A “serious expansion” of the number of dedicated mental health staff in the NHS is needed after a rise in probable suicides, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said.
The party made the plea after new figures showed there were 833 probable suicides registered in Scotland in 2019 – a 6.25% increase on the 784 recorded the previous year.
The Public Health Scotland statistics – which predate the Covid-19 pandemic – have prompted calls for a “radical transformation in our mental health services”, with campaigners concerned this year’s lockdown and coronavirus restrictions have made it harder for people in need to access support.
It comes after the specialist health board revealed 620 men and 213 women died by suicide last year.
Public Health Scotland’s report also noted there is a “known link between deprivation and suicide”, with the probable suicide rate between 2015 and 2019 three times higher in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived.
Commenting on the suicide statistics following her coronavirus statement in parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “The figures today are obviously of extreme concern and very distressing figures, not least because they do pre-date the pandemic.
“We know the additional impact that there has been on people’s mental health over the course of the pandemic so that obviously gives us cause for concern.”
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the figures are “devastating”.
He added: “More than two people a day, young and old, are dying by suicide.
“Hundreds of families have had their world turned upside down.
“The last few months have been especially tough but there was a mental health emergency before the pandemic struck.
“Scotland already had a record number of children waiting over a year for the mental health treatment they need.”
He said there needs to be a “service transformation” in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), complaining that currently youngsters are “left waiting for expert help”.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “These devastating statistics show the urgent need for the full weight of our proposals.
“We need a serious expansion of the mental health workforce to end the waiting times scandal, fast access to talking therapies at your GP practice and new 24/7 crisis care.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition, which has campaigned to improve mental health care for children and young people, said the situation has been worsened by the coronavirus crisis.
He said: “The statistics highlighting that there were 833 probable suicides registered in Scotland in 2019 is devastating for so many families and only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to highlighting the mental health crisis we are currently in.
“We have for some time called for radical transformation in our mental health services and expressed our concerns over the lack of investment in these for our children and young people.
“Currently around 50p in every £100 of NHS spending goes to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and yet we know that one in 10 children has a diagnosable mental health problem and that figure is increasing.
“These problems – of course, if not addressed – carry on into adult life.”
He added: “With increased numbers of those experiencing mental health problems, as well as those whose existent conditions are being worsened due to the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with further cuts in services, this points to a mental health crisis ‘perfect storm’.
“While referrals have dropped during lockdown and children are not accessing support, we are storing up immense problems for the future as mental health services face being overwhelmed due to greatly increased demand.
“Mental health services must be given funding and resources equal to that of physical health provision and this pandemic has ushered in an urgency to deliver on this which cannot be ignored.”
Mental health minister Clare Haughey said: “While these statistics do not reflect the period of the coronavirus pandemic, we know that this is taking a significant toll on many people’s mental health and we are doing all we can to support people at this difficult time.
“Our recently published Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan sets out the wide range of actions we are taking to address those additional pressures on the population’s mental health, brought about by the pandemic.”
She added: “We do not yet know what impact the pandemic will have on suicide rates.
“We are not being complacent and, together with Cosla, we accepted the recommendations that the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group put forward for a pandemic-specific suicide prevention response.”
Samaritans can be contacted 24 hours a day by calling 116 123.
Support The Courier today.
The Courier is committed to delivering quality content to our communities and right now that’s more important than ever — which is why our key content is free. However, you can support us and access premium content by subscribing to The Courier from just £5.99 a month. Because Local Matters.Subscribe