Mental Health and Suicide

Leonie Millard
Leonie Millard

Published: November 18th, 2022

7 min read

Mental health is a serious and well publicised topic with many campaigns centred around talking about our mental health. It includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. The relevance to both our home and working lives is huge.

Approximately, 1 in 6 adults suffer from a common health disorder, such as anxiety or depression.

Suicide is a significant public health issue, with more than 6,000 people across the UK and Republic of Ireland taking their own lives each year. Tens of thousands more attempt suicide. Suicides are preventable with timely, evidence-based interventions.

Suicide is more common among some groups than others. For example, it is more likely among men than women, and in particular men in their 40s and 50s.

Suicide is complex and most of the time there isn't one event or factor that leads someone to take their own life. It is usually a combination of lots of different factors interacting with each other to increase risk. A combination of individual, community, and societal factors contribute to the risk of suicide.

The case of Molly Russell

The sad case of Molly Russell has highlighted the wider role and responsibility of social media in adding to this problem;

The inquest found social media content contributed "more than minimally" to the death of Molly Russell.

The sad case demonstrates the toxic role of social media in shaping a person's views. The Coroner, Andrew Walker concluded Molly, from Harrow, died from an act of self-harm while suffering depression and the negative effects of online content.

Molly Russell took her own life in 2017. Molly, 14, from Harrow, had killed herself after falling, unknown to her family, into a pit of despair on social media.

Mr Walker, the senior coroner for north London, said Molly appeared a healthy girl who was flourishing at school, having settled well into secondary school life, and displayed an enthusiastic interest in the performing arts. However, Molly had become depressed, something common in children of this age, the coroner said.

The inquest was told her condition worsened into a depressive illness.

Instagram and Pinterest used algorithms that resulted in there being "binge periods" of material, related to depression, self-harm and suicide in the months before she died. Some of which was selected and provided for Molly without her having requested it.

"These binge periods are likely to have had a negative effect on Molly. Some of this content romanticised acts of self-harm by young people on themselves. Other content sought to isolate and discourage discussion with those who may have been able to help.

He said the images of self-harm and suicide she viewed "shouldn't have been available for a child to see".

With the risks that people are exposed to in everyday life, understanding those risks as a professional is essential. A number of cases that we have run have helped to shape change in hospital trusts when dealing with mental health issues. Each person deserves to be assessed as an individual.

Common issues that we have encountered include;

  • Failure to titrate medication quickly enough;
  • Failure to section a person under the Mental Health Act;
  • Failure to properly diagnose and treat;
  • Failure to recognise escalating risks;
  • Failure to appreciate the relevance of significant physical symptoms on impacting mental health ;
  • Failure to recognise or act upon warning signs of a suicide risk;
  • Overreliance on protective factors, such as a loving supportive family;
  • Failure to take account of concerns raised by the family;
  • Failure to assess those care providers and their ability to manage a person contemplating suicide or displaying severe depression and psychosis;
  • Stepping down individuals from higher levels of care when it was inappropriate to do so;
  • Failure to take account of the seriousness of threats of intention and research into how it might be achieved.
  • Allowing a person in a hospital setting at a known risk of suicide to stay in a lockable room with access to ligatures and without adequate checks.

Why make a claim?

Where a hospital situation arises where there has been significant harm, or the potential for significant harm, the hospital should conduct an investigation, often termed a Serious Incident Requiring Investigation Report (SIRI). It is quite often that the report will recognise the concerns and misgivings of the family in the care of their loved one.

Not all cases start this way, and in some instances there is no such recognition.

Even if an inquest does not conclude that there has been negligence it does not mean that there is not a case to answer. The purpose of an inquest is not to establish blame.

Where we can prove that there has been a breach of duty in hospital care, or in the community, and that it has caused the death, then there is a case to answer.

It will never bring the loved one back but questioning the level of care can lead to effective changes, so that other people will not find themselves in the same position. It forces a review of the way things are done. It forces a conversation, reflection, learning and change.

For those affected by the death, in addition to the loss of a loved one there is often financial consequence and a loss of wages and a pension. This is known as financial dependency. The same can be said for the care that person provided within the family unit. A dependency claim is only recoverable by a certain category of Claimant, such as a spouse, civil partner, cohabitee for at least two years, or children under the age of 18 ( or dependent because they remain in higher education). These individuals are also entitled to a bereavement award, a statutory amount awarded under the Fatal Accidents Act.

The estate, those beneficiaries in the Will, or if the person died intestate ( without a Will) allowed by the rules of intestacy , can make a claim for the pain and suffering that the deceased experienced whilst they were negligently treated.

There may be a claim for funeral costs and counselling and each situation has to be explored, because families and relationships are diverse.

How we can help

You are not alone. We have extensive experience with preventable suicide claims and will treat your case with the greatest sensitivity.

If you wish to seek advice in relation to a loved one's death, please contact Leonie Millard in our Clinical Negligence department. Contact details below.

How can we help?

Complete the form opposite, let us know a few details, and one of our team will get back to you shortly. Or you can call us or request a callback.

0800 689 3206 - Monday - Friday: 09:00 - 17:00

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