Wills: Suicide rate is alarming

A councillor has lamented Shetland’s “alarming” suicide rate which stands 40 per cent higher than the national Scottish average.

SCT vice-chairman Jonathan Wills.
Jonathan Wills: “The suicide rate is alarming.”

Jonathan Wills questioned why the isles rate should be so high during a presentation of a joint mental health strategy between NHS Shetland and the SIC.

It follows news NHS Shetland is set to recruit two new community psychiatric nurses as well as a consultant as part of a £180,000 mental health investment.

The council’s executive committee today heard seven people committed suicide in Shetland in 2011 – enough to give the isles, as a percentage of the population, the country’s highest suicide rate.

Statistics tabled in a report showed a suicide rate from 2008-12 of 24.8 in the isles, compared with 14.9 as a national figure.

the small numbers involved do tend to skew the figures, but Dr Wills pointed to similar island groups such as Orkney and the Western Isles which have much lower rates than Shetland.

“The suicide prevention figures do seem alarming. Our suicide rate is 40 per cent higher than the national average.

“It’s double what Tayside has. Orkney and Western Isles have much lower rates. Why are the Shetland rates so high?”

Health improvement manager Elizabeth Robinson highlighted audited findings on sudden deaths and suicides which indicated a tendency towards unemployed men aged 35 to 55, often after a relationship has broken down. She said that alcohol had often featured.

“That’s one of the themes that has come out.”

Asked by Dr Wills whether there was optimism the problem could be dealt with, she said not all suicide would be prevented from taking place.

“There are no warnings from them – they have not been in touch with services.”

She stressed the importance of developing “community resilience” and encouraging people to check up on others.

“There are some suicides which, in the future, we will be able to prevent.”

Michael Stout
Michael Stout: “We’re not very good at talking with one another.”

Michael Stout said “everyone” had a role to play in helping to prevent people from taking their own lives.

“One of the reasons we have such high rates is, as a community, we’re not very good at talking with one another. Each of us in this room today potentially has a role to play in this.”

Chairman Gary Robinson said friends and neighbours were people’s “most important resource” on tackling the subject.

Earlier, members had heard the Scottish government had set targets for children and young people in need of mental health treatment of 18 weeks.

That, said Dr Wills, was too long to wait for treatment. Ms Robinson insisted local targets were in place to help meed the demand more quickly.

“I’m glad to see we’re going to do better than the Scottish government target, which is a miserable target,” concluded Dr Wills.


Add Your Comment
  • Avalina Kreska

    • May 6th, 2014 16:20

    I have been following the popular ‘Flying Wild Alaska’ series on Discovery Channel and noticed that Alaska has a similar problem with those who are unable to cope with life and sadly decide that suicide is the only option. Many of them being the younger generation of teenagers.

    Published 2013 – Alaskan Dispatch

    ‘…For every 5-degree increase in northerly latitude, suicide rates increased 18 percent, said the study, published earlier this month by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ Section of Epidemiology…’

    …The correlation between latitude and suicide rates creates new questions, said study co-author Deborah Hull-Jilly, a program manager at the epidemiology section…


    With longer, darker Winters and a feeling of having nowhere to go to discuss personal problems is sure to take it’s toll on us island folks living 60deg North. I live on Fetlar, here, as I’m sure is true for the whole of Shetland, there is nowhere for folk to go to discuss problems before they spiral out of control and leave a person with no room for manoevre. I’m not talking about problems that can be sorted out by the local community council but personal problems that you might not want to talk about to another person on the same island or indeed even on the mainland of Shetland because ‘everyone knows everyone else’.

    There is a certain psychological stigma attached to ringing the Samaritans – it often being thought of as the place of ‘last resort’ and people can be reticent to go that one step further, leaving them with nowhere to go and therefore making the possibility of spiralling into further trouble and distress a reality.

    I realise that the NHS have to be involved in all medical treatment but I am concerned that often, being the nature of the beast in psychiatry, that drugs are often dispensed to ‘cure the problem’ – this is often not what is required but somewhere neutral for folks to go to discuss problems confidentially without fear that it will ‘get out there’ and become the local gossip!

    I don’t get to Lerwick very often and am not sure what services are available. What do we currently have in place? Can a confidential local service be offered?

  • Neil Anderson

    • May 6th, 2014 20:37

    Gossiping and talking about people behind their backs is a massive part of the problem as well as narrow minded stereotyping of “druggies” and “alchies” !

  • Robert Duncan

    • May 6th, 2014 23:12

    The sad thing about this is that I’m surprised the total figure for the year is only seven. I think three people I knew to varying degrees passed in that time, and more striking still all were young. I’d hate to see how Shetland compares nationally for suicides of, say, under 25s.

    There is still a stigma around mental health problems in Shetland, in my experience more than elsewhere in the country. It is a huge problem but thankfully groups like Mind Your Head are doing great work to tackle it.

  • Rosa Steppanova

    • May 7th, 2014 9:04

    Given that Shetland has the highest suicide rate in the UK and possibly also the highest levels of depressive illness, I fail to understand why counselling and psychotherapy in primary care were the target of local NHS cuts and waiting times are now unacceptably long.

    Mind-Your-Head’s awareness raising campaigns have gone a long way towards removing some of the stigma attached to mental and emotional ill health, and for many years, the voluntary sector has done a splendid job where statutory services have failed their clients/patients.

    At present, with Link-Up’s Crisis Response Team, Women of Worth, and now Shetland Bereavement Support Service, having closed their doors due to lack of funding, we now face, what I would term, a dangerous lack of provision.

    Avalina Kreska is quite right in pointing out that psychotropic medication does not address the underlying problems such as isolation, social exclusion, bereavement, break-downs of relationships as well as psychological/emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

    Sadly, Gary Robinson’s claim that “friends and neighbours are people’s most important resource in tackling the problem”, doesn’t always apply, for the reasons Neil Anderson has pointed out.
    During my work in the voluntary sector, I frequently dealt with the distress caused when somebody’s innermost confidences had not only been broadcast to all and sundry by a trusted “friend”, but underwent the “Chinese whispers” treatment along the way. Gossip is not, as some belief, a harmless pastime, but causes untold damage. It divides and isolates people.

    • John Tulloch

      • May 7th, 2014 10:32

      Quite, Rosa.

      In Shetland, like other small, isolated communities, locals, in particular, find themselves put into social and behavioural ‘boxes’ at a young age by families, relatives, neighbours and peers; ‘boxes’ from which few can ever fully escape and actually be at peace with their perfectly good own ‘selves’.

      The inherent ‘judgement’ in gossip is particularly damaging because once people get into difficulties, they feel the, to them unspoken, lash of social opprobrium.

  • Johan Adamson

    • May 7th, 2014 9:04

    I am not sure if it has helped to treat depression (which must surely be linked to the suicide rate?) as a disease. There are some positives from that, I am sure, but the problem with treating it as a disease is that then it is treatable with drugs, and it lets society off the hook. It then doesnt have to cure any of its ills which surely has a part to play in the scenario. We dont have to look at how we treat others, or examine societies obvious problems, if we can just say its a chemical imbalance.

    I am sure the additional resources are very welcome, as I have heard that people stay away from here because there is very little help available, and more available south. So much for our brilliant community and big society. Maybe the Samaritans need to publicise their work again?

  • Ravisankar Ramachandran

    • May 7th, 2014 21:44

    I am not a mental health specialist and I am not writing this in any capacity but only my common sense. As someone from perfect tropical place Chennai (12 hours day / 12 hours night +or – 10 minutes) and lived in Shetland Islands I did realise that the daylight syndrome affects only few. I would raise other questions like:

    1) What is the population of suicide locals
    2) Availability to commit suicide e.g. jumping over a cliff is simpler than hanging, And what protections are there to avoid easy suicide.
    3) Supervising at dangerous spots
    4) Help and support for people coming out of addiction? being a closed community the way of having Information Governance law – every neighbour knows your personal hobbits.

    Finally (the list is not exhaustive), the name and shame attitude of public news which I used to joke with my friends is that if you have a traffic / drunk offence in Shetland, your name will appear in public new paper. If the same offence happens to my neighbour in London I may not know.

  • Mathew Nicolson

    • May 8th, 2014 0:25

    As someone who has been personally affected by this and has a close relative included in these figures, I sincerely hope Shetland’s abysmal record on mental health will finally be improved.

    • Karen Thomson

      • September 23rd, 2014 21:07

      Well we can live in hope!?? How long is a piece of string?

  • Tom Sclater

    • May 9th, 2014 12:10

    The main rooted issue that is most changeable is how mental health is viewed and treated as mentioned. I think a more holistic approach to these problems are needed and are especially important in Shetland’s society, as we can see with these rates and figures there needs to be more funding into professional, confidential consultants and more support for alternative rhemedies as most prespcription pills seem to just numb the patient to their emotions which does no good in the long term and perhaps worsens the problem.


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