Stat of the day: Mental illness – Suicide and homicide rates

By Angela Matthews

Last night someone sent me a 2001 Inquiry led by Manchester University into the rates of suicide and homicide committed by people with mental illness between 1996 and 2000.

A colleague and I recently had a conversation about whether or not contemplating or committing suicide necessarily means that a mental health condition is present. This Inquiry reveals that only around 25 per cent of people in the UK who committed suicide were in contact with mental health services. Another shocking statistic from the Inquiry is that 22 per cent of suicides were preventable.

Another key finding of the Inquiry is that the number of people with mental illness committing murders is actually continuing to fall. The report tells us that in 2004, the figure was more than 70. In 2010, this fell to 33.

The eighteenth recommendation of the Inquiry was as follows: “Anti-stigma campaigns, including those run by or in association with the Department of Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, should emphasise the low risk to strangers posed by people with mental illness.”  It could be argued that we still have a long way to go before this becomes a reality. Only this week the Advice Service took a call from a Member who raised concerns for the safety of clients when they learnt of an employee’s mental health condition – purely based on stereotypes about mental illness and even though the employee had nothing but glowing appraisals. This is perhaps relevant to another of the Inquiry’s recommendations: that staff need to be trained in the management of risk (which may include recognising when the risk is low as well).

Policy activists are also currently concerned about a related situation that the Inquiry indirectly touches upon. During the many changes to welfare benefits that people with disabilities and long-term conditions are currently experiencing, they may be finding themselves in a situation where they are declared ‘fit for work’, but they can’t find work because of discrimination. This perhaps brings us to another of the Inquiry’s findings: most people with schizophrenia who committed suicide were unemployed.

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