Suicide Prevention Week 2019

Rose Fitzpatrick CBE QPM

Monday, September 9, 2019

Making Suicide Prevention Everyone’s Business, Because Every Life Matters

As Chair of Scotland’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group I’m grateful for the opportunity to write this blog during Suicide Prevention Week because of the important role you have in preventing suicide, as community pharmacy professionals who connect directly with people every day in every community across Scotland, to provide care and advice. 

Here are some of the ways in which I believe your role is critical to saving lives from suicide, and some resources which I hope you will find helpful.

Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan

Suicide Prevention Week GraphicScotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan: Every Life Matters was published in August 2018.  It aims to make suicide preventable, to reduce stigma, and to ensure that anyone contemplating suicide, or whose life has been touched by suicide, receives the support they need.  It has ten actions, including developing local suicide prevention plans, providing appropriate training, learning from reviews of all suicides, and raising public awareness so that people feel confident and have the tools to help when help is needed. 

Read the full plan

When the Action Plan was published I was asked to establish and chair a new National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (NSPLG) to support it.   Members of the NSPLG are highly skilled and passionate people from the third sector, local authorities, the NHS, local Health and Social Care Partnerships, clinical practice and criminal justice.  At its heart are individuals who have personal lived experience of the devastating impact of suicide.  For every life lost to suicide - some 784 in Scotland in 2018 - research tells us that some 134 other lives are directly affected by its impact.

Making suicide prevention everyone’s business, because very life matters

This brings me to your role in community pharmacy.

Throughout Scotland, every day of the year, you provide accessible healthcare and advice to people who come to you when they may not have the trust or confidence to go elsewhere, but they know that to you, they matter.  On some of those days you will see people who may present with a different problem but who are actually thinking about suicide.  Your professional skills and personal sensitivity will mean that you are in a position not only to identify that they need help, but also to give it.

By asking about suicide, by listening to the answer, we can all save lives

Because you work in healthcare you will know that until relatively recently people didn’t use the word “cancer”.  We mistakenly thought that using that word was insensitive, and would somehow make things worse.  We left people suffering stigma in silence and lacking support because we couldn’t bring ourselves to name cancer and talk about it.  Yet think how powerful we feel in tackling cancer now that we can talk about it openly and without stigma, and how much support we give and receive because of that.

There are parallels today with the reluctance to use the word “suicide”.  Things are beginning to change, but too many people still fear they will be stigmatised if they speak about their suicidal thoughts, or believe that they will put the idea of suicide in someone’s mind if they ask them have they been thinking about taking their own life?

This is why raising awareness is so important for suicide prevention in Scotland.  Strong evidence tells us that by talking openly about suicide we remove stigma, and that by asking someone directly whether they are having suicidal thoughts we can help prevent them taking their own life and get the crisis support they need.

Suicide prevention awareness and resources

Your role in community pharmacy gives you direct contact with people who may be feeling suicidal or having suicidal thoughts, and who already trust you and the care you provide.  That puts you in a unique position to ask about suicide, to encourage people to tell you how they are feeling, and to help them get the support they need to save their life.

As part of Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan, NES and NHS Health Scotland have produced awareness-raising resources about mental health and suicide prevention which I hope you and those you work with will find really useful.  Anyone can access these three short animations via the following internet links, and I would ask you to find time in your pharmacy to encourage those you work with to watch, discuss, use and share the tools they provide:

As healthcare professionals, you will sometimes be presented with people in suicidal crisis.  Are you confident that those you work with in your community pharmacy know how to get help for the person in crisis?  Here are some contact details which you might find it helpful to display and ensure your colleagues are aware of:

Samaritans:  Samaritans provide free, confidential and anonymous emotional support, 24 hours a day.  Call for free on 116 123, email or find your nearest branch at

NHS 24:  NHS 24 provides free out-of-hours medical advice. Call for free on 111.

Breathing Space:  Breathing Space provides emotional support and advice to anyone living in Scotland, over 16, who is feeling low, depressed or anxious. Breathing Space is available from 6pm-2am Monday to Friday and 24 hours at weekends. Call for free on 0800 83 85 87.

Police Scotland:  In the event of an emergency where there is risk of injury or loss of life you should always dial 999

For those of you who are interested in more specific suicide prevention training, a number of other resources are available.

However you choose to help make suicide preventable, what you do counts

In Suicide Prevention Week, thank you for taking the trouble to read this blog about such an important aspect of your work in communities across Scotland.

Your trusted role in community pharmacy brings you into direct contact with people at risk of suicide.  You have a unique opportunity to identify that they need help, and to support them in getting the help they need.

In preventing suicide we believe that every life matters, and in community pharmacy what you do really counts.

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