A campaign for better mental health provision and early intervention in the community has been launched by the Royal College of Nursing in partnership with the family of a man who took his own life after receiving inconsistent care.
The family of Martin Strain has joined forces with the RCN and the Mental Health Foundation to highlight the need for people with mental health to have better access to treatment.
They want to see more community-based mental health staff employed to triage patients that present to GPs with mental health conditions.
“We are no longer in the dark ages in terms of knowing how to treat mental illness. But..there needs to be a step change in the way in which community services are staffed and resourced”
Coordinated care plans should also be in place, they say, for people who have moderate or severe depression and are also at risk – due to factors including age, gender, drug use and major trauma – at a lower threshold than is currently required.
The family is also calling for better support for GPs, so they can work more closely with other mental health services and recognise warning signs for those at risk of suicide.
Martin Strain took his own life in 2014 after experiencing severe depression over a period of several years.
His GP was aware of his condition and prescribed him anti-depressants. However, the family claim she referred him to mental health services that she had little knowledge of and that he saw more than a dozen different counsellors and psychiatrists over seven years.
Meanwhile, his family added he was not allowed to access secondary services, because it was felt that his drug and alcohol abuse would have hindered his engagement with talking therapies.
Two weeks before he died, he visited his GP for a review and more anti-depressants but the doctor failed to ask if he was suicidal, they added.
His family believes that if he had received more consistent, coordinated care he would have been less likely to have missed appointments and could have responded better to available treatments.
“We need to step back and ask what reasonable steps can be taken to prevent people from having to reach mental health crisis”
His father Adrian Strain said: “While no one can say with confidence that Martin’s depression would ever have been cured, if a community-based nurse as well as sustained care from a coordinated care plan had been available to Martin through that GP, we would at least be able to satisfy ourselves now that Martin was as well supported as possible.”
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “Suicide is a complex issue, and it is difficult to say with certainty that individual deaths can be prevented, but we must listen to families like the Strains who have spoken so eloquently about their son’s experience and the gaps in the provision of care.
“We are no longer in the dark ages in terms of understanding or knowing how to treat mental illness – treatments do exist and do work for many people,” he said. “But for everyone to benefit from these advances, there needs to be a step change in the way in which community services are staffed and resourced.”
Jenny Edwards, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, added: “Ultimately, we need excellent care, but we also need to step back and ask what reasonable steps can be taken to prevent people from having to reach mental health crises. Early intervention is the key”.
Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, published yesterday, showed a particular rise in suicides among men during 2013 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – making it the highest rate since 2001.
Overall, there were 6,233 suicides among people aged 15 and over in the UK in 2013, 252 more than in
2012 – a 4% increase. Of these, 78% occurred in males and 22% were in females.
Within England, the suicide rate was highest in the North East at 13.8 deaths per 100,000 and lowest in London at 7.4 per 100,000 population.