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Health boss wants reduction in suicide rate in Highland area to help tackle 'enormous consequences'

By Gordon Calder

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ACTION is needed to reduce the number of suicides in the Highland area, according to the area's public health boss.

Dr Tim Allison, NHS Highland's director of public health, said the area has a consistently higher rate of death by suicide than the Scottish average and wants a greater focus on cutting the figure and improving people's mental health.

Dr Tim Allison, NHS Highland Director of Public Health. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Dr Tim Allison, NHS Highland Director of Public Health. Picture: James Mackenzie.

He made the call in his second annual report to the NHS Highland board and stressed a public health approach is important and "widely regarded as the best way to achieve sustained reductions in suicide rates and improve mental health and well-being."

Dr Allison said: "The consequences of suicide are enormous for the community and for individuals and families affected by suicide across Highland, Argyll and Bute. The research for this report has shown that the suicide rate in our board area is higher than the Scottish average.

"More work is required to understand why this is the case, and we must plan and develop our work to reduce the number of deaths from suicide within a broader mental health context that will inform local plans and strategies.

"A public health approach helps us to understand risk factors and how we can work to reduce deaths from suicide and improve support for those in crisis as well as those bereaved by suicide.

"There are a number of fantastic initiatives that focus on prevention and early intervention as well as providing practical support for individuals and their families. This work is essential in tackling this issue and support for this work must be a priority."

The report addresses a number of matters relating to suicide, including mental health and illness, background influences such as adversity in childhood, poverty, and what is being done to improve mental health and reduce suicide rates across NHS Highland.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health is also mentioned in the report.

While Dr Allison reflects that the effects of the virus on mental health are different across various sectors of society, more work is needed on how it has affected specific groups.

“The pandemic has affected people’s mental health and wellbeing in different ways and at different times over the last two years. The health inequalities that existed prior to Covid have been exacerbated and greater work is required at both local and national level to ensure we address these issues.

"I hope that the issues highlighted in this report helps to refocus our attention on the importance of improving the mental health and wellbeing of our communities and the need to develop a public health approach to suicide prevention," he added.

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