Councillors scrutinise suicide prevention in Hertfordshire

The ambition in Hertfordshire is to get to the point where no-one in the county feels they have to end their own life through suicide.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 4:58 pm
Mental health news

And on Monday (October 14) a group of councillors met to scrutinise the county's 'suicide prevention strategy'.

Councillors heard that there were 95 suicides recorded in Hertfordshire last year, which is statistically low compared to other areas.

And they looked at the impact they had - with estimates suggesting each suicide impacts on 135 people and has an economic cost of £1.7million - and the work that was ongoing to prevent them.

During the day councillors heard evidence from the director of public health Jim McManus, the Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT), the Samaritans, Hertfordshire Constabulary and British Transport Police.

But it was evidence from Dick Lovelace that highlighted the personal impact a death by suicide can have, when he told the panel about his son David.

David, aged 23, fell from an escalator in the Marlowes Shopping Centre, Hemel Hempstead, in January 1993. He suffered multiple injuries and died two hours later.

In retrospect, Mr Lovelace says there may have been signs that were missed - or ignored.

And now he devotes much of his time to a support group for carers for those with a mental health condition, where he's proud that there have been no suicides in the past 10 years.

"I tell people I have forgiven God for taking away my son and taking him away at such an early age - but I have not forgiven myself," he said.

Mr McManus said the ambition in Hertfordshire was to get to a point where no-one in Hertfordshire felt they had to take their life through suicide.

And he said good suicide prevention needed to sit alongside a population approach to good mental health - with multiple agencies working together.

"No one agency can deliver this on their own," he said. "We recognise we have made some progress, there's more still to be done in this area."

At the hearing councillors were told that men were most likely to take their own lives in Hertfordshire, with suicide rates highest in men and women aged between 45 and 49.

And, they heard, one in four of those who took their lives had discussed their mental health with a member of their GP practice in the four weeks before their death.

Mr McManus pointed to the 'gap' that remains in primary care, in signposting people through to mental health services.

But Dr Anna Benson, GP clinical lead for mental health for Herts Valleys CCG, said that often those determined to kill themselves would not talk about it with the GP - and that they needed to look for non-verbal cues.

She highlighted the recent addition of community mental health workers at GP surgeries, new services, training and collaborative working with voluntary agencies, hospitals and public health, as part of the ongoing work to prevent suicide.

During the day councillors also heard that with so many railway lines in the county, the proportion of people ending their lives there is relatively high.

And they heard from Network Rail and British Transport Police about the measures designed to keep people safe.

They include additional barriers along fast tracks, smart cameras, staff training and even changing waiting rooms so that they don't face towards 'fast' through-train platforms.

The Hertfordshire Constabulary and the HPFT also highlighted the work they were undertaking - including the operation of 'triage vehicles' to support those suffering from a mental health crisis.

Meanwhile John Hughes highlighted the role played by the Samaritans, which answer five million calls a year - equivalent to one every six seconds.

He reported that one out of four callers would be experiencing suicidal thoughts. But 73 per cent of people who rang the service with the intention of taking their own life did not go through with it.

And he talked about the subtle change that was needed to get people to talk to each other.

In Ware alone there are 140 volunteers who take 40,000 calls a year, as well as branches in Watford, Hitchin and Luton.

Mr Hughes, who has volunteered at at the county's Ware branch for 18 years, said: "We listen to better understand people's situations and explore with them the options that they have.

"We are not about giving advice - because we don't understand their situation or the options that they feel they have got. And it's confidential so they are free to express their feelings.

"What we also do is give people time to talk whatever time of day or night it is , without an appointment."

In addition, councillors heard, the Samaritans do awareness raising with in schools and the community, including railway stations such as Hatfield.

During the hearing Mr McManus stressed that there was no point doing suicide prevention without addressing public mental health.

And he pointed to the need to remove the stigma and for better bereavement support, as well as the need to meet the needs of those who were neuro-diverse or had learning difficulties, and for workplace mental health,

Among the recommendations drafted by the topic group panel was that there should be a 'safe place' created - where people in crisis could be taken to be safe.

Other recommendations looked at joint working with other organisations, bereavement support, mandatory training for front-line staff in GP surgeries and British Transport Police's work in schools.