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Reducing Suicide and Self Harm

The Scottish Government is committed to reducing suicide. Every suicide is a tragedy that has a far reaching impact on family, friends and community long after a person has died.

There has been a strong downward trend in the suicide rate in Scotland over the last decade.  Over the period 2002-6 to 2012-16 the rate of suicide in Scotland reduced by 17 %.  The number of deaths by suicide in Scotland in 2015 was the lowest in a single year since 1974. Our Suicide Prevention Strategy focuses on key areas that we believe will continue the downward trend in suicides:

Areas for action in the Suicide Prevention Strategy

The Strategy to reduce suicide focuses on five key themes of work in communities and in services and we make 11 commitments that will continue the downward trend in suicides and contribute to the delivery of the National Outcome to enable people to live longer, healthier lives. The key themes are:

  • A   Responding to people in distress
  • B   Talking about suicide
  • C   Improving the NHS response to suicide
  • D   Developing the evidence base
  • E   Supporting change and improvement



We know that many people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm, and also that the relationship between suicide and self-harm is complex. For that reason we limited the scope of the 2013 Strategy to suicide and suicidal self-harm. Our first commitment was to undertake separate work on supporting people at risk of non-fatal self-harm, including those in distress.

Several stakeholder events were held in 2014 and 2015 to consider how we might reshape and improve how we respond to people in distress. Key issues and themes emerging from discussion at these events have infomed the development of a proposed Distress Brief Intervention, which is being piloted in 4 areas across Scotland.  Development work for the pilot began in Summer 2016, with the first pilot (Lanarkshire) going live in June 2017.  All 4 pilots have been running since October 2017.


The Strategy continues the trend in previous strategies to focus on where the evidence leads. It echoes key messages – learned from practice and research – that suicide is preventable, that it is everyone’s business and that collaborative working is key to successful suicide prevention.

We want this Strategy to help support better outcomes for people who are suicidal and who come to services, to their families and carers, to those not in contact with services, and to continue to improve our knowledge of what works in this complex field.

Future Suicide Prevention Action Plan

In 2017 and early 2018, a series of pre-engagement events took place to help inform the development of a new suicide prevention action plan. These events were run by NHS Health Scotland, Samaritans and the Health and Social Care Alliance; the purpose was to allow people who have lived experience of suicidal thoughts or of bereavement by suicide - and those who directly engage with those affected - the opportunity to contribute their views on what could be done better or differently to reduce suicide and the impact it has on people, families and communities in Scotland. The report on these events is available at:

Following consideration of issues emerging from these pre-engagement events, the Scottish Government published (8 March 2018) a public engagement paper Themes and draft Actions for possible inclusion in the Scottish Government’s new Suicide Prevention Action Plan.

The closing date for responding to the engagement paper was 30 April 2018. Nearly 300 responses were received. These will be analysed in Spring 2018 to help inform the content of the finalised version of the action plan which is to be published in Summer 2018.