By Stuart Callison

DESPITE the tireless work of mental health professionals and suicide prevention charities, 723 people in Scotland died by suicide in 2021.

Organisations are severely overstretched, and the reality is that friends, family and colleagues are often the first – and sometimes only – port of call for those struggling with mental health.

Increasing waiting times for NHS mental health support and a stark lack of access to GPs and wider support services mean backlogs are growing, leading to misdiagnosis and growing frustrations. As a result, more and more individuals are falling through the cracks of a system struggling to cope.

The correlation between suicide and deprivation is no secret, with suicide rates in the nation’s most deprived areas nearly three times higher than in more affluent areas.

What raises further concern is that three-quarters (75.04 per cent) of people who died by suicide in 2021 were male (565 males, 188 females), whilst the highest age demographic for both males and females were those aged between 45 and 54.

In the face of the cost of living crisis and increasing financial pressures, how can we adapt to equip people with the skills and confidence they need to support someone facing mental health challenges?

These issues make the availability of training courses tailored to mental health support even more salient. At St Andrew's First Aid, we work with young people through our Ready for Life programme which focuses on teaching them how to identify and reach out to people showing signs of poor mental health. The course is specifically designed for secondary schools, with particular attention focused on those in areas of deprivation.

Connecting with young people, particularly during adolescence, may not only help them to spot somebody in distress but ultimately provide them with the knowledge to help save a life.

Organisations have a responsibility to invest in mental health training and to seek opinions from employees where valuable improvements can be made. There is also a need to adapt to the evolving challenges that people face in their lives and to demonstrate how they are responding to them.

While suicide is a complex problem with no simple solution, the human instinct to help others remains strong. In the last year, we have delivered more than 100 mental health first aid training courses to more than 1,000 people, giving them the skills to help themselves and others in times of need.

In a society beset by mental health worries and loneliness, we need ordinary citizens more than ever. We can all play a role in supporting those experiencing suicidal thoughts or those bereaved by suicide. Of course, mental health first aid training is not a cure-all.

Many people experience anxiety and depression as a natural result of circumstances out with their control. However, the skills provided can help to alleviate some of the pressures to establish a community of skilled mental health first aiders who can provide support to those at their most vulnerable.

This World Suicide Prevention Day, we can all encourage understanding about the issue of mental health, reach out to those who are struggling, and share experiences.

Stuart Callison is Chief Executive of St Andrew’s First Aid