08 September 2004

S2M-1578 International Suicide Prevention Week

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): We move straight to the next item of business, which is a continuation of the members' business debate on motion S2M-1578, in the name of Duncan McNeil, on international suicide prevention week.
Motion debated,

That the Parliament acknowledges the importance of International Suicide Prevention Week from 5 to 11 September 2004 for raising awareness of this cause of death; recognises that more people die as a result of suicide than from traffic accidents; commends the work being done by Choose life, Scotland's strategy aimed at reducing suicides by 20% over the next 10 years; welcomes the introduction to Scotland of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, helping develop more effective approaches to both identifying and assisting those most at risk of suicide, and looks forward to this suicide-reduction work continuing at a national and local level.


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It is a slightly unusual privilege to read in the Official Report that I rose to start my speech at 17:21 yesterday and am still continuing it nearly 24 hours later. I rather hope that that record will not be beaten, even though it was dictated by the rather unusual circumstances.

I congratulate Duncan McNeil on bringing this important subject to Parliament. I share his disappointment that the debate has been fractured. However, I am sure that the fact that it spreads over a long timescale will cause it to be read with particular interest. I will not speak at quite the length that I originally intended to because we have two members' business debates to conduct tonight.

One of the important things about suicide is that it comes in a variety of forms, not all of which politicians or anyone else can reasonably expect to have influence over. One form that is troubling the modern world is what I would term political suicide. It is not a new phenomenon, as anyone who has stood on the heights of Masada will know. Several thousand years ago, the community there committed mass suicide, apparently by choice, when confronted by the horrors of being overrun by a hostile mob. One has sympathy with that community. In 1968, Jan Palach immolated himself in Wenceslas Square as an expression of his personal despair at the quashing of the Prague spring. Of course, the Czech Republic is now a member of the European Union.

More sinister and worrying today is murder by suicide, whereby many young people are persuaded to commit suicide in order to murder others. I make this important little point before I move to the meat of the matter: we want Scotland to support real and locally appropriate democracy as the only way forward throughout the world. That is an important part of the prevention of political suicide, which happens in environments in which there is a democratic vacuum that provides no opportunity for the proper expression of political views.

Individuals are at the heart of this debate and international suicide prevention week. Of course, a number of factors can drive people to commit suicide. People who are physically ill can be driven in their extremity to take their own lives—perhaps when they are suffering from a terminal illness. That is not good for anyone—perhaps, for the person concerned. I hope that there will be many more opportunities throughout Scotland for people who are terminally ill to receive the appropriate pain management that means that they are less likely to take that extreme measure, which affects their families and friends.

Probably at the core of the matter is whether we offer the appropriate support to people who are mentally disturbed and whether we detect and catch such people early enough to ensure that they receive the support that means that they do not feel driven to commit suicide as a way out of their despair. Of course, there can be subtle interactions between mental and physical illness: a school classmate of mine had the grave misfortune to have a serious intestinal problem that required him to have a colostomy bag, the physical effects of which affected his mental state. He committed suicide.

Finally, there are people who commit suicide out of the blue—we do not know why. In my own family we experienced that seven years ago and to this day we do not know why that family member committed suicide.

We cannot help everyone who might commit suicide, but I hope that international suicide prevention week will help to raise the profile of the problem and reduce the numbers of people who do so.


Stewart Stevenson
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