MISSED “warning signs” may have contributed to hundreds of suicides in young Scots, according to a new report.

Between 2011 and 2020, a total of 820 people aged 10 to 24 took their own lives in Scotland, making suicide the leading cause of death for this age group, according to Public Health Scotland (PHS).

The figures include 30 probable suicides in children aged 10 to 14, as well as 260 in the 15 to 19 age group.

It comes as psychiatrists warned that the Scottish Government has “fallen far short” on its child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) targets.

The latest figures show that just over two thirds (68.4 per cent) of children and teenagers were seen within 18 weeks of referral in the three months to the end of June this year.

The target is 90%.

HeraldScotland: Suicides as a proportion of all deaths, by age group, 2011-2020 (NB: no suicides in children under 10)Suicides as a proportion of all deaths, by age group, 2011-2020 (NB: no suicides in children under 10)

Suicides in the 10 to 24 age group peaked at 113 in 2019, before dipping to 90 in 2020.

Over the decade, the suicide rate for this age group fell between 2011 and 2015, but more than doubled - from 4.4 to 9.2 per 100,000 - between 2015 and 2019.

Stephen Platt, emeritus professor of health policy research at Edinburgh University and chair of the Scottish Suicide Information Database (ScotSID) Steering Group, said the findings “[reinforce] the need for preventative action in this age group”.

He added that while this compares to a suicide rate of 17.5 deaths per 100,000 in the over-25 age group in Scotland, those under-25 were “significantly less likely” to have had contact with healthcare services prior to ending their lives.

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Writing in the PHS report, Prof Platt said that a “sizeable minority” of this at-risk population may have missed out on help when they most needed it.

He said: “It is possible that they may have felt unable to express those needs for a variety of reasons, and that they, and those close to them, may not have recognised the warning signs, including psychological distress and symptoms of mental ill-health, which would increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviours.”

In the 15-19 age group, nearly one in three (29%) had received a mental health drug prescription and 7% had had contact with psychiatric inpatient services in the year prior to their death, while 25% had been to A&E up to 90 days before their death.

HeraldScotland: The suicide rate fell peaked in 2019 before declining again NB: age group given as 5-24, but no suicides occurred in under-10s (Source: PHS)The suicide rate fell peaked in 2019 before declining again NB: age group given as 5-24, but no suicides occurred in under-10s (Source: PHS)

By 2020, the suicide rate for under-25s from the poorest parts of Scotland was 12.5 per 100,000 compared to 5.1 per 100,000 in the most affluent communities.

However, the report highlights as an anomaly the fact that, within the most affluent group, the suicide rate was 1.4 times higher among those aged 10-24 compared to their counterparts over-25.

Prof Platt said this “warrants further investigation”, but stressed that the overall trend of suicide rates increasing in line with higher levels of deprivation “should not be overlooked”.

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Commenting on the waiting times figures, Dr Helen Smith, chair of the CAMHS Faculty for the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Scotland, said the service is expected “to meet increased demand for support with the same the capacity”.

She added: “We need investment in mental health support services at all levels needs to be sustained and planned.

"After coming out of a pandemic and with all the problems the cost-of-living crisis will have on people’s mental health, we need the Scottish Government to focus on CAMHS and outline how they will meet their own target by 2026.”

Mental health minister Kevin Stewart said the Government is “working to reduce the suicide rate” and has allocated an additional £40 million to health boards to improve CAMHS, including reducing waiting list backlogs and establishing access to out of hours CAMHS assessments.

A new Suicide Prevention Strategy will also be published later this month.