Page last updated at 00:02 GMT, Thursday, 10 September 2009 01:02 UK

Helpline promoted on cell walls

St Leonards police station
The move at St Leaonards is the first of its kind

A mental health group's phone number has been painted on the cell walls at an Edinburgh police station in the first move of its kind.

The Breathing Space phone number and website address has been painted in St Leonards custody suite for people who are feeling down, depressed or anxious.

On leaving the cell, vulnerable people will also be given a Breathing Space card so they can contact an adviser.

About 22,000 people a year pass through the custody suite at St Leonards.

Officials said many of those who come into custody share the same characteristics of those most at risk of suicide - males between the ages of 18-44 with drug or other problems in their life.

In 2008, there were 843 undetermined deaths and suicides in Scotland and 75% of those were men, with younger men being at particular risk. Statistics show people living in areas of deprivation are also at the highest risk of suicide.

Painting the Breathing Space website and phone number in the cell will hopefully remind them that there are people who are willing to help
Ch Insp Tony Beveridge
Lothian and Borders Police

The launch of the initiative coincides with Suicide Prevention Week, which runs from 7 - 13 September. World Suicide Prevention Day is on Thursday.

The scheme is being piloted at St Leonards Police Station, where the majority of vulnerable prisoners are taken, however Lothian and Borders Police plan to roll out the scheme in the other custody suites throughout the force - at Livingston, Dalkeith, and Hawick.

It is the first time a Scottish Police Force has introduced such measures, and it compliments the existing set-up at St Leonard's, where NHS nurses have been working in the custody suite for the past three years.

The nurses provide care and intervention with prisoners who are identified as vulnerable either through their behaviour or circumstances of their arrest.

Self harm

Ch Insp Tony Beveridge, Lothian and Borders Police force custody manager, said: "There is an opportunity to intervene in a positive sense in some people's lives whilst they are in custody.

"We deal with a lot of cases where prisoners try to harm themselves and we carry out individual risk assessments and have specialised clothing and cells to try to minimise instances of self harm.

"Our partnership with Breathing Space offers another route for diversion and is aimed at providing prisoners with information about where they can get help when they leave custody.

"Painting the Breathing Space website and phone number in the cell will hopefully remind them that there are people who are willing to help and we will reinforce this by supplying them with a card with those details on their departure."

Breathing Space national co-ordinator Tony McLaren said: "This increased support for people in custody is a simple but effective way to offer help and advice to individuals who are struggling with complex problems and often living difficult and chaotic lives.

"The new service reinforces the message that help is available for some of the most vulnerable in our society at a period in their lives when they may be experiencing extreme anxiety or feelings of isolation."

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