I was privileged yesterday to speak in a debate at Parliament about suicide prevention in Scotland.
Every suicide is a tragedy and each death has a devastating impact on families and communities.
Last Sunday, on the 19th November, we observed International Men’s Day. Last year the theme of this event was ‘Stop Male Suicide’.
Most often when we are debating gender inequality it is women who are usually the subject of most inequities. However, when it comes to suicide, in Scotland men are two and a half times more likely to commit suicide than women.
Of course, this is a multi-faceted issue and it cannot be blamed on one particular issue, however it cannot be denied that part of this problem stems from society’s patriarchal attitudes.
We expect men and boys to play particular roles, and we expect them to have typical traits and behaviours.
We live in a society where it is still common for men to feel, or be made to feel that, rather than talk about their feelings, they should “be a man about it” or “man up”.
There can be no doubt that such gender-based attitudes can be damaging to people’s mental health, which in the most devastating circumstances, can unfortunately lead to suicide.
It’s estimated that 90% of people who attempt, or die by suicide, have one or more mental health conditions.
Suicide is a public health crisis worldwide, and it is a sad reality that most of us will probably know of a friend or family member who has been affected by male suicide.
The shocking extent of male suicide can be evidenced in the fact that it is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. Whilst the suicide rate in Scotland fell by 17 per cent in the past decade, we still have a higher suicide rate north of the border than that of England and Wales.
There is no simple fix for this problem. If we are to tackle the high male suicide rate, men need to open up on how they feel, and we must help and encourage them through this journey.
Whether you are male or female, if you feel you are needing help please seek advice or speak to your GP. There are many organisations and charities who could ultimately save your life. Please, never feel frightened or ashamed to look for help.
The Samaritans, who are available 24/7, can be reached on 116 123, whilst Breathing Space can be contacted on 0800 83 85 87.
Changing attitudes alone won’t solve this issue and governments, of course, have a major role to play. As a mental health nurse, I have seen our mental health services grow from being hospital-centric and on the periphery of our NHS, to one which is now treated as a priority.
We have made great strides in mental health care in recent years. With the introduction of mental health crisis teams, out of hours’ mental health services and liaison psychiatry based in our acute hospitals, among other developments, the Scottish Government are taking positive steps to tackle this issue. All of these services provide support and treatment to people who feel suicidal, or are at risk of self-harm.
This year, mental health investment will reach £1 billion for the first time – with its funding being increased by almost 40 per cent since 2006.
A further £150 million is being invested by the Scottish Government over the next five years to improve mental health services and find better ways of working.
This Government also appointed the UK’s first dedicated Mental Health Minister, Maureen Watt, who, in such a challenging role, is doing a tremendous job. Over the last decade, the number of people working in child and adolescent mental health services has increased by almost 50 per cent.
Multi-agency partnership and cooperation across the NHS, Police Scotland, the Ambulance Service, Scottish Fire and Rescue, and other health and social care organisations, has been central to continuing the downward trend in suicides.
As our Mental Health Minister recently announced, a draft suicide prevention strategy will be released next year which is a major step forward. The Government has called for individuals and communities to feed into the public engagement process to develop a new suicide prevention action plan which will, hopefully, continue the downward trend in suicides.
Any incidence of suicide is a tragedy, and the effect on the persons loved ones remains long after the person has died.
For the 728 suicides in Scotland last year, and for the many that occurred before then, we owe it to them and their families to find a way to reduce the number of suicides.
Government and wider society must work together so our sons, fathers, brothers and friends are no longer taken from us in such devastating circumstances.
Date published: 22nd November 2017