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.”
NHS Highland has warned of a “significant pressure” on staffing levels in its mental health service.
The health board has 33 vacancies, 25 of them for registered mental health nurses, at its New Craigs Hospital in Inverness.
The situation has led to a temporary reduction in general adult beds.
NHS Highland said repeated efforts to recruit staff to fill gaps at the hospital and in the wider service had been unsuccessful.
The health board’s Michael Perera said nurse staffing levels in the mental health service of the Inner Moray Firth area had been under pressure since November 2016.
But he said gaps in the rota were now happening on a daily basis.
Mr Perera, who is general manager for NHS Highland’s mental health services, said: “There is a significant shortage across the UK of mental health nurses.
“Our efforts to recruit, which have included attending four recruitment fairs across the UK, adverts in national journals and recruitment websites have been unsuccessful in attracting enough staff to meet the gaps that we have.
“In addition, nine of our current establishment of trained mental health nurses have indicated their plans to retire this year.”
He added: “This has left us with a significant pressure within inpatient services and if we don’t act now the safe running of the hospital is at risk.
“General adult beds within the hospital have been temporarily reduced from 48 to 42 while we continue to look at all options available to us in terms of staffing and the current and future demands of the service.”
CRISIS talks to improve mental health support in the Highlands have been branded “disappointing”.
A seminar was held to help councillors understand the challenges these services are facing but it has been criticised for a lack of input from patients.
Councillor Richard Laird, who called for the event last year, said another meeting must be held so those effected can share their experiences.
The deputy opposition leader and gained unanimous support for a seminar to be held, when he raised the issue at a full Highland Council meeting in September and recounted the lack of help he received when he sought treatment for his own depression last year.
The meeting was held at the council’s headquarters in Inverness last week and although representatives from mental health support services Advocacy Highland and Highland Users Group attended, they were not invited to give a presentation.
Instead, councillors heard from NHS Highland, council staff and the police.
Councillor Laird, who represents Inverness Central, said: “To me and those support groups I have spoken to, the seminar was disappointing. “The most important voices are those belonging to the patients of mental health services but they went unheard at this seminar.
“While it was useful to hear from the council, NHS Highland and Police Scotland, I wanted councillors to also hear from the people who rely on these services.
“If more people living with poor mental health are not invited to the next meeting to share their experiences with councillors and those same agencies that attended the seminar last week then my motion will have been for nothing.”
Cllr Laird’s push for the event came just a month after a cut in the number of places at New Craigs Psychiatric Hospital in Inverness. Bed numbers were temporarily reduced from 54 to 48 in August last year due to “extreme staffing pressures” but this was made permanent in December, when health chiefs decided to give more places to people with age-related illnesses such as dementia.
During the council debate last year, Cllr Laird said people suffering mental health conditions feel they are not taken seriously and that some have been turned away for treatment despite numerous suicide attempts.
Council leader Margaret Davidson said the seminar had been a success and that another one will be held to hear from more organisations.
“This excellent seminar was arranged today because councillors acknowledged that the provision of adequate mental health services in the Highlands is of the utmost importance,” she said.
“Today was a great awareness raiser and we had outstanding presentations from NHS mental health services, child and adult mental health and the police.
“We will be following this up with a second event so that we get a clear understanding about how we can improve and plan services together with partner agencies and the voluntary sector.”
Last year a report revealed NHS Highland was falling short of target times to treat people with mental health illnesses.
Performance indicators showed 78 per cent of patients waiting for child and adolescent mental health services were treated within 18 weeks of referral, falling far short of the Scottish target of 90 per cent, although other health boards in Scotland fared only slightly better with an average of 80.7 per cent.
NHS Highland’s rate of psychological services was better, with 87 per cent of patients treated within 18 weeks of referral, compared to the Scottish average of 72.4 per cent, both missing the 90 per cent target.