A grieving mum has demanded an overhaul of mental health services after it emerged dozens of people have taken their own lives in Dundee despite seeking help.
The proportion of suicide victims in the city who have attended a psychiatric appointment in the year leading up to their deaths is higher than in any other part of the country, official data revealed.
Mandy Mclaren, whose son 28-year-old son Dale died in 2011 shortly after discharging himself from the Carseview Centre in Dundee, said the new figures were evidence that people are being let down by NHS Tayside’s mental health services.
“To me the whole system is failing,” she said.
“That amount of people committing suicide is absolutely shocking. It does not get any easier.
“You hope they will learn by their mistakes, but they’re not.”
In nearly half (46%) of the 164 suicides in Dundee between 2011 and 2017, the victim had a psychiatric outpatient appointment in the 12 months before their death, which is the highest rate in the country.
The Scottish Suicide Information Database, which was published on Tuesday, showed there were 769 probable suicides in Tayside and Fife during that period. The national total was 5,204.
A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said every suicide was a tragedy and was “comprehensively reviewed by the Tayside multi-agency Suicide Review Group to look at the circumstances surrounding each individual case”.
Rose Fitzpatrick, chair of the Scottish Government’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group, said: “The Scottish suicide rate fell by 20% between 2002-06 and 2013-17, and we are committed to reducing this by another 20% over the next four years.”
People have until December 14 to give evidence to an independent inquiry into mental health services in Tayside.
Visit www.suicidehelp.co.uk or phone Samaritans on Freephone 116 123.
The Dundee Fighting for Fairness report summarises how key issues affecting people in city are being tackled.
It was launched at the Steeple Church following months of research by the Fairness Commission, whose members met with people and families struggling to get by.
Among the recommendations are creating a single access point for all financial advice services in the city, preparing positive, anti-poverty messages and helping frontline staff including GP surgeries to raise awareness of the impact of poverty on mental health.
John Alexander, leader of Dundee City Council and chairman of the Dundee Partnership, said: “People and money, mental health and stigma are three of the main themes we are looking at because they have featured in all of the stories we have heard.
“We know that far too much poverty that exists in the city and this is one way to target some of the root causes of that – by involving people with real-life experience.”
Another recommendation aimed at tackling issues with mental health in the city is to create a 24/7 drop-in service offering clinical, non-clinical, therapeutic and peer support.
The commission had found that people reach crisis point outside normal working hours and cannot self-refer for support when they need it most. It was also found that services did not always treat people in poverty with respect.
The partnership recommended that guidance materials are developed to allow service providers to recruit and train staff with the right values.
On December 12, the recommendations will be presented to Aileen Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government.
The brother of a young dad who died last year insists tackling mental health is the “most important” issue in society today.
Dozens of heartbroken pals paid tribute to “irreplaceable” Mark Scobie, 26, who was found dead at his flat in Rutherglen last May. The popular shop manager lived with his girlfriend Eilidh, 23, and their toddler daughter, Heather.
Police officer Ben Scobie, 25, is holding a charity football match with family members and pals in support of the Scottish Association for Mental Health – which smashed its £400 target in less than six hours.
Ben, from Mount Vernon, told Glasgow Live: “Mark was an amazing man and more than anything he was a dedicated father to his daughter. We were very close growing up because of how similar in age we were and he was the man who influenced a lot of who I am today and what I enjoy.
“He had a great personality and was always trying to make people laugh with his witty remarks and banter. I want to raise awareness, as mental health issues are more prevalent today than ever before. More people are suffering silently when there are people there to help them – and the option is certainly not suicide.
“When 84 men a week are committing suicide across the UK and a quarter of us will develop a mental health issue each year, there is a major problem with how we deal with mental health. I believe it is the most important issue within society today.”
Former Bannerman High student Mark was hailed on social media as “the most beautiful, kind-hearted person” in a series of emotional tributes last spring as friends and family came to terms with his death.
Former bandmate Tam Moran described Mark as “one of the most kind-hearted and selfless people” he knew, adding: “He always made sure you were having a good time and that you had the biggest smile on your face.”
Adam Samara said of his “irreplaceable” close pal: “You were an anchor for me when I truly was as lost as I’ve ever been. I only wish I could have been there to save you, the way you saved me a thousand times.
“I’ll remember you as the brother I had, held and have lost. I’ll never get the chance to thank you for everything you did for me.”
The 11-a-side football match will be held at Stepford Sports Complex near Easterhouse on Tuesday, May 8 at 8pm.
Amy told the Kaye Adams Programme that her family had endured the “toughest eight months” since her brother’s death.
“He was struggling with his mental health but the shocking thing that we found was that he seemed fine,” she said.
“I know it sounds silly and trivial but in the last days before he died – I was the last person to see him – he was so happy.
“He had a niece and a nephew, my two children, and he was playing with them at the park, talking about plans to go to university and things.
“There was really no indication that that was the time it was going to happen. There were times we were more concerned about him, than when he did it.”
She said he had been to his GP shortly before he died and he was attending mental health services.
“The shocking thing about when it happened was that he was being treated and he was at his GP 10 days before he died, getting more anti-depressants,” she said.
Amy said he brother’s death was having a knock-on effect on the mental health of the rest of her family.
“My dad found my brother and he now obviously really struggles with that, he’s struggling with his own mental health.
“His GP’s reply to that is go to all the charities out there. He’s not even putting him on a waiting list for counselling or anything like that.
“I myself have started counselling from a local charity. I have the personality to go out there and do that. My brother wouldn’t have done that. I feel that my dad is a bit of history repeating itself.”
The family have been left alone to pick up the pieces of her brother’s suicide, she said.
“And it’s at that point where you feel your whole life is completely shattered and you don’t feel able to put one foot in front of the other, never mind help yourself to get the help that you need,” she added.
Mental health education
“So you’re just completely left – I felt anyway, through our own experience – that you’re just left to it by the police, by the GP.
“We had a family liaison officer from police who did nothing, to be honest. She said she had a list of phone numbers for us and she didn’t even give us those phone numbers.
“I just felt we were left to it as a family. I’m very lucky that I have such a supportive and fantastic family but it’s really been a struggle.”
Amy said she feels there is still a stigma surrounding mental health problems and suicide.
“I have had people saying, yeah he was depressed but why did he kill himself? Why did he go that far, why?
“They keep asking me why and I feel that’s down to not being educated about depression and about mental health, and also the stigma that surrounds it.
“The very fact that we’re saying people are choosing to die, I know it’s very complex, but a lot of people don’t choose to die. They have no choice left – it’s their only option.”
She said she feels some people think there should be some kind of “Hollywood ending” – they ask if there was a suicide note and whether there was a big thing that he was trying to get away from.
“I just tell them he was not very well and he died. He was killed by depression,” she said.
If you or someone you know has been affected by mental health problems, these organisations may be able to help.
A number of leading charities have added their names to a growing list calling for a dedicated emergency mental health unit in Dundee.
MSP Jenny Marra has called for the new service to be established following a revelation from Tayside’s most senior police officer that mental health is the force’s “greatest challenge”.
The Scottish Government has faced renewed pressure from campaigners to implement the proposal following a string of shocking and violent incidents in Dundee where mental health was identified as a potential factor.
The incidents have raised serious questions over the way mental health is managed across the region and the quality of services available for people reaching crisis point.
Robin Murphy, from the mental health and wellbeing charity Penumbra, said it causes further distress and anxiety when those in crisis are unable to access support quickly.
He added: “In some parts of the country crisis provision is good. In other areas though, people are unsure how to access dedicated services, if they exist at all.
“There is clearly a need for better crisis support and we are keen to be part of the conversation about the possible options for Dundee.”
Ged Flynn, chief executive of the charity Papyrus, which specialises in prevention of young suicide, said people attending regular A&E at the time of a mental health crisis often find the environment is “not conductive to their needs”.
“In some cases they feel worse or are misunderstood in an emergency department which is busy, noisy and is often hugely pressurised for staff,” he said.
“There is a definite need for an alternative safe space for young people and others who experience suicide crisis to attend somewhere where they and their caregivers and parents can find professional and timely support in a suicide safe environment.”
Mental Health Foundation Scotland’s Toni Giugliano warned Dundee is facing an “imminent mental health storm” unless it finds a way to cope with the increasing number of people reaching crisis point.
Speaking after raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Marra said the present system of mental health crisis care is “simply not enough”.
“I hear stories time and time again of police seeking care for people and being turned away,” she said.
“It’s time that Dundee had a mental health A&E so that those in the most desperate need of care can present themselves, be assessed and given help, care and assistance.
Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said Dundee had “a number of mental health facilities that can respond to psychiatric emergencies and provide admission or community-based support as required.”
She added: “As part of our mental health strategy, and to better support mental health crisis across Scotland, we are investing £35 million over five years to provide 800 additional mental health workers in key settings, including police custody suites and A&Es.
“We are also testing an innovative ‘distress brief intervention’ service in four areas across Scotland, to better manage and support people presenting in distress to a wide range of services. These include A&Es, ambulance crews, the police and primary care.”
Fears for rough sleepers as specialist north London unit faces 42% budget reduction
NHS bosses are under fire for cutting back a team of doctors and nurses who provide mental health care to one of Britain’s largest groups of homeless people.
Camden NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in north London is giving the Focus Homeless Outreach team £219,866 less a year starting on 1 April, a leaked CCG document reveals. One of the team’s two psychiatrists and one of its six nurses will lose their jobs as a result.
The CCG is pressing ahead with the 42% cut to the £521,000 budget it gave the team this year despite a storm of protest from local GPs, psychiatrists, homeless charities and managers of hostels where rough sleepers sometimes stay. Camden had the third highest rate of rough sleeping in England in 2017, recent government statistics showed – more than Manchester, Bristol and Cornwall.
Focus, set up 25 years ago, helps treat the high levels of depression, psychosis and other mental health conditions found in rough sleepers, hostel dwellers and “sofa surfers”, including some asylum seekers and people who have been trafficked. Its budget is being reduced even though it is regarded by NHS, local council and social work bosses in London as a model of good practice of how to reach the kind of group that often shuns traditional NHS services.
Consultant psychiatrists at Camden and Islington NHS trust have privately criticised cutting Focus’s budget as a “terrible” blow to a “priceless” service. “Yes, there are unprecedented financial challenges, but it’s pretty appalling that a vulnerable and voiceless group would be left so unsupported,” said one.
Another said: “I find the decision extremely hard to understand, given the high number of homeless people in Camden. Without the Focus team, some of the worst-off members of society will lack proper access to psychiatric care.” Another warned that untreated mental health problems could also potentially lead to incidents of crime and violence.
Family doctors at Camden Health Improvement Practice, a GP surgery near Euston station which treats homeless people’s physical health needs, have told the CCG in a letter that they are in a state of disbelief about Focus’s budget cut. It gives essential mental health support to homeless people when they are arrested or admitted to hospital as an emergency, they said.
Prof Roland Littlewood, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at University College London who used to work with Focus, said: “The proposed cuts cannot be clinically justified and I would consider them quite dangerous. When we in the future contemplate the increased number of preventable deaths in the service, it will be too late.
“If May and Hunt are promising increased support for mental health services, then where is it? The homeless are the most vulnerable to declining social and medical support.”
Camden CCG originally planned to cut £421,000 (81%) of its funding to the team to help meet its savings target under the NHS-wide Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention plan, but reduced that to £219,866 after opposition. It claims other services will provide support for the work Focus can no longer do, but failed to provide any details.
Senior figures at University College Hospital in Camden are worried that limiting Focus’s work will lead to more rough sleepers turning up at its A&E in a state of mental health crisis.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents NHS trusts, praised national health service leaders for giving mental health greater priority. But, she added, Camden CCG’s decision “confirms once again what mental health trust leaders have been telling us about the growing gap between the government’s welcome ambition for the care of people with mental health needs and the substantial challenges facing core mental health services.
“Money earmarked for mental health is not consistently reaching the frontline. It is particularly important that vulnerable people such as the homeless are able to access mental health services.”
Camden CCG said: “Due to significant financial challenges, the NHS is having to make difficult decisions and it has been necessary to reduce funding of the Focus homeless service. Camden CCG have worked with Camden & Islington NHS Foundation Trust to reconfigure the service so that it dedicates it efforts to helping those with the most complex needs. Those with less complex needs will be signposted to other suitable health and care services in Camden.”