Monday, 20 July 2009

Mental Health ward suicides

Wondering... are there chaplains appointed to work within mental health care institutions?
Ekklesia's daily bulletin is one of those emails I don't usually manage to read, but today I did. And found there something I didn't hear mentioned on any of the national radio news bulletins so full of swine flu and the death of someone or other (though I now see the Daily Mirror had it in all of three sentences!) - The final report of the Mental Health Act Commission (which is now replaced by the Care Quality Commission) says that 39& of deaths on wards by hanging or self-strangulation between 2001 and 2008 happened when the patient was subject to observation by staff at 15-minute intervals or less, including some under continuous observation. In the case of one suicide, there was evidence to suggest the patient was not checked for three hours, despite being subject to 15 minute observations. Six patients who died of hanging or self-strangulation since 2005 were supposedly under continuous observation.

I can't imagine what it must be like to have as one's job the constant observation of someone unhappy, but of a number of deeply distressed and suicidal people... The stress of prison staff and of staff in mental health wards, of having a constant presence of negativity, of self-destructive (and other-destructive) minds and behaviour must be either hellish or numbing.

Add to that short-staffing and the possibility of many other things to do, and the sense of pointlessness - I can imagine thinking, "She was fine every time I checked her all of the last three weeks... She'll be fine."

Over time, I can imagine the frustration too, of trying to protect miserable people from "putting themselves out of their misery". Some people's lives may just seem too painful, too hard to fix, too difficult to re-envision with purpose and joy. If I didn't have faith in a Lord who does transform the hopeless, (albeit not in the way or the timescales I would like to dictate) I can see how easily I would lose a sense of purpose in such a role.

I'm inspired to pray more for the people who endure the violence and negative atmosphere of difficult places and people. And I'm wondering how many of my sermons or services and prayers would ever have encouraged or empowered my congregation to go into these dark places to love the most hopelessly lost.


Virtual Methodist said...

Interesting you should ask your opening question as the Psychiatric Unit at Ards has recently moved up to the Ulster and has NEVER yet appeared on our admissions sheet. In many way this is a relief in that none of us have been specifically trained for mental health chaplaincy (the way we have all been rigorously trained for "normal" hospital chaplaincy). There is pastoral cover for the unit, largely through one of the chaplains from Ards who, having found that his job has largely disappeared, but he is still being paid, voluntarily has continued to come up to the Ulster to call in with the staff and long term patients for whom he is a familiar and respected face...
Experience of working with mental health specialists in the past suggests that they are a self-selecting bunch, where those who are not fit for the job drop out... Thankfully there aren't too many "Nurse Ratchets" in my experience... but there seems to be a preponderance of "chilled-out" individuals who take chaos in their stride... However, this has also meant that they are not always the best at sticking to strict regimes... Which may go some way to explain why some patients end up self-harming or committing suicide despite rigorous procedures theoretically being put in place...

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This is very serious issue. Even i believe everyone should raise voice against it, so that we can come to know the reason underneath. It is matter of lives not fun.