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Suicides among mental health patients on the up in England


The number of mentally ill people who commit suicide is on the increase, figures suggest.

There were 1,333 suicides among mental health patients in England in 2011 - up from 1,175 in 2010, according to new provisional statistics.

Researchers from the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness said that “current economic difficulties” are likely to be a contributory factor to the increase.

Experts said that more needs to be done to help mental health patients with debts, housing and employment.

Professor Louis Appleby, director of the National Confidential Inquiry, said: “The increase in suicide among mental health patients is in line with an increase in the general population and is mostly likely due to the current economic circumstances.

“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.

“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. Particular caution is needed with home treatment for patients who live alone or are reluctant to accept treatment.”

Janet Davies, executive director of nursing and service delivery for the Royal College of Nursing added: “Any suicide is a personal tragedy, and one whose effects can be felt by families for many years. Working to help people at risk of suicide is uniquely challenging, but the progress which has been made in preventing suicide by inpatients shows that the compassion and commitment of mental health staff does make a difference.

“Nurses will be very concerned about the rising number of people who are committing suicide while being treated at home. The reasons for this are highly complex, and the government, NHS and clinicians must work together to understand as much as possible about how these tragedies can be prevented.

“Sadly, we know from past experience that many people do reach a crisis point in their mental health after a number of years of economic downturn. The mental health of the population provides a significant and urgent impetus for efforts to improve economic stability across the board. It also makes it more important than ever that services are available to meet the extra demand generated by the economic downturn.”

The research, conducted by experts from the University of Manchester, found that the number of people murdered by mentally ill patients was 33 in England in 2010 - the lowest figure since 1997.

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Readers' comments (8)

  • michael stone

    What are the figures for people who commit suicide and who do not have mental illness - are those increasing by similar percentages ? Are there even any figures ?

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  • According to the Office for National Statistics :

    "In 2011 there were 6,045 suicides in people aged 15 and over in the UK, an increase of 437 compared with 2010."

    So in theory 6045 - 1333 = 4712 suicides by people who were not mental health patients (presuming the stats are comparable - e.g. in age ranges).

    How many were "mentally ill" but not "patients" is anyone's guess (?) but would still suggest large numbers of people committing suicide who are not mentally ill ?

    The ONS also stated :

    "The UK suicide rate increased significantly between 2010 and 2011, from 11.1 to 11.8 deaths per 100,000 population."

    With no real improvements in the economy and benefit changes having a cumulative impact, this doesn't bode well for 2012 and 2013 ...

    But that won't stop the politicians and their media going after "benefits scroungers" etc ...

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  • michael stone

    Chris Stevens | 4-Jul-2013 5:35 pm

    I suppose I threw the question out, partly because judges clearly believe that something akin to 'rational suicide' exists, but HCPs tend to be much more 'conflicted' about that.

    As you pointed out, you can't know whether undiagnosed mental health problems exist or not - I suppose my definition of a 'rational suicide' would be something like:

    'A suicide which if considered by most secular people, appeared to be a reasonable choice in the circumstances'

    and as it happens, that avoids entirely 'mental health issues' in the sense that if the circumstances might make suicide 'seem rational' if there were not mental health issues, the presence of mental health issues would not be very relevant. Unless it was the presence of mental health issues, which made suicide seem rational (which is possible, if the mental health issue creates ongoing and extreme mental torment, and there is no prospect of the MHI being 'cured': see the Kerrie Wooltorton case).

    I was also touching on the other issue you raised, that as the world seems to currently 'be in something of a mess' you would probably expect suicide rates to rise anyway.

    Issues of suicide/mental health/mental capacity seem to be very challenging, and are probably more challenging for HCPs to think about, than for non-HCPs ?

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  • Oops - I made an elementary error in the ONS stats I quoted - they were for the whole of the UK, not just England !

    The figures for England in 2011 are 4509 suicides.

    So in theory 4509 - 1333 = 3176 suicides by people who were not mental health patients (again presuming the stats are comparable - e.g. in age ranges).

    ONS records an increase of 6% between 2010 and 2011, from 9.8 to 10.4 deaths per 100,000 population (in England).

    Re your other comments Michael, I guess there is another possibility in addition to someone being "mentally ill" or "rational" and that is that they are simply "distressed" for whatever reason.

    The last time I looked this was an entirely normal part of the human condition, and not a mental illness, so the obvious premise that one doesn't have to be mentally ill to commit suicide remains.

    Still dreadfully sad for all concerned tho ...

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  • "The last time I looked this was an entirely normal part of the human condition, and not a mental illness, so the obvious premise that one doesn't have to be mentally ill to commit suicide remains."

    unfortunately many psychotherapists and other MH profis. do not hold this view and it is not upheld by their theories. It is perhaps not in their own best interests!

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  • michael stone

    Chris Stevens | 6-Jul-2013 7:12 am

    'Still dreadfully sad for all concerned tho ...'

    Yes, indeed - I was recently discussing the Kerrie Wooltorton case (she took poison to commit suicide, but also went to hospital because she did not wish to die alone) with my paramedic contact, and my conclusion was that it was very sad and tragic, but it was also correct to let her die. It seems to be contentious amongst HCPs - an excellent write-up of the case, can be found at:

    Anonymous | 6-Jul-2013 8:47 am

    It is true that many things I wouldn't consider to be 'clinical mental conditions' seem to be regarded as such by some medics.

    But my paramedic contact set me off on this Wooltorton theme, when he told me that he is doing 'self harm and the Mental Capacity Act' for his Masters dissertation (challenging choice, to my mind). Once it is accepted that attempting suicide does not necessarily indicate that a person lacks the subsequent mental capacity to refuse offered treatment (and judges are clear - attempted suicide of itself, does NOT automatically prove that someone 'lacks mental capacity') it all gets VERY complicated !

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  • dsm V was to have suicidal ideation as a diagnostic category in it's own right, but shyed away and put it in the "pending" section (for later review.)

    exceptions were to be made for religious or political suicide, eg. self-immolating hindu widows or tibetan monks. so currently although a symptom in several illnesses, suicide on it's own is not a dsm illness. and i believe it's no longer a crime in the uk.

    so, in the absence of other symptoms like appetite or sleep disturbance, etc. preventing someone from suicide is depriving them of their liberty, and as regards capacity, if they meet all the other criteria to demonstrate capacity someone has the right to make what in professional's eyes may be a poor decision.

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  • could it be, as reported in many of the other services in the NHS, related to staff shortages and failure to give adequate attention to and delivery of care and treatment patients need?

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