The number of mental health patients who have died by suicide has hit its highest level in the 10-year-period analysed by a national inquiry into the issue, according to new figures.
The latest annual report by the National confidential inquiry into suicide and homicide by people with mental illness recorded 1,333 mental health patient suicides in England in 2011, up from 1,175 in 2010. The “difficult economic circumstances” facing many people is likely to lie behind the rise, researchers said.
The research team behind the study called for services to step up safety measures for mental health patients receiving home treatment, after data showed there are now twice as many suicide deaths among community patients as those in inpatient care.
“Particular caution is needed with patients who live alone or refuse treatment and when patients are discharged from hospital into crisis resolution or home treatment,” the report stated.
The inquiry also found that the number of mental health patients who had committed homicide has fallen to its lowest level since the inquiry was set up in 2001. The use of Community Treatment Orders “may have contributed” to the fall in patient homicides, the report said.
Professor Louis Appleby, director of the inquiry, said that the increase in mental health patient suicides is in line with trends in the general population.
“Although these are only early indicators, it would suggest services should try to address the economic difficulties of patients who might be at risk of suicide,” said Appleby.
“Ensuring patients receive advice on debts, housing and employment could make a difference, while improvements in home treatment should now become a priority for suicide prevention,” he added.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, warned that the fact crisis teams in many parts of the country are “understaffed and overstretched” means many people in crisis are not getting the support they need.
“Good services can make a huge difference to whether someone recovers from a mental health crisis, yet we often hear from people who have been turned away because they ‘aren’t suicidal enough’ or who have been made to wait for hours to be assessed and offered help,” said Farmer.
“When people in crisis don’t get the help they need, the consequences can be catastrophic.”
For confidential support call Samaritans on 08457 909090