One in three people who present to health services in NSW following a suicide attempt will not receive a mental health followup, an alarming new study has found.
The study conducted by Dr Fiona Shand from the Black Dog Institute and the Centre for Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention is the first of its kind to look at the patient’s experience of medical services following a suicide attempt -- starting with the care given in hospitals.
The report raised serious concerns over the treatment of patients who have attempted suicide as well as a breakdown in communication between hospitals and GPs following the discharge of a patient who has attempted suicide.
Many patients also reported negative experiences with mental health professionals, describing staff as "dismissive, negative and angry".
“Being picked up by an ambulance or going to the Emergency Room is a pretty scary experience -- especially for someone in a highly distressed state -- and to not be treated well in that first instance means the patient will be less likely to seek help in the future,” Shand told The Huffington Post Australia.
“Many health professionals are committed to providing good care to those experiencing mental illness and suicidal thoughts but nevertheless they work within a health system under stress.
"We need to ensure that frontline staff are properly trained and resourced to address psychological distress as well as physical injuries with compassion."
Although there are no substantial national statistics on followups for suicide attempts, The Black Dog Institute told HuffPost Australia it was likely that other states would report similar results to NSW because the level of mental health services is generally consistent across the country.
Dr Stephen Carbone, policy research and evaluation leader at beyondblue, said initial followups were a crucial step in addressing underlying psychological issues and helping prevent further suicide attempts.
“People who are making a suicide attempt are often experiencing high levels of psychological distress or mental ill health. A follow up is a great opportunity to start asking what’s going on and how can we help,” he told HuffPost Australia.
“People who make one suicide attempt are far more likely to make another attempt unless the problems that contributed to their stress is diagnosed and dealt with.”
Beyondblue estimated between 15 and 25 percent of people who attempt suicide would do so again.
Carbone said physical and psychological followups as well as tailored assistance, such as financial or relationship counselling, were crucial.
Shand, too, said such followups were an integral part of ensuring a full recovery and that they were too often overlooked or ignored.
“A lack of appropriate mental health care meant people were often discharged too rapidly and without the knowledge of loved ones and in this situation, future suicide risk is increased,” Shand said in a press release.
“The current discharge plan in place whereby a handover is done from the hospital to the patient’s GP, psychiatrist or psychologist isn’t always happening -- and it’s been an ongoing problem for many years.”
This was due to hospitals being under resourced and having inadequate systems in place, Shand said. But the process is also failing when a patient is moved from private to public healthcare -- and between state and federal funded services.
Carbone said a beyondblue program called The Way Back Support Service aimed to bridge the gap. Currently being trialled in the Northern Territory, Carbone said the initiative would soon roll out across the country.
“It is a worrying trend that people aren’t being connected with the public mental health system. That’s exactly what they need. You don’t want to discharge people back to the same circumstances without any support,” he said.
“The post suicide attempt follow up needs to be improved.”
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows suicide rates in Australian have increased, up from 2,132 in 2009 to more than 2,500 in 2012.
“We’d like to see a system of after-care put in place where hospitals take full responsibility of the patient by not only following up with them but ensuring they are navigated through the health system -- to appointments and specialists -- and more importantly ensuring the proposed treatment suits that patient,” said Shand.