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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
Poetry bid to reduce suicide rate
Depressed man
The project aims to encourage men to talk about their emotions
A poet is to be appointed in a drive to reduce the number of people taking their own lives in the Highlands.

The poetry will be read at workshops and schools in a bid to encourage young men to talk about their emotions.

The arts organisation for the Highlands and Islands, HI-Arts, which is running the 4,000 project, has been accused of "insensitivity" by one politician.

But suicidal behaviour expert Rory O'Connor said anything that encouraged people to talk should be applauded.

"It's progressive to try to get a poet to engage with young people and their emotional issues, that can only be a positive thing," he said.

In recent years the suicide level in the Highlands and Islands has been above the national average, with 39 people taking their lives in the Highland Council area last year.

'Macho attitude'

HI-Arts co-ordinator Peter Urpeth said suicide rates were among the biggest challenges facing the area's communities.

"I think writing and arts should be close to the heart of our understanding of these issues," he said.

"The poet who will work with us on this project will be an exceptional writer who can bring insight and, I hope, new understanding to this issue."

The idea of somebody writing about suicide is insensitive to the many families who are fighting hard to cope with their grief
Mary Scanlon MSP
Scottish Conservatives

Joyce MacRae, whose husband Stephen committed suicide, said the main problem in the Highlands was the "macho attitude of men".

She said: "Scottish Highland men aren't very good at talking to other men about things. They keep themselves to themselves. It's a macho thing."

But the secretary of the newly-formed Suicide Awareness Group said she was sceptical about whether poetry could help reduce the suicide rate.

"They'd be better giving the money to charity like us that deals directly with those affected," she said.

Suicide prevention organisation Choose Life said anything which reached out to people contemplating suicide should be supported.

'Romanticising suicide'

But Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon said she felt "very uncomfortable" about the initiative.

"The idea of somebody writing about suicide is insensitive to the many families who are fighting hard to cope with their grief," she said.

"It also romanticises suicide and makes it more of an option. The more suicide is talked about the more likely people are to consider it as a course of action."

The successful candidate will be funded by the Scottish Arts Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.

Highland suicide toll is revealed
11 Jul 05 |  Scotland
Poorer Scots at risk of suicide
22 Dec 04 |  Scotland
Plea to reduce Highland suicides
04 Oct 04 |  Scotland
Call for full suicide inquiries
19 May 04 |  Scotland
Training to spot suicide risks
08 Sep 03 |  Scotland

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