CSP offers guidance on helping patients at risk of suicide

Physiotherapists need to know how to help suicidal patients access the right services, said the author of a CSP briefing about suicide awareness.

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Sharon Greensill: 'Physios should not be afraid to ask patients if they might be contemplating suicide'

Sharon Greensill, head of the physiotherapy service at Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Trust and a CSP council member, said: ‘We spend a lot of time one-to-one with patients and they will confide with us.

‘So it’s important that we develop an awareness of how to access services or help when people are in distress.’

Suicide awareness: a briefing for CSP members is being published to coincide with World Mental Health Day on 10 October.

The paper says that in 2013 more than 6,200 people in the UK took their own lives, most of whom were not in contact with mental health services.

In addition, it says that physiotherapists may work with people who are at greater risk of suicide than the general population. This is because people with long-term, painful and life-limiting conditions, or those who have experienced trauma or catastrophic injuries, are at greater risk of self-harm.

Asking questions

The briefing points to unemployment, isolation, poverty, family breakdown, imprisonment and bullying as some of the factors known to be associated with an increased risk of suicide.

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Ms Greensill (right) said the document aims to improve awareness about suicide, including the risks and indicators.

She said physios should not afraid to ask patients if they might be contemplating suicide.

‘Asking questions about self-harm or suicide can often lead to people accessing appropriate services, which could be a crisis service, their GP or mental health services,’ she said.

photo © Charlotte Wiig

Key messages

The document’s key messages for members include

  • You do not have to resolve the matter yourself; there are always other teams that can help. You should know who these teams are.
  • Gather appropriate information during your assessment from which you can take action.
  • In an acute situation, seek advice from the key contact on the patient’s mental health crisis plan; otherwise contact your local mental health crisis team or social services department.
  • For adult patients, always consider providing contact details of local mental health services and the Samaritans.
  • For children, consider whether a safeguarding referral or referral to children’s services is appropriate or necessary.
  • Patient confidentiality and data protection do not mean you cannot share information in any circumstances.

The document includes a flow chart designed to assist physios in managing their awareness of suicide. It includes signs to look for, such as low mood or changes in appearance, and offers prompts about how to react if the patient is an adult or under 18.

‘Suicide is everyone’s business,’ said Ms Greensill.

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by Gill Hitchcock

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