The mental health charities Rethink Mental Illness and Mind have issued a joint response to the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide, published today (16 July 2014) by the University of Manchester.
According to researchers, people who use mental health services are at their highest risk of dying by suicide in the first few weeks after leaving hospital. Over 3,200 people died by suicide in the UK within the first three months of their discharge between 2002 to 2012. The report also raises concerns about the number of deaths by people with mental health problems who have been restrained by ward staff, including five such deaths in 2012 alone.
It also highlights that the recent fall in homicides committed by people with mental illness has been sustained.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:
“It is shocking that so many suicides are occurring in just a few weeks after patients leave hospital. This is an important time in someone’s steps towards recovery when they need quality help and support around them. We need to understand why this is happening and make sure that action is being taken to better support people after they are discharged from hospital.
“Mind’s own research has shown that, in many parts of the country, crisis care teams are under-resourced, understaffed and overstretched. We have also heard about beds being cut and the sometimes desperate struggle that people face in finding a bed which can mean being sent miles away from home. We would be very concerned if this pressure on beds and budget cuts means that patients are now being discharged from hospital before they are ready, putting them at risk. With the General Election now under a year away, the next government needs to commit to increasing investment in mental health - there really isn’t any room for belt tightening.
“It is upsetting to see that there were five deaths following incidents of restraint in 2012. Pinning someone face down on the floor is humiliating, dangerous and as these statistics show can be fatal. We have seen some welcome developments this year in working towards an end to face down restraint, particularly the new guidance about restraint issued earlier this year. We hope that with its implementation we will see an end to the use of face down restraint and that deaths and serious injuries can be made a ‘never event’ in the NHS.”
Mark Winstanley, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness said:
“These new stats highlight the serious lack of support available to people with mental illness in the community. The fact that so many people take their own lives within two weeks of leaving hospital clearly shows that we need more services in place to help people recover from a crisis. Far too many people are also missing out on crucial treatments such as Early Intervention, which would make a huge difference in helping them avoid reaching crisis point in the first place.
“This is completely unacceptable. We know which services are most effective in helping people recover from mental illness, and offer the NHS significant long-term savings. Now we need the Government to invest in those services as an urgent priority. Not only will it save money, but more importantly it will save lives too.
“It’s also really important to put into perspective the figures about homicides by people who use mental health services. Each and every death in these circumstances is absolutely tragic, and we do not in any way want to dismiss the pain caused to the individual families involved. But it is important that the public understand how small the real risk is. Violent crimes of any nature by people with mental illness are extremely rare, and these stats show that the numbers have decreased over the past few years.
“In fact, 95% of all homicides are committed by people who don’t have a mental health problem. But because we often talk about conditions like schizophrenia in the context of a violent incident, it’s created a false association between mental illness and violence. We don’t hear about the vast majority of people with mental health problems who are quietly getting on with their lives and pose no threat to anyone.”