The number of suicides recorded in the Highlands last year was the highest since records began, statistics have shown.
The figures, produced by Public Health Scotland, show the number of people who took their own lives across the Highlands in 2019 was 67 – the third highest in Scotland behind only Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The number of deaths for the region are the highest since 1982, which is as far back as the Public Health Scotland dataset goes.
The figure of 67 suicides includes 46 men and 21 women.
The rise in death by suicide is the third year in a row that figures in the Highlands have risen, almost doubling the 2014 total of 34 deaths.
Calls for transformation of mental health services
The statistics – which predate the Covid-19 pandemic – have prompted calls for a transformation of mental health services, with campaigners concerned this year’s lockdown and coronavirus restrictions have made it harder for people in need to access support.
Donna Smith of Inverness-based mental health charity Mikeysline said: “It is tragic that so many people take that step and increasing figures is not the thing that any of us want to see.
“Like everyone, we are concerned about what happens when we do get the 2020 figures because this has been a very difficult year on top of what was already a growing problem.
“We have certainly seen an increase in the use of the service and a lot of new people reaching out to us in lockdown which is good.
“Talking to somebody is the first step in working through what you are feeling.
“There is no shame in how you are feeling, lots of people experience difficulties and suicidal thoughts and the key thing you can do is reach out to somebody and talk it through and that remains our strong message at any time.”
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said it was harrowing to read of lives being lost in all age groups, especially as the region had tried so hard to decrease the number of deaths to suicide over a number of years.
“Campaigners in Caithness have already contacted me saying the lack of access to mental health support services is of real concern and I have already raised this with NHS Highland’s new chief executive to see if solutions can be found,” she said.
“I have no doubt that Covid-19 will also have an effect on mental health this year, across the whole Highlands and Islands, and would strongly advise people and their families who have concerns to ring one of the excellent helplines that exist to support them through a crisis.”
‘Known link between deprivation and suicide’
Across Scotland there have been 833 probable suicides registered in 2019, up 6.25% on the 784 recorded a year previous.
The report has established a “known link between deprivation and suicide” with the probable suicide rate between 2015 and 2019 three times higher in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived.
In Aberdeenshire, the number of suicides recorded last year was the highest since 2004, with 37 registered.
Figures in Aberdeen are down five since 2018 with 25 deaths by suicide registered, a significant drop on the 2015 total where 43 deaths were attributed to suicide.
Moray registered 17 suicides in 2019, with Orkney and the Western Isles both recording three deaths.
Shetland has the lowest rate across the north and north-east with just two deaths by suicide recorded in 2019.
Over the last five years, 3,697 people across Scotland took their own life with the average suicide rate over the same timeframe standing at 13.9 deaths per 100,000.
Samaritans Scotland, the leading charity for suicide prevention and crisis support in the country, is calling for urgent action.
Rachel Cackett, executive director of Samaritans Scotland, said each death is “a devastating loss with far-reaching consequences for family, friends and communities”.
She said efforts have been enhanced to strengthen suicide prevention, however, “it is clear there is still so much more to do”.
“By taking action, here and now, to renew and redouble their commitment to suicide prevention, government and services can help to reduce future risk”, she added.