SCOTLAND is the only UK nation to record a rise in suicides, the latest figures confirm.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows the proportion of those who died by suicide last year increased at the same time as decreases were recorded in Wales, England and Northern Ireland.

A total of 728 people in Scotland died this way in 2016, a rise of 56 on the previous year.

According to ONS, the change was driven by an increase in the number of men taking their own lives, with the rate per 100,000 people going from 20.6 in 2015 to 22 last year. A smaller rise was recorded for women, from 7.9 in 2015 to 8.4.

The latest figures come as further information was released by Northern Ireland, which has the highest proportion of suicides in the UK, and follows the publication of data from the National Records of Scotland that showed suicides had risen for the first time in six years.

While the problem is more acute in Northern Ireland, with the male suicide rate at 27.3 per 100,000 people, this is a reduction from the 30.3 recorded during the previous year.

Professor Rory O’Connor, who leads Glasgow University’s Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory, told The National it was too early to draw firm conclusions on what was behind the change.

He said: This is the first increase in suicides in Scotland for a number of years, so although this is really worrying and every suicide is a tragedy, it is too early to say whether it is a trend, and I hope not.

“As the Scottish Government prepares to publish its new suicide prevention action plan in 2018, it is vital that we all do our part to ensure suicide prevention remains a national priority. Scotland has led the way internationally in recent years, but we need to ensure that resources dedicated to suicide prevention are enhanced in the years to come.

“Suicide prevention is everyone’s business and there is so much more that needs to be done in Scotland, given that deaths by suicide remain higher in Scotland compared to the UK as a whole.”

Samaritans volunteers in Scotland will put in 6,000 hours over the festive season to listen to anyone seeking support. The charity’s executive director for Scotland, James Jopling, said: “With suicide rates falling so consistently in Scotland in recent years, any rise has to be seen as an early warning sign. While we know that rates can fluctuate year-on-year, what we desperately don’t want to see is this turning into a trend. We saw an 18 per cent fall in the suicide rate during the time of the first suicide prevention strategy, at a time when rates were rising in other parts of the UK. Now that this has reversed, we need a renewed commitment. Scotland needs bold action.”

Meanwhile, the Mental Health Foundation is calling for anti-suicide training for all health workers and new guidance for teachers and employers. Policy manager Toni Giugliano said: “We need to see greater investment in social prevention.

“It’s clear that people living in poverty are at a much greater risk of suicide. We are calling on the Scottish Government to commit to tackling inequalities that often are the root causes.”

Mental health minister Maureen Watt said: “Every suicide is a tragedy with a far-reaching impact on family, friends and the community long after a person has died. The rise in the number of suicides in 2016 was disappointing, but over the longer term the Scottish suicide rate fell by 17 per cent over the last decade.

“Prevention of suicide continues to be a priority area for the Scottish Government and we will publish a refreshed draft suicide prevention action plan in early Spring 2018, with a programme of public engagement scheduled around this.”