Samaritans report ‘shocking’ surge in number of Borderers taking own lives

The chair of the Samaritans’ regional branch has spoken of a “shocking” rise in suicides in the region this year, ahead of official figures due to be released today, which are also expected to show an increased number of Scots taking their own lives in 2011.

Arabella Lewis told TheSouthern: “The Samaritans are particularly relevant to this area because of the increase in reported suicides over recent months.

“Any rise is a worry, but in the last nine months it’s been shocking. There just seems to have been a spate, particularly in young people in their teens and 20s.” Suicide is a leading cause of mortality in those under 35 years of age.

“Life is so busy, there’s no time to stop and think, and no-one to talk to. Everyone goes so deep into their emotions, and they don’t know how to get out of them when things go wrong.

“They don’t know who to turn to.”

The UK charity gives emotional support to anyone in emotional distress or at risk of suicide, through texting, email and a free 24/7 telephone helpline, with a regional branch of 38 volunteers based at 21 West Port, Selkirk, on 01750 20000.

“It’s important to have a local branch presence, so people know we are here,” Ms Lewis said. “Samaritans are here to support anyone who is feeling low or unable to cope.”

The exact statistics revealing Scotland’s suicide rates from January to December in 2011, collated by the General Register Office (GRO) for Scotland, are a closely-guarded and embargoed until 9.30 this morning, when they will be published online at www.gro-scotland.gov.uk.

However, early studies warn of an upward trend. GRO stats for 2010 show 17 deaths in the Borders by suicide (deaths from intentional self-harm and events of undetermined intent combined) and 781 in Scotland – an increase on the 2009 figures.

The suicide rate for males was just under three times that for females. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to Lothian and Borders Police in April this year revealed the number of non-suspicious sudden deaths, including suicides, in Edinburgh rose from 44 in 2010 to 51 in 2011.

An investigation by Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester universities, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in February 2012, found a persisting higher rate of men taking their own lives in Scotland between 1968 and 2008. The rate in Scotland is now about 80 per cent higher, particularly among younger men.

Later in June, a companion paper published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health identified explanations for this “Scottish effect”, including the use of psychotropic medicine to treat symptoms, rather than the cause of depression or anxiety being tackled.

Problems arising from alcohol accounted for 33 per cent of the “excess” suicides in Scotland and deprivation for 24 per cent, but they said 42 per cent of the additional suicides could be attributed to the prescription of drugs for anxiety or depression.

Fiona Barlow, of the Samaritans in Scotland, said: “We are working to raise awareness of the Samaritans service across Scotland in areas of deprivation; in areas where there are high levels of alcohol and substance misuse and also reaching out to those in isolated, remote communities.

“All of these factors can lead to elevated risk of suicide and it is important that people know they can speak to Samaritans in confidence about anything, without fear of being judged.”

The helpline receives over 2.5million calls a year from people suffering from stresses arising from work, relationships, family or society, anxiety, depression, loneliness, abuse and trauma, physical or mental well-being, and suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Since the onset of the financial crisis, the number of calls about job concerns, housing problems, debt and other money worries doubled from one in 10 in 2008 to one in five in 2011.

Local issues highlighted by the Samaritans include employers cutting jobs, businesses closing down, unemployment and high streets being empty.

The Borders also includes areas of social and economic deprivation, which can elevate the risk of suicide.

“I think Hawick has had a rough ride,” Ms Lewis said. “There’s not enough work in Hawick, and a lot of unemployed young people. Our feet on the street just hear these things.

“The Samaritans are never closed. Nearly every Samaritan volunteer joins because they feel they have something to offer our callers – whether from their own experiences or others.”

The Samaritans can also be contacted on 08457 90 90 90, or at www.samaritans.org