Fall in rate of suicides in Scotland in 2020

The number of probable suicides in Scotland fell to 805 in 2020 in what has been labelled a “small, but positive step”.

The figures are a 3 per cent drop on the year before. According to the National Records of Scotland, the rate of suicide is now 14.8, similar to that recorded in 2013.

Suicide prevention charity Samaritans welcomed the decrease as a “small, but positive step”, but stressed the rate was still higher than it was in the period 2014 to 2017.

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Suicide deaths were consistently above average while Scotland was not in lockdown, between June and September last year, with 28 per cent more suicides than usual for those four months.

New figures were published on Tuesday.New figures were published on Tuesday.
New figures were published on Tuesday.

Rachel Cackett, executive director of Samaritans Scotland, said a “range of factors” contribute to suicide risk and warned against attributing changes in the figures solely to the pandemic.

Men accounted for 71 per cent of suicides last year. The number of female deaths from suicide rose slightly in the past year, but the overall mortality rate remained similar.

The suicide rate in Scotland’s most deprived areas is three times the rate in the least deprived areas.

Over the past five years, Dundee City has had the highest rate of suicide deaths and East Renfrewshire has had the lowest.

Source: National Records of ScotlandSource: National Records of Scotland
Source: National Records of Scotland

Ms Cackett said the figures served as a “stark reminder” of the impact of inequalities on mental health and suicide.

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"Scotland's next suicide strategy must focus on reducing this gap, particularly as more people may experience economic hardship following the pandemic,” she said.

‘Probable suicides’ relates to deaths from intentional self-harm, and cases where it is not certain, but it is probable the death was caused by suicide.

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The rate fell every year from 2011 to 2015, but since 2017 it had begun to rise. In 2017 there were 784 probable suicides.

The National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (NSPLG), which advises on delivery of the Scottish Government’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan, also warned against attributing 2020 suicide figures to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A single year of metrics cannot provide a clear picture of trends, and so we’ll be analysing today’s release with colleagues in our academic advisory group to better understand the picture,” said NSPLG chair Rose Fitzpatrick.

“This is particularly important in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic because we don’t yet fully understand the full scale of impacts it will have on people of all ages.”

Steve McHugh, whose son died by suicide in 2016, is a member of the NSPLG panel.

He said: “The biggest risk factor for suicide is still being a man and we need better inroads to help men to open up about their feelings and vulnerabilities, which can so often be a pathway to suicide ideation and attempts.

“I think my son’s suicide could have been prevented if we had a culture of being able to talk about mental health and suicide more openly.”

Mental wellbeing minister Kevin Stewart said: “Every one of these lives lost is a tragedy for families, friends and colleagues.

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“The Scottish Government – and our partners working to prevent suicide – share the belief that no death by suicide should be inevitable, and we must put all our efforts into supporting anyone who feels this way.”

Samaritans can be contacted for free, 24 hours a day, on 116 123, or [email protected] Visit samaritans.org for more information.

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