AN Inverness priest has issued a passionate plea for more concerted action to prevent suicides, accusing health chiefs of failing to address the problem.
He made his comments during a funeral service for 39-year-old mother of four Margaret MacNeil who took her own life.
She lived near his church, St Mary’s in Huntly Street, where family and friends paid their last respects.
Father James Bell said shock at the news of her death gave way "to acknowledgement that this was a tragedy unfolding."
He said: "Although troubled by many anxieties, Margaret was always a loving and thoughtful mother. Margaret was caught up in a despairing spiral from which she saw no hope."
Fr Bell said her daughter Nicola wanted people to be made more aware of the circumstances surrounding suicide, its personal impact and the need for caring intervention.
"Too many people are being damaged by the failure of the local health care system to cope with the health and other issues that surround suicide," he added.
Fr Bell urged politicians to "address the issue," while praising a "trust-wide clinical policy of zero suicide" implemented by NHS chiefs on Merseyside.
About 6000 people die by suicide each year in the UK. Highland has one of the highest rates in Scotland.
There were 245 suicides – 173 male and 72 female – in the NHS Highland area between 2012 and 2016.
Ron Williamson, founder of the Mikeysline suicide prevention charity, sees a north-south divide in health authorities’ handling of the issue.
He said: "In England, they’re heading towards parity between physical health and mental health. The Scottish Government has not only thrown nothing at mental health, they’ve actually pulled people’s budgets."
In the wake of the revelation that NHS Highland is facing an £18.2million overspend, Mr Williamson claimed that being "reactive and not pro-active" about attempted suicides was costing the NHS "hundreds of thousands of pounds."
NHS Highland associate medical director Boyd Peters said: "More than half of the people who completed suicide in Highland area in the past 12 months were not known to mental health services.
"To reduce suicide rates there needs to be greater public awareness of the services available. We should all be more aware of those around us who might be low in spirits and check how they are feeling.
"Mental health issues are often hidden and unspoken but the right conversation with someone you know may open the way to them getting help."
Attempting to make sense of the statistics, Labour regional MSP Rhoda Grant pointed to "long dark winters, isolated communities lacking social contact and limited access to mental health services" as contributory factors.
"It’s incumbent on all of us to address the issue to make sure there’s an adequate mental health service available," she said. "And we need to get mental health on the same parallel as physical health."
Echoing that, her Conservative counterpart Ed Mountain said: "It probably shows the importance of communities and why communities should work together to look after vulnerable people within the Highlands."
Mental health minister Maureen Watt said: "Mental health is an absolute priority of this government, as demonstrated by our new 10-year mental health strategy.
"Any death by suicide is a tragedy and my sympathies go out to anyone who has lost a loved one in this particularly devastating way."
She added that Scotland’s suicide rate had fallen by 17% over the last decade and that a new suicide prevention plan would be developed this autumn and winter.
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