“DO not forsake us” was the urgent plea from mental health patients to NHS chiefs after it emerged Swindon has experienced a jump of 60 per cent in suicides since 2005.
Ann Mooney, the chairman of mental health support charity SUNS, put patients’ questions and concerns to bosses, warning them that only a deep change in attitudes and treatment would reverse the alarming rise in suicides at a meeting of Swindon Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday.
New figures released by the council revealed that 26 suicides were reported in 2012 compared to 11 in 2005. Measured, as the suicide rate is, in blocks of three years as a pooled average, it represented a rise of 60.2 per cent.
The increase reflects a UK-wide trend, especially since the start of the financial crisis, and is on a par with the national average.
Ann told elected members: “It’s about time people started listening to the patients and not just listening to what we users call ‘the people of power above’.
“We are not saying that there are not some good staff on the ground but the service users feel they are a statistic – that they are a number and that no-one cares about them.
“When a person dies, the mental health services have a meeting to learn from that suicide. How many more people have to die for them to learn? We need to look not just at suicides but the statistics of how many people attempted suicide.”
Getting to the root of the issue and placing renewed focus on the families of patients diagnosed with depression or who have attempted suicide was crucial, she added.
Ann, who herself suffers from mental health problems and has attempted suicide, also questioned current practices under which, she said, drug users and patients dependent on alcohol were, she claimed, given inadequate care, if any, due to their addiction – an addiction too often triggered by depression and a sense of helplessness.
Health chiefs agreed to provide a detailed formal answer to her questions at a later date.
Coun Roderick Bluh (Con, Old Town) expressed concerns at what he saw as a very medical approach, which meant that those most isolated in the community too often fell off the mental health or social services’ radar.
“This really is an issue that needs to be looked at,” he said. “Being alone and isolated is a key component to this.
“A lot of people are known to the mental health services but many are not. The prevention strategy seems very medically-oriented and there doesn’t seem to be much emotional support available to stop lonely people in the community going down that path we don’t want them to go.”
Newlands Anning, head of profession and practice at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, said the organisation was in the process of putting together a new suicide prevention strategy and would soon create a self-harm register monitoring patients admitted to the Great Western Hospital’s A&E department.