Community training praised as figures reveal no suicides in 18 months

Shetland has been without a suicide for 18 months and suicide intervention training could be behind the turnaround, a local NHS employee has said.

Karen Smith hailed the work done by various local bodies, including the NHS, as a driving force behind the positive news.

Karen Smith says training courses have helped achieve the drop in suicides. Photo: Stephen Gordon

Shetland has historically had the highest rate of male suicide in Scotland, but in recent years there has been a marked reduction in incidence of suicide.

A key element in this success, Ms Smith feels, is the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills (Asist) course, which she provides alongside Mind Your Head founder Shona Manson in her role as the Choose Life coordinator for NHS Shetland.

A minimum of three courses are run each year and they are attended by members of the public as well as people working in frontline community service jobs.

The courses are free to attend, with “anyone and everyone” invited. Training “Joe Public” was just as important as the other work, Ms Smith said.

“One of the beauties of living on an island is that if you work here, you also live here – so we’re training the community as well.”

Just last September this newspaper reported that Shetland had again been shown to have the highest male suicide rate in Scotland over a five year period.

Figures from the National Records of Scotland show that seven suicides occurred in both 2011 and 2012. There were five in 2013 and three in 2015, with only one in 2014.

The statistics for 2016 are not yet available but Ms Smith said that the fact 18 months have passed since the last suicide was a cause for “celebration”.

She said: “I’m not stupid and I don’t think that there will never be one again but I think that it’s something to celebrate.”

Asist training is just one element among many helping to break down the stigma around suicide and discussions of mental health.

Ms Smith also highlighted the work of local charity Mind Your Head and the efforts made by herself and others during Suicide Prevention Week every September.

During that week Ms Smith and a colleague take a van sporting a decal which reads “Lets talk about suicide prevention.”

They “target male oriented places of work” and attempt to engage the staff there in conversations about mental health.

Ms Smith said: “Men will talk quite openly about mental health. I think the ongoing message is starting to work – that it’s ok to say that you’re not okay.”

The news comes at a time in which an increasing emphasis has been placed on mental health by various bodies working with the public.

Earlier this month it was reported that police officers in the isles were given mental health training in response to a growing number of related call-outs.

Chief Inspector Lindsay Tulloch said 38 officers had been trained this year to respond to those in crisis and that the suicide prevention training gave officers skills to help those at risk of suicide.

• If you are having suicidal thoughts help is available. Contact: Breathing Space – 0800 83 85 87; Samaritans – 116 123 or visit your GP. In an emergency go to A&E or dial 999.


Add Your Comment
  • James Paton

    • March 22nd, 2017 18:50

    This is very welcome news. If any men interested in this story wish to follow it up through an experimental new web site in development, where you can Contact through the Contact box form or by blog, blogging anonymously, by clicking the blog icon and help build and contribute to the following resource site for men experiencing brain illness,


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