbreak for too many people in our communities across Scotland. With this action plan, it is more important than ever that we see Scotland return to being a world leader on suicide prevention.”
Chair of BMA Scotland’s GP Committee Dr Alan McDevitt said: “Sadly it is not uncommon for GPs to see patients who are at risk of committing suicide and knowing how to assess potential suicide risks and provide support is a vital part of a GP’s skillset.
“Emergency psychiatric help is made available to patients that GPs believe are at urgent risk, but there is a clear need for greater investment and recruitment in mental health services to provide long-term support once immediate crisis points are passed.”
Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said: “Prevention of suicide is a priority for the Scottish Government, and every suicide is a tragedy with a far-reaching impact on family, friends and the community long after a person has died.
“I look forward to receiving this report from the Samaritans and their partners, and learning more from the people directly affected by suicide. Work like this is invaluable for informing and shaping our draft suicide prevention action plan. This will be available for public comment in March, and we will be conducting a series of public events around Scotland to get people’s feedback on our plans to further reduce suicides in Scotland.”