Suicide prevention action plan: every life matters

The new action plan has been designed to continue the work from the 2013-2016 suicide prevention strategy and the strong downward trend in suicide rates in Scotland.


In 2017, there were 680 probable deaths by suicide in Scotland[1]. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy. They are also a shocking reminder that we must continue to improve suicide prevention action in this country and to not only improve the support for those who have lost a loved one to suicide but also make support more available and accessible to those who have had suicidal thoughts.

Scotland has made relatively good progress in recent years. Between 2002-2006 and 2013‑2017, the national rate of deaths from suicide has decreased by 20%. In addition, over the past decade, the gap between suicide rates in our most and least deprived communities has narrowed. This reflects the excellent work that takes place in communities across Scotland. 

For example, the Choose Life programme[2], which began in 2002, broke new ground with its novel approach to national and local collaboration. Combined with other initiatives like the See Me programme[3], the Breathing Space telephone and web service[4], the Scottish Recovery Network[5], and the Scottish Government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy 2013[6] (which succeeded the Choose Life Strategy and Action Plan[7]), the Choose Life

programme contributed to the significant downward trend in Scotland’s suicide rate. 

The Mental Health Strategy 2017 set out the need to build on that progress through the creation of a new suicide prevention plan. In addition, it identified distress, including self-harm, as a significant area for future work – committing to testing new approaches, such as the Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) pilot[8].

More broadly, the Strategy also set a new approach to mental health in Scotland by giving mental health parity with physical health. In doing so, it is helping to encourage even greater collaboration within the public sector, on prevention and early intervention. This document seeks to build on that foundation.

To help inform and develop this Suicide Prevention Action Plan, we engaged with a wide range of organisations and people. We worked with a partnership of Samaritans, NHS Health Scotland, and the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (the ALLIANCE) who produced a stakeholder engagement report: “Views from people affected by suicide”[9]. That report gathered the views of people directly affected by suicide. Quotes from people who contributed to the stakeholder engagement report are included throughout this Plan. 

The Scottish Government’s subsequent engagement process, supported by NHS Health Scotland, included 5 public engagement events, and a public engagement paper published on 8 March 2018 which received nearly 300 online responses. 

There has been valuable debate in the Scottish Parliament, including an opportunity for stakeholders to present evidence to the Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee on 12 June 2018.

In addition, the Action Plan includes three commitments that the Scottish Government made in May 2018 – and which were supported by the Scottish Parliament: 

to establish a National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (NSPLG) to help support the creation and delivery of local prevention action plans; 

to deliver better crisis support for people who have lost a loved one to suicide; and

to develop reviews, where necessary multi-agency, into all deaths from suicide.

A key action of this plan is the establishment of the NSPLG. This group will deliver a programme of activity, translating ambitions into action at national, regional and local level. It will report to the Minister for Mental Health – and to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) on issues that sit within the competence of local government and integration authorities – and there will be an annual public report setting out progress and future priorities. 

To support the group’s work, we have committed to provide an additional £3 million over the course of the current Parliament. This is on top of more than £2 million already available each year to services to provide support for people who may be at risk of suicide. 



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