Most of those admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital against their will after attempting suicide or expressing suicidal thoughts suffer from potentially treatable mood and anxiety disorders, according to new research.
Mental Health Commissioner John Cachia, who carried out the research, is calling on other professionals to break the silence on suicide and possibly narrow the risks by looking at the pattern of admissions.
“Half of the people who had attempted or expressed suicidal intention were diagnosed with mood disorders like depression or bipolar disorder,” Dr Cachia told The Sunday Times of Malta. “Another 22% suffered from severe anxiety or stress related disorder.
“These are all potentially treatable conditions if people seek support early enough.”
Dr Cachia will be one of the speakers at this month’s Malta Association of Psychiatry’s annual conference that will focus on suicide and self-harm behaviours.
Data shows that two people die by suicide every month. However, only a quarter of them would have come in contact with health services.
Nine in every 10 suicides are by men: they numbered 194 of the 223 suicide victims recorded between 2010 and 2018.
While such data has been publicly available for some years, Dr Cachia has looked beyond the figures, especially at the ages most at risk.
Over the past five years, two thirds of the men who died by suicide were aged between 30 and 59. A fifth of female victims were aged between 14 and 17.
So while suicide is dominated by males, it is not a men-only issue – Dr Cachia insists society needs to focus on young women as well.
His research took him one step further. Dr Cachia’s office monitors people who are admitted to psychiatric hospitals against their will. These make up a quarter of the total admissions, 400 patients in all.
And among them are the people who are most at risk. Some 15% of involuntary admissions had either attempted suicide (53%), self-harmed (165) or had a suicidal intent (35%).
By looking into cases of people who come in contact with health services after expressing suicidal thoughts or making failed suicidal attempts, Dr Cachia hopes to identify risks and ways to mitigate them.
When it comes to involuntary admissions for self-harm or suicidal intent, the ratio between men and women is no longer nine men to one woman, as in completed suicides. It shifts to seven men to three women.
However, the number of girls aged 17 and under is still double that of men, exposing a higher risk among women at this vulnerable age.
There is no gender difference between the ages of 18 and 29 but the risk among men increases after the age of 30.
“This means that while men are more at risk of completed suicide, when it comes to people who are referred or admitted for care, the scenario is completely different.
“The figures tally with general psychiatry data: we normally see four women for every six men with acute psychiatric problems. Therefore, we need to understand better what triggers a situation that sees many more men dying by suicide.”
Dr Cachia called on fellow stakeholders to break the silence on suicide and suicidal thoughts, particularly when it comes to mood, anxiety and stress-related disorders.
He recommended looking at suicidal intent and attempts across all inpatient acute psychiatric admissions, which would include voluntary admissions for psychiatric care in Mater Dei Hospital, Mount Carmel Hospital and the Gozo Hospital.
Patterns discovered from such data could help set off alarm bells for any professional who comes in contact with distressed people, possibly even narrowing down risks by gender and age, he added.
The MAP conference will be held on June 13 and 14. Its ultimate aim is to empower professionals from all walks of life to “promote a life worth living”. Log on to www.map.org.mt for more information.
■ Two people die by suicide every month.
■ Nine in 10 suicides are by men.
■ A fifth of female suicide victims are aged between 14 and 17.
■ The risk of suicide among men increases after the age of 30.
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