Research Suicide — 29 July 2014

Well-presenting people who have survived a suicide attempt have encountered dismissive and negative attitudes in the health sector, according to the results of new research.

SANE Australia, a national mental health charity, and University of England research found judgemental attitudes still exist among some allied health professionals, nurses and doctors when it comes to treating people who have attempted suicide.

SANE Australia suicide prevention manager Sarah Coker said the study showed some health professionals had assumptions about how those who have survived suicide should present.

“There were a few people who talked about because they were actually quite articulate and well-presented that they weren’t taken as seriously,” she said.

“People thought – you can’t that unwell, you look fine, you’ve got a successful job and a supportive family.

“Even though they were talking about feeling suicidal or having recently attempted suicide, they weren’t always then referred into a mental health service or a hospital and they felt that they weren’t taken seriously.

“So there’s almost a stigma that comes with looking quite well even though internally you’re not doing that well.”young female doctor

Ms Coker said the results came as a surprise.

“This is recent research, this is people talking about the last few years,” she said.

“Although I think there’s been a lot of progress, I think that there are still pockets out there where people perhaps don’t get the care that they should.

“Health services are very stretched and I think everybody understands that but when somebody has attempted suicide, that’s a time when people really do need care and support and need to be taken seriously.”

As part of the study, 31 people from across Australia who have made an attempt on their life were asked to reveal their experiences, any support, whether they had talked to their family and friends about the attempt, and what helped or hindered their recovery.

Eighty-seven per cent of participants said they were diagnosed with at least one mental illness while 15 reported one or more suicide attempts and 11 reported multiple attempts throughout their lives.

Triggers included symptoms of mental illness, a lack of professional support, being bereaved by suicide, and drug and alcohol use.

“There were lots and lots of examples where people tried to access supports, usually at hospitals where they had trouble actually either being admitted in the first place or staying in as long as they felt they needed – they felt they were discharged too early,” Ms Coker said.

The research also challenged perceptions that suicide is ‘a selfish act’, with many survivors stating they made the attempt because they felt they were a ‘burden’ and believed their family and friends would be ‘better off’ without them.

Ms Coker said health professionals need to be understanding of people’s pain and their experiences when it comes to attempted suicide.

“I think that we need to reduce the stigma associated with suicide, so that people are more likely to go and get help and they feel that they will be heard and helped in that situation,” she said.

The latest ABS figures show more than 2500 people took their own lives in 2012, and suicide was the leading cause of death for Australians aged 15-44, with the highest rate among middle-aged men.

This article first appeared on ‘Nursing Careers Allied Health’ on 28 July 2014.

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