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09 Sep 2022

SANE believes many suicides can be prevented

Suicide is not always an impulsive or inevitable act, but a process which can be interrupted with the right kind of help

Very few people are determined to take their own life but many in contact with mental health services do after long waits, being not properly assessed and sent home because they’re deemed not a priority.

Everyone in contact with somebody at risk – family, carers, friends or healthcare professionals – should feel confident to “interrupt” the downward spiral of a person’s negative thoughts and persuade people that there are alternative sources of help and hope.

A suicidal person is no different from anybody else who needs a community of support. Equally, nobody should be supporting a suicidal person on their own. Everyone should take a mention of suicide seriously.

We are concerned that many people do not have access to out-of-hours crisis lines and that we continue to fail to provide sanctuary in times of crisis.

Struggling to cope

Ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day (Saturday 10 September), ONS figures revealed this week that there were 5,583 suicides registered in 2021 in England and Wales, 6.9% higher than in 2020 (5,224 deaths). The rate returned to pre-pandemic levels following a drop in 2020 due to a decrease in male suicides at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and delays in death registrations because of the pandemic.

Overstretched NHS services are struggling to cope with increasing demand and are pushed to breaking point. Any ambition to reduce the number of avoidable tragedies will not succeed unless a suicide prevention strategy ensures that resources reach frontline services, more beds for assessment and inpatient care are available and 24-hour community crisis teams can respond when an individual’s needs escalate.

The practice of mental health services sending acutely ill mental health patients to out-of-area hospitals heightens the risk of suicide on discharge and must stop.

Mental health services should involve families, carers and others close to a person who may be at risk, and give them the opportunity to express views on potential risk.

In SANE’s experience, too often patient confidentiality is used as an excuse for not involving them. This is despite the expectation that families, carers and friends will often provide most of the ongoing care and support.

There is no bigger red-flag warning than one from a family member over a person’s suicide risk.

Duty of service

Most people at risk will be living in the community. The suicide rate for mentally ill people being cared for at home is higher than that of patients in hospital, and there are too many cases of people neglected and at risk because they have been discharged too early in the hope that they will be able to live safely in the community.

Recent analysis by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that between April 2020 and May 2022, some 37,999 follow-ups with mental health patients after leaving inpatient facilities weren’t made within the critical 72-hour window.

Families should be made aware that the person they are caring for should be contacted within this timeframe as a  ‘duty of service’, with specialist staff available at a patient’s home or in a care setting.

If a person is at risk after a heart operation, they will receive follow-up care, so why is this the time patients at risk of suicide are not treated in similar way?

We can prevent suicides. Most people who attempt it and survive are glad they did so.

The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 700,000 people die by suicide worldwide every year. World Suicide Prevention Day was established in 2003 by the International Association for Suicide Prevention in conjunction with the WHO. Creating hope through action is the triennial theme from 2021 – 2023.

Further reading

SANE responds to latest ONS data on suicides – 6 Sept 2022

SANE on Suicide presents the findings from our suicide prevention research

SANE: Preventing suicide

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