Monday, 20 November 2017


Take a minute... save a life

Published on 24 Aug 2017

Suicide Prevention Week 2017:  4-10th September

Around the world, September 10th is Suicide Prevention Day and the theme this year is ‘Take a Minute, Save a Life’.  But why is it important and necessary to have a day to mark suicide awareness?

Every year, almost 1 million people across the world die by suicide and up to 25 times as many could be thinking about suicide. During 2016 Scotland saw an increase in its suicide rate for the first time since 2010 - an increase from 672 to 728.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that behind each and every one of these statistics is a person; someone’s child, a friend, perhaps a parent, each with their own individual story who has, for many different reasons, questioned the value of their own lives and left behind loved ones wondering what they could have done differently.   How painful is that?

World Suicide Prevention Day on the 10th September says one simple thing - ‘Take a Minute, Save a Life’. But is it that easy?

Many of us would feel understandably daunted by the thought of reaching out to someone who perhaps has suicidal feelings.  We may ask ourselves maybe I’ll only make matters worse; I won’t know what to do or say; what if I make the person even more upset; what if I couldn’t cope?; I have enough worries of my own; it isn’t my place - someone else will help... 

Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape suffering that has become unbearable. Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness and isolation, a suicidal person can't see any way of finding relief except through death. But despite their desire for the pain to stop, most suicidal people are deeply conflicted about ending their own lives. They wish there was an alternative to suicide, but they just can't see one.

What a tragedy that we can stop ourselves from reaching out. Imagine the difference if we could reach out and say, I am worried about you, I do care. Tell me what is wrong. I will listen, I won’t judge. Our fear that we might make matters worse is real.

Suicide prevention starts with recognising the warning signs and taking them seriously.

So what do we need to do? For most people the answer is simple. Listen.

Listening - really listening - is not easy as easy as we think it is.   We need to listen to the facts that the person is telling us and to the feelings that lie behind them. We need to understand things from their perspective, not ours.

Locally since 2003 NHS Western Isles has employed a Suicide Prevention Coordinator who has offered a range of training courses.  These courses help participants recognise possible signs that someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide, to know how to respond and to be aware of the agencies and individuals who can provide further help and support.

ASIST which stands for Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training is a 2 day course, helping participants recognise when someone may have thoughts of suicide and be able to support and work with them on a safety plan.  There is good evidence that participants become more willing, ready and able to intervene with someone at risk of suicide.

SAFE TALK: Suicide Alertness for Everyone is a 3 hour training course which helps participants recognise, understand and respond to the initial needs of someone who may be thinking about suicide, and explores how to get extra help when someone is in such distress that they are thinking about suicide.

Suicide Talk is a short exploration and awareness-raising session. It is designed to meet the needs of participants; for example, discussing why there is so much stigma around suicide and why people might feel suicide is the answer to their problems at that moment.

Mental Health First Aid training is another 2 day training programme which includes a substantial section relating to Suicide.

Elaine Mackay, NHS Western Isles Choose Life Coordinator, said “The Scottish Government and Choose Life established a Suicide Prevention Strategy which details a commitment in providing a range of suicide awareness training courses. These courses help participants recognise possible signs that someone is struggling with thoughts of suicide, to know how to respond and to be aware of the agencies and individuals who can provide further help and support.

“We regularly offer courses locally and there has been a remarkable uptake throughout the islands with over 1500 people completing one or more of them. In addition, our Course facilitators are all local people who have undertaken intensive training themselves to be able to deliver the courses.

“Through the delivery of these courses we are now seeing a 17% decrease overall in the rate of suicide in Scotland between 2002-2006 and 2012-2016.”

Feedback from training delivered in the islands has been very positive with participants saying:

…” it gave me the confidence to tell my family about my past suicide attempt”

….” I understand now that sometimes all someone needs is for someone else to listen. We need to stop being so busy and just take a minute”.

 “... I was able to listen to their story and understand how they were feeling and I felt confident in asking if they had thoughts of suicide….”

This year, Suicide Prevention Week encourages us to simply take a moment to notice what’s going on with your family, friends and colleagues – and yourself. It is about taking time to have a conversation when you notice something has changed and equipping yourself to help yourself and others. 

No one should feel alone. No one should feel that suicide is the only answer.


A service for those Touched by Suicide will be held on Wednesday 6th September at 6pm in St Peters Church, Francis Street, Stornoway. It is being held in partnership between NHS Western Isles, St Peters Church and Stornoway Free Church. It is open to anyone, regardless of faith. Light refreshments, a time to chat and literature will also be available after the service.

If you or someone you know is concerned about the risk of suicide then there are people who will listen, people who will help, people who want you to be safe. You can get help from:

Samaritans: 08457 90 90 90 or Breathing Space: 0800 83 85 87.

For more information on any of the training mentioned above please contact Elaine MacKay, Planning & Development Officer, NHS Western Isles on 01851708035 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.