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Data collected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has shown that more than 200 patients killed themselves in mental health units between 2010 and 2016.
In total, the 224 deaths involved 134 men and 90 women, with the annual largest number, 41, recorded in 2010. The deaths involved people who had been detained under the Mental Health Act for compulsory treatment because they were deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others.
Prompting concern about the safety and quality of care, the figures, which actually show a decline in suicide numbers, highlight that more women inpatients than men have begun taking their own lives, leading to campaigners to label the health system’s care of women facing mental health issues as ‘not fit for purpose’.
Katharine Sacks-Jones, chief executive of Agenda, said: “It is appalling that we are seeing so many self-inflicted deaths of women and girls detained under the Mental Health Act. Many will have been detained precisely because they were at risk to themselves, yet the Mental Health Act is not keeping them safe and is failing to support and protect them.The reality is that the conditions under which the Mental Health Act are enforced are not fit for purpose for women and girls.
“The majority of women and girls detained will have experienced violence and abuse. But the evidence suggests this is not understood or responded to appropriately, particularly when they are detained. This sees women who have been abused by men being observed by male nurses, having abusers as their ‘nearest relative’ and being restrained in ways that can re-traumatise them. They are also separated from their children and family, heaping trauma upon trauma.
“It can be no coincidence that this is the context in which so many women and girls are dying. We want to see women and girls’ specific experiences – including of motherhood, and of trauma and abuse – understood and integrated into all levels of their care, including and especially when they are in crisis. It is crucial that detention under the Mental Health Act becomes an opportunity for women and girls to rebuild their lives and have a positive future rather than them feeling like they have no future at all.”
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