The Scottish Government is being urged to publish data on suicides more regularly, amid fears the coronavirus pandemic could spark a “tidal wave” of mental health problems.
Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton called on ministers to make data available quarterly, or even monthly, instead of on an annual basis.
He is also demanding action to tackle the backlog of people waiting for help with mental health problems, and to prepare for the “likelihood of heightened demand” caused by the pandemic and lockdown.
It comes after the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (NSPLG) warned earlier this month that the impact of the crisis will be felt on mental health and wellbeing “for some time to come”.
Its report also recommended that the Scottish Government undertakes enhanced monitoring of statistics on suicide and self-harm to identify emerging trends and groups at risk.
There were 784 suicides in Scotland in 2018 – up from 680 the previous year.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said there is already a “lag” in the data, with figures published about six months after the year they cover.
The Covid-19 crisis has already resulted in publication of suicide statistics for 2019 being put on hold.
The Liberal Democrat MSP said: “This crisis has left many feeling anxious and isolated. Too many have experienced grief in their personal lives or their professional ones. I fear we’re going to have a mental health tidal wave on our hands and we need to be ready for it.
“Suicide statistics are published just once a year and with a significant time lag. We need to be reactive, recognising concerning trends and responding to them.
“I worry this lag will slow that process and understanding down at a time when we need to be acting quicker than ever before to save lives.
“I, therefore, urge the government to explore releasing information more regularly, for example on a monthly or quarterly basis.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We welcome the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (NSPLG)’s recent Covid-19 statement and recommendations. Suicide prevention continues to be a priority and this statement highlights our efforts to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on people’s mental health.
“Work is already under way to improve real-time suicide and self-harm data in partnership with Public Health Scotland and the Academic Advisory Group of the NSPLG.”
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