Reducing avoidable suicides – a legal perspective

Ben Ward of Ashton KCJ

Ben Ward of Ashton KCJ - Credit: Archant

Legally Speaking with Ashton KCJ

Around 4,400 people in England take their own lives each year.

That is one suicide every two hours and 12 each day. Suicide remains one of the biggest killers amongst men under 35 and it is difficult to understand why this is, given how much has been done to try to break down the stigma once associated with mental ill-health.

There is a clear link between suicide and psychiatric illness.

Over the last few years we have had a growing number of enquiries from families where a relative has committed suicide after receiving, or unsuccessfully seeking, treatment from Mental Health Trusts.

One recently publicised case was that of Matthew Dunham, a young man who committed suicide by jumping from the roof of the Castle Mall Shopping Centre in Norwich. Matthew suffered from depression having encountered difficulties with his job and had tried unsuccessfully to access psychiatric services from the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust for a number of months in the lead up to his death.

There are a number of potential reasons why psychiatric services in England are failing some of the more vulnerable members of our society.

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For example, last year there were reports of a nine per cent reduction in beds available to psychiatric patients - a staggering 1,700 beds.

Patients sectioned under the Mental Health Act have even been taken out of region to locate an available bed for treatment; this is simply not acceptable.

If the injury was of a physical, rather than psychiatric nature, it would not be tolerated.

I often hear people say “you cannot prevent someone from taking their own life if they choose to”.

I whole-heartedly disagree.

In the majority of cases suicidal thoughts stem from, or are linked to, an individual’s poor mental health.

Improve the patient’s mental health and you will probably end or reduce the suicidal feelings.

When a family has concerns that their loved one’s suicide has been caused by a failure on the part of psychiatric services it is vital, for improvement of those services, that a formal Inquest is held.

Inquests give a family the opportunity to explore treatment provided to the deceased and a Coroner the opportunity to identify areas of concern so if appropriate they can make recommendations for improvement to the service provider.

The Medical Injury team at Ashton KCJ is passionate about improving the situation for patients and frequently provides Inquest support for families in these circumstances.

Ben Ward.

Ashton KCJ