“We need to make it OK for people to talk about”: Maudsley chief shares the loss of her husband to suicide, as new strategy to prevent deaths is launched by the trust

Katherine Johnston (25 October, 2019) Health

'I just didn't see it coming and neither did my friends'

23054Maudsley Hospital, Camberwell

The Maudsley’s chief operating officer has shared her own experience of losing someone to suicide, as the trust launches a landmark new strategy to help prevent people taking their own lives.

Announced on national Mental Health Day earlier this month, the trust shared a new video where senior staff, including Beverley Murphy, talk about the lasting impact suicide has on the families left behind.

Ms Murphy, a previous director of nursing who is now the trust’s CO, was joined by her two children in the short film, published on October 10, as she talked about how her first husband had taken his life fifteen years ago.

She said: “Now the circumstances for us were that my husband worked in mental health, I had been a mental health nurse for a lot of years.

“And as often happens many of our friends were doctors, nurses and therapists in mental health services and still, even though my husband was physically unwell, we had marital difficulties, we were living separately – all of the indicators I would now recognise make somebody vulnerable to completing a suicide – I just didn’t see it coming and neither did my friends.

“So the message I want to give to you is this, we need to look out for this. We need to ask the questions and we need to make it OK for people to talk about.”

 

In the film, Maudsley staff discuss how difficult it is to spot the signs someone may be at risk of taking their own lives – even for professionals. However, according to the research behind the new strategy, there are areas of improvement.

A review into cases of Maudsley patients who had taken their own lives found the majority of them had diagnosed mood disorders. But any secondary diagnoses – such as drug or alcohol misuse, or other physical conditions – were often poorly recorded.

The review also found concerns about communication between staff and other agencies – such as councils, housing support, and other services.

Making sure safety procedures are always followed to the letter, and improving electronic record keeping and communication between the right people and organisations is an on-going priority for the trust’s staff.

The trust says 24-hour crisis teams – already in operation- preventing out-of-area admissions, and more support for patients’ families, can make all the difference.

Out-of-area admissions occur when there isn’t a bed available in a local acute, mental health ward in a patient’s own catchment area.

In these cases, a patient may be admitted somewhere more difficult for family to visit, making it harder to prepare for leaving hospital and coordinate support after discharge.

Staff are also faced with the challenge of supporting people who may be homeless before they go into hospital, or have no recourse to public funds due to their immigration status.

Nationally, suicide rates have increased year-on-year since 2006. It is a leading cause of death among men under 50 years of age. In Southwark, four in five of the cases are men, the majority of whom are aged between 40 and 59 years of age.

The trust says on top of improving record keeping and information sharing, it aims to introduce 48-hour phone call check-ins from ward team after patients are discharged, as a matter of course, within the next six months. This is on top of existing support given by the trust’s community teams.

The Maudsley’s crisis line operates 24/7 on 0800 731 2864.

For information and support visit samaritans.org – which includes advice on how to spot the signs someone may be considering harming themselves.

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