Safety measures reduce suicide figures for the Erskine Bridge

Erskine BRidge 2018 The Erskine Bridge where figures for suicide have been reduced in recent years.

 By Bill Heaney

It is generally accepted that the iconic Erskine Bridge over the River Clyde at Old Kilpatrick is one of the most common places to commit suicide.

And now the Scottish government has set a target of reducing the suicide rate – defined as self harm by jumping –  at the bridge by 20 per cent by 2022.

Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey, pictured below right,  announced the 20 per cent target alongside a new suicide prevention action plan.

Clare Haughey - SNP - RutherglenSuicide prevention charity Samaritans had claimed the Scottish government was not taking the issue seriously enough.

Ms Haughey insisted Scotland has “made real progress in reducing deaths by suicide”, but said there was “far more to do” to tackle the issue.

The government is setting up a national suicide prevention leadership group, headed by former Police Scotland deputy chief Rose Fitzpatrick, to be backed by a £3m innovation fund.

A total of 680 people killed themselves in Scotland in 2017, a rate of 12.5 per 100,000.  This figure has largely unchanged over the past four years, with an overall downward trend from a rate of 18 per 100,000 in 2002.  This represents a 20 per cent reduction over 15 years, and Ministers are now targeting a similar fall over the next four years.

Among the actions in the plan are:

  • refreshed mental health training for the public and private sectors, including for all NHS staff, by May 2019
  • reviews of all deaths by suicide so lessons can be learned
  • a new national suicide prevention leadership group, to be in place by September
  • development of innovative use of digital technology to prevent suicide
  • new public awareness campaigns

The government’s last suicide prevention strategy expired in 2016, and opposition parties and health groups hit out at delays in drawing up a new one.

A draft plan was set out in March this year, but it too came under fire.

James Jopling, of Samaritans in Scotland, told Holyrood’s health committee that the group was “very disappointed” with the proposals at that stage, calling for ministers to “show more ambition”.

There has been a warmer reception for the finalised plan however, with the Scottish Association of Mental Health (SAMH) saying it “shows commitment to making suicide prevention a national priority”.

Chief executive Billy Watson said: “We have been encouraged by the decrease in the number of deaths by suicide in recent years.

“However, we cannot become complacent. When someone dies by suicide, it has an impact like no other.”

Lee Knifton, head of Mental Health Foundation Scotland, also welcomed the plans, saying they “must now be turned into action”.

He added: “No society should tolerate the suffering and despair that leads a person to take their own life. Now is the time to make Scotland a world-leader in suicide prevention.”

Discussions about the Erskine Bridge, which opened in 1971, as a location of concern for suicide have been going on for years.

An official report said there had been “highly emotive” responses in the media and by the general public following the double suicide of the two vulnerable young runaway women from a nearby care home, one of whom was from Helensburgh.

This was a catalyst for the decision to install new, higher parapets on the Erskine Bridge.

Information on completed suicides and other incidents involving a degree of suicidal intent is not routinely available due to data protection and Police Scotland rules.

The report said that although the impact may be difficult to measure in statistical terms, the developments at the Erskine Bridge, and other interventions at locations of concern, may be of immeasurable benefit in human terms.

Ms Haughey – herself a former mental health nurse – took over from Maureen Watt as mental health minister in June’s reshuffle.

She said: “Every life matters and no death by suicide should be regarded as either acceptable or inevitable. Over the past decade, Scotland has made real progress in reducing deaths by suicide but we have far more to do.

“We want a Scotland where suicide is preventable, and where anyone contemplating suicide or who has lost a loved one gets the support they need.”

Ms Fitzpatrick, who retired from Police Scotland earlier this year, said it was an “honour” to be asked to chair the new leadership group.

She added: “I am deeply aware of the significance and importance of the group’s work, and confident that by working closely with a range of partners to take on the range of important actions in this national plan, we can all make a real difference.”

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