Suicide statistics for Scotland should be published more frequently than once a year, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said.
The Scottish Government has been urged to “press fast forward” on plans to increase the frequency of reporting the number of suicide deaths, to help organisations respond to changing trends and potentially prevent people from taking their own life.
Under the current system, the National Records of Scotland annually publishes the probable number of suicides for the previous year, usually in June.
Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said the “significant time lag” is unacceptable amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Earlier this week, NHS 24 chief executive Angiolina Foster told Holyrood’s health committee its helpline has had an increased number of callers struggling with suicidal thoughts during the pandemic.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “People across the country have seen their mental health suffer over recent months. Experts have given us some insight, but we are a long way short of understanding the actual extent of this.
“Currently suicide statistics are published just once a year and with a significant time lag.
“We can’t wait until next summer to learn what has already happened during this pandemic.
“That’s not good enough. Services need to be reactive and able to recognise concerning trends and respond to them.
“I’m glad the Government is looking at this but they need to press fast forward. This work is urgent.”
In a letter to Mr Cole-Hamilton, mental health minister Clare Haughey confirmed the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group along with Public Health Scotland are “looking at ways to extract reliable real-time data from other sources to inform local and national suicide prevention in Scotland”.
Ms Haughey stressed mental health and suicide prevention are priorities for the Government, but she warned data on deaths by suicide in 2020 – which would cover the lockdown period – is not likely to be available “until at least June 2021”.
The figures for 2019 have been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, Ms Haughey said, but data for 2018 shows 784 probable suicides registered in Scotland.
Suicides increased from 680 in 2017, a rise of 15%, including a 50% year-on-year increase among young people.
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