Self-poisoning is the most common method of self-harm, according to Australian researchers. Between 12% and 25% of people will self-poison again within the first 12 months of the first attempt, they say.
A study, by the team from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, showed that regular postcard intervention nearly halved the rate of hospital readmissions for self-poisoning over a year.
Nearly 800 patients who had participated in the first study took part in follow-up for a further year. Half received usual treatment, while the other half received usual treatment plus eight postcards – sent in sealed envelopes over one year.
The researchers concluded that the intervention continued to be effective at 24 months in reducing repeat episodes of hospital-treated self-poisoning and benefits shown at 12 months were maintained.
The authors said the simplicity and low cost of the intervention meant it could easily be delivered from hospitals that have limited resources and from emergency departments with less extensive psychiatric services.
RCN mental health adviser Ian Hulatt said: ‘This is an innovative, cost-effective way of making people feel valued. As has previously been shown with similar initiatives using text messages, it is important for people with chaotic or impulsive natures just to know that someone cares.’
Jane Bunclark, clinical nurse leader at a self-harm service run by South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, added: ‘By keeping in contact and making regular enquiries, [healthcare] professionals can provide a psychological safety net for the patient.
‘I see no reason why this intervention can’t be used in the UK, as the criteria applied to the study would be equally relevant here,’ she said.
The researchers said a five-year follow-up study is planned.
British Journal of Psychiatry (2007) 191: 548–553