Scotland still has the worst suicide rate in Britain – despite long-term improvements from a record high.
Official figures yesterday revealed 13.9 deaths for every 100,000 people in Scotland last year, compared with 9.2 in England.
The high level of suicide was published a month after the Scottish Government set a new target for reducing the rate by 20 per cent by 2022.
The SNP had been under pressure to tackle the country’s suicide rates after a previous strategy lapsed.
Scottish Lib Dem health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The high rate of suicides in Scotland, especially among young men, is devastating. The SNP dawdled for 586 days before introducing a suicide prevention strategy after the last one expired. That means for 2017 there was no strategy. That is unforgivable.
“The Government must make improving mental health services and access to them a top priority.”
In Scotland, the rate has fallen from 17.5 deaths for every 100,000 people when records began in 1981. The rates in Wales fluctuated from year to year but experts said there has been no apparent downward trend over time. Northern Ireland, where figures have been the worst in the UK, was not included in the latest Office for National Statistics report.
The figures differ from earlier Scottish official figures, which suggested a rate of 12.5 for 2017, because of a different approach to ages and definitions.The Samaritans charity warned in May that the Scottish Government had not treated suicide as top priority.
Last month, Glasgow North Labour MP Paul Sweeney warned suicide is a “ticking time bomb” in the forces as the Daily Record revealed Ryan Smith had become the sixth soldier to take his own life in just over a week.
A Dundee charity that offers help and support to veterans through horticulture was officially opened by Lord Provost Ian Borthwick on Friday.
The official opening of the Dundee Therapy Garden came just months after it was damaged by vandals, who smashed windows of one of its potting sheds and spray-painted obscene drawings on the fence surrounding the former bowling club.
Volunteers and staff at the garden repaired the damage and have started donating vegetables and fruit grown there to foodbanks and other charities.
It employs three horticultural therapists who work with veterans of the armed forces and emergency services who suffer from mental health problems.
Charity chairman Alex Lyell said: “Military and armed forces personnel are exposed to many hazards.
“Not all survive. Of those that do many are wounded in body or mind. Our therapists are here to help those with mental health problems and also their families.”
He added: “This place would not work in any way were it not for the volunteer team who put so much effort into supporting this project.
“As well as our multi-talented volunteers, we benefit from the work parties who come from Castle Huntly and Dundee Social Justice. Taken together they bring a range of skills and effort which we could not possibly afford to purchase and without which the job would not get done.”
Mr Borthwick planted a tree to mark the official opening of the garden.
He said: “The creation of this garden is the finest example of the way you are responding to the contemporary needs of our veterans and ex-uniformed service personnel.
“Creating a space where they can improve their resilience provides overwhelming benefits of calm, well-being and positive coping strategies.
“The special features of this garden demonstrate the care and thought that has gone into the planning and design of this project.”
The garden supports up to 16 veterans at any one time.
Guests at Friday’s opening included Dundee City West SNP MSP Joe FitzPatrick.
He said he was pleased there had been no repeat of the vandalism that occurred in May.
He said: “This is a fantastic facility and you can really see the effort that has gone into transforming what was a piece of waste ground.
“It appears as if the community has really taken to this as its own.”
Chairwoman Jill Scott said it was a “scandal” that sufferers were having to “sort out their situation” themselves following the shutdown of the Mulberry Unit at Stracathro Hospital.
Angus Health and Social Care Partnership hit back at the criticism and said it was “encouraging” that a local group of people had come together to support one another and address mental health stigma.
Mrs Scott said: “It is a very sad reflection on Angus Health and Social Care Partnership that at a time when the mental health of our community is a growing concern that the first rate Mulberry Unit is being hived off for alternative use.
“Members of the public, sufferers of depression and people of influence in Angus Health and Social Care Partnership all recognise the problem but it comes down to the patients themselves who are having to sort out their situation.
“I am full of admiration, as an individual, as is Brechin Community Council, for these people but I despair for the future.
“It is a scandal that mental health is treated as a poor relation. Patients have been hung out to dry.”
The Mulberry Unit at Stracathro Hospital in Angus was finally closed earlier this year and patients were transferred to the Carseview Centre in Dundee.
Richard May, 45, who suffers from depression, set up Stop Mental Health Stigma three weeks ago and his ultimate goal is to eventually put in place a 24-hour mental health facility.
“There is just not enough being done for people struggling with mental health issues,” he said.
“Too many suffer in silence and feel alone but we are getting people out of their houses and it’s changing lives in a very positive way.”
The group meet in Montrose on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Brechin on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Mr May, who lives in Montrose, started the group after being overwhelmed by the response when he put up a Facebook post admitting he was suffering from depression.
Bill Troup, Head of Mental Health Services, Angus Community Health Partnership said “self-management” is an element of mental health treatment.
He added: “Other local services that are available in Angus include self help groups, listening services, health and wellbeing, befriending and community mental health.
“Multidisciplinary Community Mental Health Teams are available in every town in Angus.
“It is important to remember that only six out of every 100 people who access mental health services each year need hospital care.
“With a greater focus on recovery and improved mental wellbeing in communities most people with a mental health problem are treated at home or in the community.
More than 700 signatories have already backed the petition from Joanne Waddell, a parent and volunteer counsellor for the charity Place2Be, who fears there is a “deepening crisis” in children’s mental health in Scotland.
Supporters say that Scotland has limited counsellors with specific training in supporting children and young people, and that school-based counselling is available only to a small minority.
Ms Waddell said: “My own experience showed how powerful in-school counselling can be for children struggling with their mental health and the challenges of growing up in a 24-hour online world.
“Getting support at an early stage can help to avert children and young people reaching crisis points where costly and lengthy interventions might be needed. This service should be available in all schools and be provided for under national health policy, not something that schools have to provide through their hard-pressed education budgets.”
Teachers ‘can’t give pupils the time they need’
One primary teacher in the north-east of Scotland who supports the petition, and asked not to be named, said: “I can really see the value of having school-based counsellors.
“I have experienced children with mental health problems becoming disruptive in class because they are unable to fully understand or communicate how they are feeling. Often, just being able to talk this through allowed them to re-engage with their learning.
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “This petition is an opportunity for the Scottish government to recognise that young people’s mental health is still not being treated with the seriousness it deserves.
“The lives and wellbeing of countless young Scots are counting on a seismic shift in government policy.”
A Scottish government spokesman said: “We want every child and young person to have appropriate access to emotional and mental well-being support in school – our ambitious mental health strategy, launched last year, sets out clearly how we can improve early intervention, and ensure better access to services. The very first action commits us to a national review of counselling services in schools. We expect the results of thereview to inform any future work on school counsellors.”
He added: “Education authorities and all those working in our schools already have a responsibility to support and develop the mental wellbeing of pupils, with decisions on how to provide that support taken on the basis of local circumstances and needs. Some will provide access to school based counselling. Others will utilise the skills of pastoral care staff and liaise with the educational psychological services and health services for specialist support when required.”
More lives will be lost because of “ridiculous” delays to a new training programme in the Scottish Government’s suicide prevention strategy, says a Dundee campaigner.
Minsters unveiled their long-waited plan to reduce the number of the tragedies by 20% within four years on Thursday.
One scheme is for the SNP administration to fund improved mental health and suicide training by spring next year.
Gillian Murray, who lost her uncle to suicide in Dundee, said that target date will be too late for many.
“Refreshed suicide prevention training by May 2019 is ridiculous,” Ms Murray said.
“The suicide strategy is already two years late. How many have died and how many will still die as a result of this delay?”
She also criticised claims in the report there has been “real progress” in tackling suicide, with figures published this summer showing 32 people killed themselves in Dundee alone last year.
She said: “The rate of deaths by suicide has increased by 61% in Tayside. How on earth can this be classified as progress?”
However, she welcomed £3 million of extra funding for suicide prevention and strategies to break down stigma and support those who have been bereaved.
Ms Murray’s uncle David Ramsay was found dead at Templeton Woods in October 2016 following a mental breakdown. He had been rejected twice for treatment by NHS Tayside.
An independent inquiry is being held into suicides connected with the Carseview Centre and wider mental health services in Tayside.
The Scottish Government has been criticised for delays in publishing the strategy, which comes nearly two years after the previous one expired.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Lib Dem MSP, said that delay is unforgivable, but welcomed the strategy as a chance to be a “success and save lives”.
Scotland will have a dedicated team called the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group to implement 10 new measures to cut the number of the tragedies.
It will be chaired by Rose Fitzpatrick, the recently-retired former deputy chief constable of Police Scotland.
NHS workers will be required to receive training in mental health issues and suicide prevention as part of the proposals, while ministers are also pledging “timely and effective support” for those affected by suicide.
Dr Donald Macgregor, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said the plan “gives a clear signal that the Scottish Government is serious about supporting everyone, including children, who may develop a mental health problem”.
He called on the training to be compulsory for all staff – not just those in the NHS.
Claire Haughey, the Mental Health Minister, said: “Over the past decade, Scotland has made real progress in reducing deaths by suicide, but we have far more to do.
“This plan sets out how the Scottish Government and our partners will achieve this and it makes clear that suicide prevention is everyone’s business.”
Mandy McLaren, whose Dundee son Dale Thomson killed himself in 2015, said: “They can put any strategy they want in place, but until these psychiatrists and mental health nurses start listening to the patients, and the patients’ families, nothing is ever going to change.”
The father of a young Dundee man who took his own life has welcomed the launch of a petition calling for a mental health crisis centre in the city.
Talented musician Lee Welsh died on August 8 last year. Now, almost a year after his death, a petition has been started in a bid to secure a 24/7 self-refer mental health crisis centre.
Since Lee’s death, his dad Phil has been campaigning for better mental health provision in Dundee under the banner Not in Vain for Lee.
Among his ideas is a crisis centre similar to one in Edinburgh. The centre in Edinburgh is funded by NHS Lothian, Edinburgh City Council and mental health charity Penumbra.
Phil said: “Something needs to change so people having a mental health crisis can have immediate access to support.”
The petition states: “As NHS Tayside reviews local mental health services, it must look to provide a new facility, offering emergency support 24 hours a day, seven days a week where people can self-refer.
“The crisis centre would provide access to counsellors and support in a home-like environment allowing people time and space to seek appropriate help.”
MSP Jenny Marra supports the campaign and said: “It would be designed to support the current system, which is too often unable to offer care quickly enough.”
Robert Packham, chief officer for Perth and Kinross Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “NHS Tayside provides support for people in Dundee in a mental health crisis 24-hours-a-day.
“The crisis intervention and home treatment service in Dundee assesses all psychiatric emergencies within office hours.
“Any person who attends Accident & Emergency in a mental health crisis would be seen by the liaison psychiatry service. There is also an emergency team based at Carseview Centre which operates out of hours.
“The nursing team is supported by on-call psychiatrists and sees people in crisis directly and referred from A&E.
“NHS Tayside has established an independent inquiry chaired by David Strang to review mental health services in Tayside.
“In the meantime, we are working with clinical, nursing and other staff to identify and act upon any areas which may benefit from improvement.”