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Scotland’s approach to preventing suicide

Posted by Leanne Arker | Information | Apr 01, 2016

There’s a breadth of interesting information we look at when we’re carrying out fieldwork during a performance audit...

Before the end of this year, the Auditor-General will publish a performance audit report on collecting and using information on suicide, which is a project I’ve led.

When we’re assigned to projects, one of the first things we do – not surprisingly – is to find more information about the topic from New Zealand and overseas. It is good to discover if there is a common approach to something, or whether and why countries take different approaches.

While we were deciding where to focus our audit, we looked broadly at how other countries were approaching suicide prevention. We noticed that Scotland had a national publicity campaign focused on raising awareness of suicide and telling members of the public what to do if they are concerned about someone. The Choose Life campaign has been running for some years and was continued when the Scottish Government updated its Suicide Prevention Strategy for 2013-16.

The Scottish Government considers that:

How we talk about suicide is important. We know that talking openly about suicide in a responsible manner saves lives. We have adopted that approach through the Choose Life campaigns: ‘Suicide: Don’t hide it. Talk about it’ and ‘Read Between the Lines.’

The Read Between the Lines campaign calls on everyone to be alert to the warning signs of suicide in their friends, family, and workmates. The message is that if you’re worried about someone, asking directly about their feelings can help to save their life.

Professionally printed resources can be ordered from the Choose Life website or downloaded from the NHS Health Scotland website. Resources include a small message card and posters aimed at female friends, male friends, male workmates, and mothers and sons. There is also a booklet, called the Art of Conversation, which has sections on the myths and the signs of suicide, spotting the signs and helping, and advice on starting difficult conversations. The booklet also lists training courses aimed at members of the public, caregivers, and frontline workers in health, social, and criminal justice services.

An Australian suicide prevention project,, has published answers to questions that Australian professionals put to Alana Atkinson, the Choose Life Programme Manager, about Scotland’s approach.

Our audit focuses on the information about suicides at a high level. We looked at information collected, analysed, and reported by the Chief Coroner and other coroners, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, and mortality review committees. We did not audit the information that the Ministry of Health and Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand make available to the public.

I wanted to share this information about the Scotland campaign to show that there’s a breadth of interesting information we look at when we’re carrying out fieldwork during a performance audit. Sometimes this information doesn’t make it to the report for a number of reasons (the most common being that it’s out of scope or mandate). In this case, the information won’t be in our report because we didn’t look at the provision of information to the public. But we thought Scotland’s approach was interesting, so I’m sharing it with you.

Update (16 June 2016): You can now read our report Collecting and using information about suicide on our website.

Anon says:
Apr 06, 2016 04:02 PM
As someone who lost a sister to suicide it is nice to see the active approach that Scotland is taking. A recent article on Stuff shows just how unwilling people can be to even discuss suicide (this in a school setting) which means people don't get help until it is too late While I understand the role of the OAG is not to set or question policy, I think it would have been helpful if the provision of information had been in scope. The OAG has a very important role and mandate but has been taking a very safe and conservative view of what it reports on which I find disappointing.
Leanne Arker
Leanne Arker says:
Apr 07, 2016 11:20 AM
Thanks for reading my post and getting in touch - I’m sorry you lost a sister to suicide. The provision of information was not in scope for this audit because district health boards are in the first year of implementing their first suicide prevention action plans, which build on the national action plans carried out by the Ministry of Health and other agencies. We usually wait about two years before auditing how well agencies deliver on new plans, so it was too soon for us to look at how well the DHBs are doing. It is something that the Auditor-General could look at in future. I will make sure she sees your comment. Next week, we publish our draft annual plan, which includes our proposed work programme for the next few years. We welcome comments from the public on this.
If you are interested in finding out more about the Ministry’s expectations of DHBs, including the provision of information, you could look at the “Suicide Prevention Toolkit for District Health Boards”, which is on the Ministry of Health’s website at[…]kit-district-health-boards.
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