Research Suicide — 12 December 2014

Mental health experts say suicide treatment in Australian hospitals is inconsistent, and people trying to get help are often dismissed and misunderstood.

Concerns have also been raised that suicidal patients are being discharged from hospitals too early, or not admitted at all.

A new study, conducted by mental health charity SANE Australia and researchers from the University of New England, observed Australians who have attempted suicide.

SANE’s suicide prevention manager Sarah Coker said for every person who took their own life, it was estimated that 20 more people had also attempted suicide.

Ms Coker said people who have attempted suicide did not always get the complete care they needed and took their own lives after seeing a health professional.

“I think unfortunately we don’t really hear about that… most people wouldn’t find that acceptable,” she said.

People feel they are not being taken seriously

The study also found 80 per cent of the patients who had attempted suicide said they had had a negative experience in hospital.depressed man on steps

Some were turned away at the emergency department while others were discharged from hospital before they felt ready to leave.

“We still had a number of people who described negative experiences when they went to hospital and that was sometimes around the feeling that they perhaps weren’t taken seriously and weren’t able to be admitted, or that they were admitted but felt that they were discharged quite quickly,” Ms Coker said.

She said that made those people less likely to get help.

“If they’re scared that the reaction is going to be judgmental or negative, or not very helpful, they’re even less likely to talk about it and less likely to seek help and I think that’s why it’s so important that we try and break down some of those myths and stereotypes around people who attempt suicide.”

Medical director of mental health at Melbourne’s Austin Health hospital, Associate Professor Richard Newton, said staying at length in a hospital bed is not always appropriate for people who are suicidal.

“For some people being admitted to hospital can be traumatic or distressing and can certainly lead to an increased sense of disconnection,” Mr Newton said.

However he argued that if a suicidal patient was leaving a hospital, it was crucial that doctors and nurses gave them information about follow-up care “to further that intensive treatment planning and linking a person on to the next series of supports that’s going to help them work through all of the issues that have led them to trying to take their own life in the first place”.

A struggle to get medical attention

Participant in the study, Kristin, has struggled with suicidal thoughts for most of her life and attempted suicide as a teenager.

She has also found it difficult to get medical attention.

“You can be really profoundly unwell and trying everything you can do to find appropriate help, and either get dismissed or not listened to, or get very unhelpful help,” she said.

“Finding appropriate help that is fairly compassionate and actually tries genuinely to help you rather than, you know, get you in and out the door as quickly as possible, is really very difficult.”

The study’s report recommends hospitals improve admission and discharge procedures for people experiencing suicidal thoughts.

This article first appeared on ‘ABC‘ on 12 December 2014.


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