Statistics released by the Government reveal an increase in the number of under 18s taking their own lives, fuelling calls for bold action.
Labour MSP Monica Lennon: “It is tragic and deeply worrying that so many children and young people have ended their lives in Scotland in recent years. Specialist youth mental health services are badly under-resourced.”
The NHS recently revealed 784 probable suicides in 2018 – a 15% rise compared to the previous years.
In the same twelve month period, suicides among those in the 15-24 age category soared by 50%.
However, these were one year figures and new data published this week drills down even further.
In 2014, ten under 18s completed suicide, but the total has steadily climbed and reached 26 in 2018 – a five year high.
The same information shows a near 25% rise between 2014 and 2018 in suicide among 18-24 year olds, from 59 to 75.
It comes after a Glasgow University study found that one in nine young people in Scotland have attempted suicide and one is six has self-harmed.
In June, it also emerged that the number of young people waiting more than a year for a specialist mental health service had more than trebled within 12 monthS.
Nearly 120 children and young people waited more than 53 weeks to be seen in the first three months of 2019.
Lennon added: “SNP Ministers have been warned repeatedly that vulnerable young people are falling through the cracks.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s government has made good commitments on mental health and suicide prevention; however, warm words are meaningless if education, youth services and the NHS are not getting enough investment.”
Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone said: “It’s absolutely distressing to see suicide among young people at its highest level in five years. Each of these deaths has had a devastating impact on others and the wider community.
“For all the rhetoric on this, we still haven’t shifted the conversation enough onto prevention. The figures on self-harm should act as a warning sign, and we clearly need more early interventions, which would also reduce the pressure on acute services too.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It’s heartbreaking when anyone takes their own life.
“We are working tirelessly with partners to improve mental health services for young people, including those who have considered suicide or been bereaved by it. It is an area that the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group is focusing on and we are working with COSLA to implement their recommendations.
“We are developing new community wellbeing support services, which will initially be for five to 25 year olds.“Actions to improve peer support in schools and teacher training are being worked on, along with 24/7 crisis support for children and young people and their families.“We are also investing in mental health support for students. That will see over 80 additional counsellors in further and higher education over next four years, with £20 million investment.”
A grieving dad who lost his son to suicide has accused Tay Road Bridge bosses of putting “cost and inconvenience” before lives.
Phil Welsh, whose son Lee took his own life in 2017, has called for suicide prevention measures on the bridge.
But he was told barriers could not be installed due to the huge expense and significant traffic disruption the work would cause.
Phil, who is also campaigning for a 24/7 refuge centre in Dundee, said: “Every other day there are reports of people being present on the bridge and we are all very clear what their intentions are.
“I got in touch with Councillor Lynne Short, chairwoman of the Tay Road Bridge Board, and received a response which left me very concerned.”
In an email to Phil, seen by the Tele, Ms Short said engineering consultants had been approached last year about the implications of installing barriers.
“It is estimated that full design costs would be in the order of £250,000, with actual construction costs in the order of £8 million,” Ms Short wrote.
“To strengthen and install the barriers would be hugely disruptive and take in the order of one year, with the bridge reduced to single-lane traffic for this time (six months per side).
“It should also be noted that while such work might deter someone intent on harming themselves, it would in no way guarantee that they would not be able to.”
Phil accused officials of putting money before human life.
He said: “It would appear changes could be put in place to prevent people climbing over on to the other side of the walkway, but cost and inconvenience appear to supersede crisis.
“The saving of a single life should supersede these factors.”
Speaking to the Tele, Ms Short said: “We take the welfare of every bridge user, especially those who are vulnerable or in crisis, extremely seriously. Every single suicide is a human tragedy.
“We are acutely aware the Tay Road Bridge has become a focal point for people in crisis.
“The bridge manager and his team are dedicated to supporting vulnerable people who present at the bridge, backed by investment in new cameras in 2017 and a thorough training programme for all staff.
“Although bridge availability has been affected on many occasions to allow staff and police to deal with incidents, actual suicides are rare.
“Bridge staff regularly attend suicide prevention meetings to discuss how we all might contribute to suicide reduction across the region, and act on any new initiatives that are applicable to the bridge.
“Any physical measures introduced to the bridge have to be effective and while these might deter someone intent on harming themselves, it would in no way guarantee they would not be able to.
“What is critical is that people who are having suicidal thoughts have someone or somwhere they can turn to when these thoughts become overwhelming so that they do not get to the point of acting on them.”
Superintendent Graeme Murdoch of Police Scotland told the Tele that in the three months to the end of September this year, officers responded to 60 reports of concern for people on the bridge.
Last year, the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board published a Q&A explaining why suicide prevention measures had not been installed, saying barriers were “not practical” due to the 52-year-old structure being unable to support the additional weight.
Suicide in Scotland is at a five-year high with three times more men than women taking their lives last year. Families from two former industrial towns, Motherwell and Wishaw, speak about losing brothers, sons and partners.
It was a blustery February afternoon when Yvonne Welsh shut the door of her Motherwell home. She had gone to run errands and had left one of her three sons, Lloyd, playing video games in his bedroom.
Having been away for no more than 40 minutes, Yvonne returned to an unusually quiet house. “I shouted up to Lloyd that I’d got a McDonald’s. I texted him. He didn’t reply. He always had his phone on him. I shouted on him. No reply.”
Moments later she discovered her son was dead.
The 22-year-old had taken his life in the family home but had given no warning and had left no note.
Lloyd’s parents and brothers try to remember the smiling young man who would play practical jokes, and not the boy who retreated into himself in the last year of his life.
Yvonne says she sometimes feels angry and guilty but mostly she feels sad that her son could not come to her. “Lloyd doesn’t know what he’s done to this family,” she says.
The death has had a profound impact on Jordan, Lloyd’s 26-year-old brother. He is a standout player for local amateur football team Motherwell Thistle, a club which has been scarred by suicide.
‘I know that he loved me’
In 2017, Thistle player John Fowler killed himself. It was the beginning of a number of suicides connected to the team. In August last year, the team’s goalkeeper Paul Gerard Aiton – or PG, as he was known – killed himself at home.
When the team lifted a trophy at the end of the season, they wore black armbands bearing his name. His family – including an infant daughter PG would never meet – watched from the stands.
Like Lloyd, PG gave no warning. His mother Catherine says she feels “angry, embarrassed and ashamed of him”, but she still loves him.
“I love him to bits, it’s unconditional. It’s so hard, knowing you’re never going to see him again – ever.”
When PG died, his partner Naomi was three months pregnant.
It was “brilliant” when Faith was born, says Naomi. She adds: “But at the same time when I was in the hospital I was thinking, ‘where is he?’.
“And his family, you could see that they were visibly upset because everybody’s thinking ‘he should be here’. It does make you question – especially when we used to talk about the future – it does make you question if it was all a lie, but, I know that it wasn’t. I know that he loved me and he would have never hurt me.”
Motherwell Thistle, like each of the families, is having to cope with the grief of suicide. Four young men who are linked to the club have killed themselves in the past two years.
Margaret McMillan, the club’s secretary, said she felt she had lost sons. With so much sadness surrounding the team, there have been times she has contemplated giving it up. “But I’ve got 18 other guys on this team that you can’t give up on. You’ve just got to keep going, and try and do your best, and that’s all we can do.”
Are you struggling to cope?
Call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and Ireland) or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every day of the year. Mind has a confidential telephone helpline – 0300 123 339 (Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm).
In Wishaw, three miles east of Motherwell, there have been more deaths – Daryl O’Rourke (17); Stephen Mearns (19); Callum Dunne and his friend Murray (both 16) all killed themselves within a seven-week period in the spring of 2018.
Some of the boys were friends, others knew of each other and, like Lloyd and PG, none gave any warning.
They left behind families, friends and a community still asking why so many young lives were lost in this way and so close together.
“It felt as if there was one suicide after another,” said Shannon Brown, the sister of Callum.
On 23 May 2018, a front page of the Wishaw Press featured three black-and-white photographs of Murray, Callum and Stephen, with the headline “Why?”.
“Enough is enough,” it declared. “We need to talk about suicide.”
Motherwell and Wishaw sit in Scotland’s central belt, 20 miles east of Glasgow and 40 miles west of Edinburgh. They were towns built on a powerful industrial base of coal mines and steel works. All are gone.
Ravenscraig steel plant, on the border of the two towns, was once the busiest steel-maker in Western Europe employing more than 10,000 people. Now it’s one of the continent’s largest brownfield sites.
Lloyd’s brother Jordan plays home games for Motherwell Thistle at the new sporting complex near the site, which is named after Ravenscraig.
The area has been in economic decline and it wears the signs – shuttered shop fronts and pawn shops offering to buy gold.
BBC Suicides in Scotland
5,286Total number of deaths
73%Suicide deaths were male
47%Aged 35-54 when they died
73%Single, widowed or divorced
67%Employed at the time of death
Source: National Statistics
NHS research suggests suicide is three times more likely among those living in the most economically deprived areas than in the least deprived, and more likely to occur in areas which have experienced deindustrialisation.
Three quarters of people who kill themselves in the UK are men. In Scotland, which has the highest suicide rate in Britain, more than half of those who died in this way last year were under 45.
When Scotland recorded a five-year high of 784 suicides in 2018, one of the striking aspects of the data was the 50% rise in deaths of those aged under 24.
BBC Scotland’s Disclosure studied 845 death records of those under 50 in Motherwell and Wishaw over a 10-year period from 2008 to 2018. There were at least 72 suspected suicides.
The number of those aged 25 and under who killed themselves in these years remained low, with one or two a year. However, that number rose to seven last year, the year that Murray, Callum, Stephen and Daryl died.
‘I felt guilt that I couldn’t save my son’
Anne Rowan’s son Christopher killed himself in 2011. After struggling to come to terms with his death for a number of years, she founded a charity in his name, Chris’s House.
Occupying an old bank building at the foot of Main Street, it is a crisis centre offering 24-hour direct support and counselling to those at risk or bereaved by suicide, the first of its kind in Scotland.
According to Anne, it is a vital service for those in need in the area, helping hundreds of people since being established in 2015. And it’s getting busier. “In one month, we had 948 counselling hours,” she said.
“Through Christopher dying, I felt such a failure, really overwhelming guilt that I couldn’t save my son. I just knew that there had to be something to bridge the gap from people just getting a prescription and having a [NHS] waiting time. I just knew there had to be something immediate.”
The “whole aim” of Chris’s House is to stop people dying from suicide, something Anne says is “everyone’s business”. “You know you’re halfway there when they’ve come through the door,” said Anne.
“I don’t envisage that we will obliterate or eradicate it. It would be nice if we could minimise it to the point where the NHS can deal with the suicide rate on their own, that we didn’t need the charities, but I don’t think we’ll ever see that.”
Few of these young men were in touch with mental health services prior to their deaths. Getting this cohort to come forward and ask for help remains a major challenge. If services don’t know someone is in crisis, how can they help them?
The issue of suicide has seeped into the local consciousness – the press coverage, the charity football matches and the online tributes.
Locals share messages on social media about mental health and the Wishaw Press campaign continues.
Dr Alastair Cook, a consultant psychiatrist for NHS Lanarkshire, believes it is important to recognise that suicide is “an extremely rare event”.
“But it generates a huge amount of fear within the community around what might be happening with our young people.”
He thinks the ability of social media to influence the way communities respond to suicide means there is much more awareness around young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
And for Dr Cook that awareness is a “double-edged sword”. “I think awareness is actually a good thing, provided awareness doesn’t then generate fear. And it’s how we help people to understand that, I think is really important.”
Motherwell FC has become the first Scottish Premiership club to display suicide prevention messaging on its shirts – such is its proximity to the issue. It has made social media videos featuring its first team and partnered with the local council to promote awareness among fans who include those most likely to kill themselves – men in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
According to the Fir Park club’s chief executive, Alan Burrows, at least 24 of its supporters have taken their lives in the last two years. Lloyd Welsh, a diehard fan, was one of them.
“We have examples of the football club where we have managed to stop something tragic happening. The problems that you have, we can get you help. We can speak to people, we can put you through to the right people. And that’s the message that we’re trying to drive as a football club.”
Football is woven through this story. Many of the young men who’ve died not only played the sport, but football was seemingly a central pillar of their identity. But has something grown up around the culture of football and the way that it’s consumed that’s perhaps detrimental to young men’s mental health?
Match days consist of watching the game, but also often of excessive drinking, drug taking and smartphone gambling either side of it, all of which can be key drivers of mental ill-health.
Burrows, though, sees the sport as a positive. “I see football as the way that people can come and forget their problems, have that release. Have time with their friends and family, to talk to people if they need help.”
In May this year, hundreds of people walked through the night along the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow in memory of friends and loved ones they had lost to suicide. The annual Walk of Hope event also raised funds for Chris’s House. Jordan Welsh was among those who walked until the sun rose, as was Naomi Foster Aiton.
All the participants were invited to light candles for their loved ones, and many lined up to throw yellow roses from a bridge into the river, the petals floating across the black glassy surface in the first light of that misty morning.
This is not a story about those who have gone. Instead, this is a story about those who are left behind and how they have chosen to try to come to terms with their loved one’s deaths.
Catherine wants to stop other boys being lost to suicide. And she has a message to those who find themselves in crisis: “Step back, take five minutes, think about what you’re doing to the people who love you.
“Think about what you’re doing to your mum. Do you want your mum to be like me? Even if you don’t feel as if you love yourself, somebody does.
Michael Alexander hears how a Dundee mental health project is using World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 as the launch pad for new films about hope.
Daniella James has never wanted to commit suicide – but there have been times when she simply wished she wasn’t alive.
Born in Aberdeen and brought up in the Borders, the 25-year-old Stirling University international politics graduate, who now works in HR and payroll for Edinburgh City Council, suffered a nervous breakdown last year and had no choice other than to move back home with her mum – a woman with her own history of depression.
However, as Daniella speaks out to help raise awareness of mental health issues around this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, she says she wishes she’d spoken to someone about her problems sooner instead of being “isolated to the point of despair” and reaching crisis point.
“There’s not an event in my life I can put my mental health issues down to,” she said in an interview with The Courier.
“It was probably just the pressure of writing my dissertation in my last year at university, possibly not looking after myself.
“I kind of suppressed those feelings during that year because I had too much to do and didn’t even think about it or even want to acknowledge the fact that things were going on. I put on a brave face.
“It was probably after I graduated and the transition from being a student and being part of an institution and then being chucked out into the world and being on your own and not really knowing what to do – that is probably when I said ‘oh, wait a minute’… By that time I was in a crisis.”
Happier and healthier than before, Daniella says she is now more into “self-help” than using mental health services. She came off medication after deciding it “wasn’t for me” and thinks the “blow out” of her nervous breakdown has helped her stay positive.
But another way she is helping to give hope to others is through her support of a ground-breaking mental health film and national roadshow that launched in Dundee.
As previously reported by The Courier, the project, titled Foolish Optimism, focused on the harsh realities of three mental health sufferers and explored mental health triggers, stigma, seeking help and coping mechanisms.
Initiated by young people, and aiming to carry a message of hope, the project was brought to life by Dundee Hilltown-based arts, education and social care charity Front Lounge, who attracted funding from the Year of Young People National Lottery Fund and Life Changes Trust.
Daniella was part of the original working group that went on a residential before the film was shown to anyone and came up with a plan for touring workshops across Scotland. The aim was to “change the conversation” around mental health and build trust about speaking out.
Now, in a bid to explore the positive steps young people can take to feel better and manage their conditions more effectively, Daniella features in a follow-up film being released on Monday September 9 – the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day – the first of six new films in the run up to World Mental Health Day on October 10.
Entitled ‘Things to Live For’, the film captures Daniella and her friend Andrew Compston having an everyday chat about their strategies to ‘keep going’ and the opportunities to stay positive in everyday life.
“I think the axis now for Foolish Optimism is looking for something to move forward with looking at hope,” said Daniella.
“The first part of Foolish Optimism – the first film – was really honestly quite bleak. “That was a good conversation starter and gave people a little zap to talk about things. “This kind of thing now is about actually trying to help yourself, your friends, your family – just anything that’s going to give us anything to hold on to.”
Daniella said her film was “literally just a video podcast”.
She said: “Me and my friend in a coffee shop just talking about our mental health, but in a fairly light-hearted manner. We still talk about things that are fairly heavy but nothing in comparison to the first Foolish Optimism film. It actually seems to be more of a positive conversation – it’s not a talking heads film, put it that way.”
Daniella said the main message she wanted to come from the latest film is “how do you have a conversation with your friends and family about something so tragic without it causing hysteria”?
“Sometimes you just need to vocalise things that are happening in your mind,” she said. “There needs to be a kind of understanding that you feel a certain way when 8/10 of your pals probably feel that way too. That doesn’t mean people need locked up in a psychiatric ward or given medication!”
The other area where Daniella thinks society has a lot of work still to do is with regards preventative mental health.
“Everything that happens now is just reactive,” she said. “We are waiting until people get to the point where they are having a personal crisis and reacting to that.
“I’m not sure in the point of that because it’s already done or you’ve gotten to the point where you are ready to kill yourself.
“If there was a greater understanding of why people might feel that way in the first place and where pressures in life are coming from, a lot of these issues could be avoided.”
Dundee man Marc Ferguson will feature on a later film to be released on September 23.
The 30-year-old information technology professional is the voice of ‘Hope in Action’ which also gives practical tips on how to be hopeful, aimed at those who struggle to envisage life changing or improving.
A negative experience in a former workplace led him into what he describes as a ‘downward spiral’ in both his mental health and general self-care and, although he is in a better place, he remains ‘in recovery’.
Viewing himself as a ‘methodical’ thinker and a ‘problem solver’, Marc believes that taking a practical, and not just emotional approach, can make a huge difference to those struggling with mental health, and has created a framework around three main themes: Firstly, identify what you are hopeful for, then feel, reflect and react and, finally, pay it forward.
Marc said: “I decided to build my film around hope and how to introduce or reclaim it into your thought process.
“The first stage is identifying what your dreams and goals are, and setting incremental goals so you can gradually work towards them. What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to be?
“The middle stage is about reacting to and reflecting on failure, an inevitable part of goal setting!
“Acknowledging how you feel when you hit a low point is crucial because repressing these emotions can create a whole load of new problems.
“It’s then about reacting, turning hope into action, not just an emotion, taking the step that’s required to try and reach that goal, however small that step is. After all, nothing will change if you don’t take action.
“The last stage is about refining your outlook based on changing circumstances and learning lessons from previous failures. You can then use these experiences to help others in your community and social circles – hope is contagious and you can really help your friends and others you come into contact with by sharing your experiences.
“In my opinion and from my experience, if everyone could take these steps, mental health wouldn’t have reached the crisis point that it has reached today.”
The films have been made by Nathan Inatimi, supported by Jack Stewart, Shona Inatimi and Andrew Brough all part of The Aperture Project, also a Front Lounge initiative with support from Sonia Napolitano, Elixabele Riley, Rhian Malcolm and Ailsa Purdie.
*For more information, and to watch the first and future films, go to https://www.foolishoptimism.org
For support in dealing with mental health issues visit https://www.mindfulnessscotland.org.uk/ , https://www.samaritans.org/ or https://habitica.com/static/home
Hundreds of people have signed a petition calling for action to make the Tay Road Bridge safer for people who are thinking of ending their lives.
An online petition demanding measures are put in place to make it harder for people to consider using the bridge to take their own lives.
The Change.org petition has amassed nearly 400 signatures at time of writing, with a target of 500.
It calls for measures such as barriers to be installed in protect vulnerable people.
Michael Low started the petition after a friend took their own life.
He said: “My personal mission is to take this to the authorities.
“The fact is there needs to be higher fencing or other materials or methods to ensure that the Tay Road Bridge is no longer available in a person’s hour of distress.”
The petition has been backed by Phil Welsh, who lost his son Lee to suicide in August 2017.
Phil said: “The bridge needs to be looked at with the evidence that things like barriers can’t be put in place.
“As well as supporting the petition, I have sent a letter to the bridge board asking about protections on the bridge. I haven’t heard anything back yet.
“We’re just trying to keep the conversation going as much as we can because there’s a lot more that can be done to help people in need.
“We’ve also been campaigning for a 24-hour crisis centre, like in Edinburgh.
“I do think they should look at what can be done at the bridge, with barriers being a big one. If it is the case that they can’t put barriers in place then that’s fine, but I would like to see evidence supporting that.
“All routes should be followed before making a decision.
“The grassroots support should be there to help people before they get to that stage, but there should still be something at the bridge.”
Officials from the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board have examined such measures and ultimately decided it was not feasible to make any substantial changes to the bridge’s structure.
The bridge deck cantilevers — long beams or girders commonly used in bridge construction — would be unable to support additional barriers because of the strain windy weather would put on them, it has been claimed.
Board vice-chairman Jonny Tepp said the bridge management are actively looking at ways to make the bridge safe.
“They do their best to make themselves aware of what action can be taken,” the Liberal Democrat councillor for Tay Bridgehead said.
Dundee City Council also launched an online campaign last month highlighting where people can go for support if they are having suicidal thoughts.
If you need help, or need someone to talk to, a Samaritans volunteers can help.
Contact them on 116 123, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.