THERE are two ways of looking at the Scottish Government’s new target of a 20 per cent reduction in suicides by 2022. At current rates that means more than130 lives could be saved a year in Scotland, if the plan is successful. On the other hand, it suggests more than 500 people a year will be added to a pretty grim toll.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for young people – more under 29s die this way than from all cancers combined. There were 680 suicides in 2017, nearly 50 fewer than the previous year, but among young men, they increased for the third consecutive year.

The Scottish Government’s new Suicide Prevention Action Plan is better late than never. A new national suicide prevention group is to be headed by former police deputy chief constable Rose Fitzpatrick: an unusual choice as she left Police Scotland amid a row over a pay-off she received, which was later criticised by Audit Scotlnad for not representing a good use of public funds.

However this should not make it any less welcome. It arrives after repeated promises to update the previous plan, which ran out in 2016. In the absence of any momentum from Holyrood, the posts of suicide prevention officers in local authorities have been downgraded, merged with other roles or dispensed with completely as budget cuts bite.

National leadership was badly needed. But the plan has also benefited from the input of people directly affected by suicide. This led to initial disappointment, with mental health charities critical of gaps in the draft plan last March. Many of their concerns have been tackled in the final version, including a dedicated budget for the plan of £3m which will back the work of the new group.

Critics had pointed to the lack of support for people bereaved by suicide in the plan. This has been addressed. Such support is important, not least as research shows those who have suffered the suicide of a friend, relative or loved one are at higher risk of taking their own lives.

The revised plan also aims to provide the mandatory suicide prevention training which many had called for, for frontline workers in health and social services.

There are still areas where improvements could be made. Many of those who contributed to the plan were keen to see more counselling available in schools, to tackle potential mental health problems before they become severe or entrenched. The Government certainly needs to do more to tackle deficiencies in Scotland’s child and adolescent mental health services.

At the very least teachers should be given access to the training many are crying out for, to give them the skills to respond to pupils in distress. But this plan is a solid step towards tackling a troubling national problem.