THE needs and treatment of children at risk of suicide are left out of global government policy, Scottish research suggests.

Work by Stirling University has revealed “gaps” and “inconsistencies” in policy documents taken from around the world.

While most recommend that children who have self-harmed or are deemed to be at-risk of suicide should be assessed by a specialist practitioner, most lack any clear guidance beyond this.

Study leaders say this shows children are being overlooked in anti-suicide planning.

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Lynne Gilmour, of the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit (NMAHP-RU) at Stirling, said: “Suicide is a global health policy priority, with nearly 800,000 lives lost to suicide annually, and reducing rates is a target of the World Health Organisation Mental Health Action Plan.

“This scoping review mapped key policy documents worldwide and established how they addressed the treatment and care needs of children and young people who are suicidal.

“It highlighted a potential gap in policy that could lead to the needs of this very vulnerable group being overlooked, and varying interpretations of how they should be provided for.

“National guidelines – in countries including the UK, New Zealand and Ireland – contain recommendations that children and young people who are considered to be at risk of suicide are assessed by a child and adolescent mental health practitioner, however, stop short of recommending treatments and interventions beyond this.”

The review, published in the specialist BMJ Open, looked at 35 policy documents that address suicide prevention approaches for children up to the age of 18.

The study found that the Scottish Government’s Suicide Prevention Strategy 2013-2016 made no reference to suicidal young people.

And while the Scottish Government Mental Health Strategy 2017-2027 does have a section addressing the mental health needs of young people, Gilmour’s team found that there is “no reference to children who are suicidal”.

However, it does include a statement noting that “suicide prevention remains a government priority that will be dealt with separately”.

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The Scottish Government does not publish annual suicide rates for children under 15.

However, figures released by the NHS Information Services Division earlier this year revealed that the suicide rate in Scotland rose to a five year high, with cases amongst those aged 15-24 up 50% over 12 months.

The overall total of 784 lives lost was the highest since 2013, with three times as many men affected as women.

But for young people, the rate reached a 10-year high of 15.1 in every 100,000 Scots aged 15 to 24.

The problem was most acute in the worst-off areas, where suicide rates were three times higher than the richest communities.