Tackling borough’s high rates of suicide

Wigan's mental health assessment team with manager Jeanette Mather (right)
Wigan's mental health assessment team with manager Jeanette Mather (right)
Share this article
  • Borough’s mental health team have launched awareness campaign
  • Wigan has high rates of suicide
  • ‘Residents will always have somewhere to turn’

WIGAN’S high suicide rates are causing serious concerns among borough mental health experts and a new awareness campaign has been launched to combat them.

And the 5 Boroughs Partnership Trust has pledged its commitment to support residents who find themselves at the point of crisis and to encourage people to speak out about mental health issues.

People feel suicidal. There’s nothing wrong or weird about it.

Adults and Therapy services business manager Ian Stirton-Cook

Wigan Today met three members of the mental health assessment team - manager Jeanette Mather, consultant psychiatrist Dr Chetan Majjiga and Adults and Therapy services business manager Ian Stirton-Cook - to hear about the challenges they face and what steps are being taken to get their message across.

BREAKING down the stigmas surrounding mental health issues is an almost impossible job, but one simple message is being broadcast by the 5 Boroughs’ staff; residents will always have somewhere to turn for support.

Wigan’s suicide rate of 11.3 per 100,000 population stands significantly higher than the national average and our trio of experts are keen to bust any misconceptions about what takes place once someone opens up about suicidal feelings.

“Most people think if you say you’re suicidal someone is going to jump on you and put you in a padded cell. It is completely the opposite, and that’s the key message we want to get out,” explains Ian Stirton-Cook

“We want to encourage people to start talking about it. Everyone is this room has dealt in the past 12 months with some tragic situations in Wigan, this is why we’re doing it.”

Making that first contact when at the point of crisis is a crucial and not insignificant step, the experts say. But residents should feel reassured that the experienced team in Wigan is perfectly placed to deal with whatever situation arises.

Ian said: “Whatever your circumstances, the experienced assessment team has heard everything. Our nurses do numerous assessments each day. They’re very skilled, very experienced and they’ve heard every kind of presentation so please do come along if you need to and they will do their best to help you.

“People get hopeless and helpless and think they’re a burden on people. There is no health without mental health. If you broke your leg you would go to A&E, if you’re feeling suicidal you should react in the same way, but come to us.”

The borough has an all-day, every-day service for residents who feel they are at that point of crisis, and also for those close to them who are concerned for their well-being.

Jeanette Mather said: “It’s important for people to know that (it’s a 24 hour, 365 day a year operation). There will be an experienced mental health nurse, a single point of contact, to be used by people in real distress or for those close to them to contact, to offer that support.

“We will always encourage family and friends to call in agreement with the individual but if they do have real concerns about someone’s safety we will always take that information from them. We have two great schemes going on with both GMP and NWAS.

“If they attend a call where someone has indicated they have been feeling suicidal, they can be brought here, if they’ve not harmed themselves in anyway, as opposed to A&E because that it is not a nice place to be if you’re feeling in that way.

“People think if you acknowledge that you’re feeling suicidal you will be admitted for a very long time, but that’s just not the case. We find that just eight per cent go onto secondary care, most people can be treated at the first level.

“Nine out of 10 people get the support they need from our assessment team or the home treatment team without attending hospital at all. And we have psychiatrists available in the community.”

Having taken the first step and reached out to the team, Dr Chetan says an individual care plan will be established. Follow-on appointments are designated emergency, urgent or routine and patients are then referred to the appropriate treatment team.

He said: “Following the first assessment we have clarity in terms of a reasonable diagnosis and a care plan, to what extent we need to involve other services, such as the home treatment team. In serious cases patients be seen three times a day and supported in the home environment, which leads to the best outcomes. And if needed they can have access to a psychiatrist, pharmacist and psychologist quickly. It’s a needs-led system, everything is tailored to that individual through the assessment, the package of treatment comes from those needs.”

Wigan’s high rates, especially among males, is due to a number of factors with substance and alcohol abuse ranking highly. And a male reluctance to address their feelings may also play a part”.

Jeanette said: “I think there is a little bit of that (a reluctance among males) which the State of Mind charity is doing some great work in breaking down those barriers. But we’re also conscious in Wigan that we have high rates of alcohol and substance abuse.”

Ian added: “Lots of the deaths we’re seeing there is a link to drugs and there are a few deaths recorded as accidental drug overdoses that may have been suicide. Drugs is a big issue around people’s inhibitions and impulsive acts. Money problems can cause people to feel hopeless and we’re not just the NHS here, we can pass people to the Citizens Advice Bureau, debt-management programmes, Addaction and drug and alcohol schemes. It’s about striking a partnership for the benefit of the patient.”

The awareness campaign launched by the 5 Boroughs is part of an ongoing process to change the way the public views mental health. Normalising the issues is a key factor.

Ian said: “People feel suicidal. There’s nothing wrong or weird about it. And no-one kills themselves with someone sat next to them, if you have a relative feeling suicidal look after them. Ask people how they are feeling.

“It’s natural, people get overwhelmed and can’t see a solution. We can help them work through the stresses and see what the solutions are and that helps clear their thinking.

“We can work through each issue practically, when people think that suicide is their only option, to show them the other options.”

Dr Chetan: “Stigma around mental health is one of our main battles and we need to sell the message that mental illness is actually prevalent in the community. One in four of us suffer some kind of stress in that way. For people to accept that it’s okay to feel down, that is the message we want to get across to people.”

Anyone struggling with mental health issues, or concerned about a relative, can contact The Sanctuary – a 24-hour advice line supported by the Trust – on 0300 003 7029.