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Some mental health services are telling patients: ‘If you really wanted to kill yourself, you would have done it’

Like many others, Laura is made to feel like she is “attention seeking” and “manipulative” when she is suicidal or makes attempts on her life.

Some mental health services are telling patients: ‘If you really wanted to kill yourself, you would have done it’

When people do get to access crisis care, many feel that the emphasis is on getting rid of them as quickly as possible. Psychiatric inpatients have even been told to phone the Samaritans if they wish to talk

Jay Watts 4 days ago

People are encouraged to seek help if they are feeling suicidal like never before. Yet a deadly new mix of funding cuts and dangerous ideas about suicide are leaving many people with long-term conditions at greater risk.

Tom is 22 and has made a couple of serious attempts on his life following prolonged periods of depression. “When I regained consciousness after the last attempt”, he said, “I was told ‘If you really want to kill yourself, you would have done it’.” Tom, like many other people, feels like when he now contacts the crisis team, they treat him brusquely. “It is like they will only take me seriously if I actually die”, he continued. “I am told again and again ‘well if you really want to kill yourself, that’s your choice’.”

We are not talking about nuanced Schopenhauerian conversations about the right to die here. In the context of deep despair, the idea of choice is a deadly one, absolving the other party from doing everything they can to help the person in pain. If one is suicidal it is very difficult to feel any hope that things might change; one is often exhausted. It is crucial that hope is held actively by mental health professionals at these bleakest moments in a life.

Yet the idea of choice is being used increasingly to rebuff those who seek help when suicidal, a discursive move that an increasingly burnout mental health workforce appears to be using more often. This makes those suffering feel rejected and further alienated – key trigger factors to suicide.

Laura, 60, has also made multiple attempts on her life. She has been told that she should “take responsibility” when she is feeling suicidal, an idea fuelled by the neoliberal discourse of rights and responsibilities which has taken hold of mental health services. “There is a strict management plan and boundaries in place”, she said. “I am allowed to call the crisis team three times a week, and the calls are time-limited. When I do call, I am only allowed to talk about the present not the past”, she says. “If I try to talk about anything else, or call at another time, I am told I am ‘threatening suicide’.”

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