178 ‘suspected suicides’ last year among people using mental health services

Head of Mental Health Commission says a number of acute inpatient centre providers, particularly the HSE, ‘are struggling to meet standards’ in areas such as staffing, care planning and risk management

John Farrelly, chief executive of the Mental Health Commission, has called for 'a targeted, funded strategic investment programme in our public mental health system'. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

A third of people who died while using mental health services last year died as a result of suspected suicide, a new report has found.

On Tuesday, the Mental Health Commission (MHC) published its annual report for 2023, which detailed its work to promote, encourage and foster the establishment and maintenance of high standards and good practices in the delivery of mental health services.

A total of 529 people who engaged with mental health services died last year. Of these, 149 deaths (28 per cent) related to approved centres and 380 (72 per cent) related to other community mental health services.

The majority of reported deaths (62 per cent) were of males, with the average age at death being 60. The youngest was 16 years of age, and the oldest was 99.

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Death by suicide may only be determined by a coroner’s inquest – however in 2023, 178 deaths were reported to the MHC by services as “suspected suicide” and 35 of these related to residents of approved centres.

The report also stated 67 per cent of centres achieved an 80 per cent or higher rate of compliance with regulations. There were 52 enforcement actions taken across 29 centres.

There was a 25 per cent reduction in seclusion in 2023, and a 9 per cent decrease in the use of physical restraint. There were also 14 child admissions to adult units, down from 20 admissions to adult units in 2022.

John Farrelly, chief executive of MHC, said a number of acute inpatient centre providers “particularly the HSE, are struggling to meet standards” in areas such as staffing, care planning and risk management.

“The inspector [of mental heath services] has said that lower standards of compliance in these areas are associated with negative experiences for patients and staff alike and are not compatible with a human rights-based approach. The inspector and the MHC continues to call for a targeted, funded strategic investment programme in our public mental health system.”

If you are affected by any of the issues in this story, you can contact The Samaritans on freephone 116 123

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times