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Suicide & Psychiatric illness : a new strategy to reduce deaths in the UK

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    It is estimated 1 in 4 people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of the next year. What are the signs to out for that something may be wrong and what is being done by organisations to combat this issue?

    By Lucy Crawford

Psychiatric illness is still very much seen as a difficult subject to both discuss and understand.  This has to change to prevent unnecessary deaths in the UK and this has been the subject of ongoing debate, particularly recently

Common mental health problems and their symptoms:

Depression : A depressive episode can vary in terms of its severity and can cause sleep disturbance, poor concentration and suicidal thoughts. Warning signs include low mood, fatigue, lack of energy and a lack of interest or enjoyment of life.

Anxiety : an exaggerated response to normal threats or danger such as extreme worry often accompanied by rapid breathing and hot/cold sweats.   Signs include – you can not do what other people do such as crossing the road or leaving the house, you find yourself avoiding large groups of people or you can not concentrate or following a conversation.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder : obsessions are repetitive thoughts which although may be seen as irrational, can not be stopped.  Compulsions are rituals which people feel compelled to repeat in an attempt to relieve anxiety.

Suicide

For 2013, it is reported by the Office of National Statistics that there were 6,233 deaths as a result of suicide.

What is being done to help?

I read recently the findings of a recent study in the USA carried out by The Henry Ford Medical Group in Detroit.  The findings showed that improved staff training, increased contact with patients and better education for the families of people who were deemed to be at risk reduced the suicide rate by over 75%.

Examples of work being undertaken in the UK include Mersey Care NHS Trust in Liverpool which is now adopting a similar strategy and ensuring there is a 24/7 group of experts who can rapidly assesses patients who are having suicidal thoughts.  They are also working on improving the care of people who present with self-harm injuries at accident and emergency and improving data collection to get a better understanding of how and where patients are most at risk.   This is only the beginning of a long term project and hopefully will soon be rolled out across other NHS Trusts.

To me, it seems that with the right help and support, suicide may often be preventable and therefore more must be done to provide this help and support, in the same way as resources would be provided to treat patients with a life threatening physical illness.

Unfortunately my experience of representing families affected by the suicide of a love one where there is evidence of negligent treatment, is that there are frequently factors working against this.  These include an incorrect diagnosis of a mental health problem, a failure to assess the suicide risk, inappropriate discharge from mental health services or a delay in providing much needed treatment.

Improving the accessibility of services and ensuring professionals see the right people as quickly as possible seems key to reducing the rate of suicide.

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