Suicide: introduction

Suicide is a leading cause of death in Scotland among people aged 15-34 years. In 2014, suicide accounted for 24% of all male deaths in this age group (117 out of 487 deaths), and 21% of all female deaths (53 out of 252 deaths).

Many factors put individuals at risk of suicide, with four key groups of risk factors identified:

  • risks and pressures within society, including poverty and inequalities, access to methods of suicide, prevalence of alcohol problems and substance misuse, and changing trends in society such as marital breakdown
  • risks and pressures within communities, including neighbourhood deprivation, social exclusion, isolation, and inadequate access to local services
  • risks and pressures for individuals, including sociodemographic characteristics, previous deliberate self-harm, lack of care, treatment and support towards recovery from serious mental illness, loss (e.g. bereavement or divorce), and experience of abuse
  • quality of response from services, including insufficient identification of those at risk.

The relationship between these factors is complex and the 2002 Choose Life strategy and action plan states that such factors should not be addressed in isolation. The Suicide Prevention Strategy 2013-16 acknowledged that "there is a broader focus of activities not directly related to suicide prevention but which, if taken forward effectively, contributes to reducing the overall rate of suicide. Activities within this broader focus include building resilience and mental and emotional wellbeing in schools and in the general population; work to reduce inequality, discrimination and stigma; the promotion of good early years services; and work to eradicate poverty. All of this work is undertaken in a context of being vigilant about improving mental health, about supporting people who experience mental illness - and about preventing suicide."

The epidemiology of suicide in Scotland 1989-2004 examines temporal trends and risk factors.

Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide and Suicidal Behaviour is a systematic international literature review of review-level data on suicide risk factors and primary evidence of protective factors against suicide.

Please note that when analysing suicide data, it is conventional to combine deaths by intentional self-harm with deaths of undetermined intent, and this is what is done in this section. Research indicates that most deaths of undetermined intent are likely to be suicides. We refer to the data as 'suicides' but the term 'probable suicides' may also be used to acknowledge the inclusion of deaths of undetermined intent.