It’s already hard enough getting people with mental health issues into the hospital, but a new study finds that once they’re there, they may not be getting the help they need. In turn, many of them leave and end up committing suicide soon after, according to a new study from the University of Manchester in the UK.
“Our latest data shows the first three months after discharge remain the time of highest risk, but especially in the first one to two weeks,” study director Professor Louis Appleby said in a press release. “This increased risk has been linked to short admissions and to life events, so our recommendations are that careful and effective care planning is needed, including for patients before they are discharged and for those who self-discharge.”
With such difficulty getting people with mental health issues into the hospital in the first place, it doesn’t make sense to try to discharge them as soon as possible. “Instead, health professionals should ensure the adverse events that preceded the admission have been addressed,” Appleby said. He also suggested that follow-up visits post-discharge be as soon as possible.
The study, which was called the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness, looked at mental health patient suicides in the UK over the course of a decade, from 2002 to 2012. Within the first three months of their discharge, 3,225 patients committed suicide, making up 18 percent of all patient suicides within the time period. But overall suicides amounted to 18,017 over the 10 years, comprising 28 percent of suicides among the whole population.
But perhaps the most shocking findings were that 24 of the deaths were of patients who had been restrained by hospital staff only 24 hours prior. There’s no arguing that these people should have remained hospitalized. Because of this, the researchers declared that suicides within three days of discharge, as well as deaths and serious injuries from restraint, should be deemed National Health Service “never events,” meaning that they must be recorded and higher-ups must be notified.
Unfortunately, suicide isn’t the only issue mental health patients face upon leaving the hospital. Just like prison inmates have a hard time adjusting to normal life again, so do these patients. Last year, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police announced that early hospital discharges were straining their police force, as many patients went on to commit crimes. Another survey from earlier this year also found that mental health patients are more likely to end up in a prison than in a hospital. And sure enough patients recorded in the current study also went on to commit homicides — mostly on their own partners.
“Mental health services need to recognize their role in preventing domestic violence, working with other agencies,” said Professor Jenny Shaw, head of homicide research on the Inquiry, in the release. “We need to improve the mental health of perpetrators to protect victims.”