In a quarter of suicides, relatives fail to tell treating health professionals that they are aware of their loved one’s plans, even though they may have seen the signs.
This is the worrying finding from a University of New South Wales study, which highlights the need for better public awareness about suicide warning signs and prevention.
The study examined 74 suicide cases in Queensland and New South Wales and found a lack of communication between health care professionals and family members in the last month before the deaths.
Most of the suicide cases involved men who had been in contact with health professionals and next-of-kin in the month prior to their death.
“We found that family members were more likely to be aware of suicide warning signs than health care professionals,” UNSW Conjoint Professor Brian Draper said.
“Next-of-kin were significantly more likely to be aware of indirect suicide communication such as people changing their will; disposing of possessions; stock-piling pills and expressing feelings of hopelessness,” Professor Draper said.
“However, in 25 per cent of the suicides there was no communication between the next-of-kin who had picked up on these suicide warning signs and the health professionals treating the person who died.”
“Even in cases involving people with recent suicidal behaviour, there was no communication between health professionals and next-of-kin in 62 per cent of cases.”
Professor Draper said detailed interviews were carried out with relatives and health care professionals about their last contact with those who suicided, including any communication of their plans and suicide history.
He found that almost a third of the people who died did not have a diagnosed mental illness. This highlighted the need for ongoing public mental health campaigns covering suicide warning signs, mental disorders and how to access help, stressing the importance of letting someone know if there are concerns.
“Clinicians should also try to include families as far as possible in their treatment of people with mental illness, especially depression, so more information can be shared about the person’s condition,” he said.
“Health professionals also need to communicate specifically about suicide risk with the family and friends of their patients – with their agreement as far as possible – to enable more accurate assessments and more inclusive treatment plans.
“Families need emergency contacts and more education to support them in dealing with a family member’s illness.”
If you or someone you know needs help, call Lifeline on 13 11 14
Read more about the findings here. Story credit: UNSW newsroom.
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