60 second interview: Rose Fitzpatrick CBE QPM, Chair of Scotland’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group

 What do you think the main issues are in terms of preventing suicide and what do you hope the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, and that you as Chair can achieve?

680 people lost their lives to suicide in Scotland in 2017, and research suggests that each death by suicide affects 134 other people in our communities.  Many of us are touched directly by suicide, either at times in our own lives, or because it affects the lives of those we love, those we work alongside or those we work to keep safe.  In order to make suicide preventable across Scotland we need to ensure that suicide prevention is everyone’s business, and to believe that every life matters.

Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Action Plan: Every Life Matters has ten actions geared towards this end. It was agreed following consultation with individuals and organisations across the country, including – most importantly – those with lived experience of the impact of suicide.

These actions include developing local prevention plans, increased public awareness, improving support for people in crisis and those affected by suicide, refreshing suicide prevention training, digital innovation and learning from reviews of all suicides.  The action plan also makes a commitment to focusing on promoting equality, tackling inequalities and taking into account the needs of children and young people.

Every Life Matters has a clear target of reducing suicide rates in Scotland by 20 per cent by 2022.  This is an ambitious target for Scotland and makes it all the more crucial that, as a Leadership Group, we work to make suicide prevention something we can all become involved in.  Clearly, the support and commitment of the Scottish Community Safety Network and all its members will be critical to making that happen.

This month is LGBT History Month. What particular challenges do you see in tackling the higher rates of suicide and suicidal ideation among LGBT people and what more do you think can be done to tackle this issue?

While our Suicide Prevention Action Plan commits to focusing on equalities across all its work, it also contains a specific action to target preventative activity for at-risk groups.  We know through our consultations, and I know personally from my recent meeting with LGBT Health and Wellbeing and LGBT Youth that issues like stigma and isolation can be particularly acute for LGBT people, and indeed can be compounded by features like geography, age and access to supportive networks.

We also know that we need to improve diversity monitoring to better understand how to prevent suicide among LGBT people, and other minority communities.  We have been working on our Equalities Impact Assessment of course, but at the heart of this must be working to improve trust and confidence.  We must work hard to make sure that LGBT people and others from minority backgrounds know why it’s important for us to have accurate information about protected characteristics, so that we can make informed decisions about risk and action.

And that, for me, is the key.  We have to work hard to ensure that LGBT people trust all of us in public service with their information and their safety.  We have a responsibility to build confidence that we will respect their privacy and use their information wisely and well; that we will really understand their particular needs and risks and – most importantly – that we will work in genuine partnership with LGBT people across Scotland to prevent suicide because every life – every life – really does matter.

What could partnerships in community safety and community planning do to support this national work and local interpretation of it?

The National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group is made up of highly skilled and passionate people with lived experience of the effects of suicide together with people from the third sector, local authorities, the NHS, local Health and Social Care Partnerships, clinical practice and criminal justice.  Every part of our work must have both a national and a local dimension, and if it is to be effective it must include, but go beyond the health sector, into the heart of communities.

We intend, through collaboration and partnership, to increase public awareness and support individuals, communities and organisations to reduce the stigma which some people still feel prevents them from talking about suicide and asking for help.  This must go alongside continuously improving access to and the quality of specific suicide prevention services.

We want to give individuals the confidence and the tools to know that – as the research tells us – asking someone if they have being thinking about taking their life will not “put the idea in their head”.  What it will do is give someone struggling with suicidal thoughts the opportunity to talk and to get the support they need.  Simply by talking, by asking the question, by listening to the answer, any one of us can save a life.

We want to encourage organisations – as employers and service providers – to ask themselves – what are we doing specifically to tackle suicide prevention?  For example, what training are we giving our staff and volunteers to help prevent suicide?

We want to encourage communities to see suicide prevention as something they can come together on – with the support of partnerships and networks like the SCSN – to promote and achieve.  What could be more at the heart of community safety than saving life by preventing suicide and reducing its impact on people, families, schools and local communities?

In short, we really do want to make suicide prevention everyone’s business and we would ask you as SCSN members to include it in your conversations, your planning, your training and your service delivery.  And to ask your local partners too:  what are they doing to prevent suicide and ensure that every life matters?

How are you finding the transition from Police Scotland and a policing career to chairing this group on suicide prevention?

I felt that my role as Deputy Chief Constable responsible for Local Policing across Scotland was an immense privilege and I learned so much from the opportunity to work with people and communities of varying geography, characteristic and choice in our shared mission to keep people safe.

I didn’t expect, when I retired from policing last summer, that I would have another opportunity to serve the public in such an important area of work as suicide prevention and I feel very grateful to have been asked to Chair Scotland’s Suicide Prevention Leadership Group.

Once again, in my new role, I am struck by the passion and skills of people I am working with.  And once again, I believe passionately that our work must be shaped by the experience and needs of the individuals and communities we all work with to keep safe.

Having worked with members of the Scottish Community Safety Network in my previous policing role, I believe that together we really can make suicide prevention everyone’s business, because I know that every life matters to you too.