Bereavement due to suicide

GPs and psychiatrists

When someone dies by suicide people often feel angry and may look for someone to blame. Health professionals sometimes become the focus for anger and criticisms, which may or may not be justified. Some of the people we talked to knew that the person who had died was very good at convincing the doctors that everything was fine. However others felt strongly that improvements in care may prevent future suicides and wanted to get this message across to GPs, psychiatrists and health policy makers (see also ‘Messages to professionals and policy makers’).
A GP is often the first point of contact and some people were critical of the way the GP had looked after their relative with mental illness, regretting the lack of specialist knowledge.

Patricia’s husband, Andrew, had been seeing a psychotherapist for his depression. When they moved house the psychotherapist said that therapy should be continued but her husband’s new GP told him that psychotherapy was not available in the area. Patricia is sure that psychotherapy was available and that the GP misjudged the situation.

Some people complained about the long wait to see a psychiatrist or about the lack of follow-up appointments. Some felt that they had only got the care that was needed by paying for it. Arthur, for example, was desperate to find a specialist to see his son, Leon. Having heard about the waiting list he paid for Leon to see someone privately. This was in 1991 and Arthur said that he hoped that waiting times had got shorter.
Services may have improved greatly since 1991 but in 2005 Dolores’ husband, Steve, was told he would have to wait eight weeks to see a psychiatrist or someone from the mental health team. She believes that this delay was due to lack of resources and that it cost Steve his life.
In 2005 another woman said that she had to “fight” to get appointments with a psychiatrist for her daughter, Rose, and that the appointments were few and far between. She feels angry that Rose’s drug regimen was badly managed and that Rose was not invited to return to the clinic if she felt worse at any time.
One woman had felt angry because her son, Barry, had asked to be admitted to hospital, but he was refused admission because he was not seen as a danger to anyone else. When he slashed his wrists he was taken to hospital but was discharged with prescribed medicine. Two weeks later he was dead.

Once people managed to see a psychiatrist their experiences varied. Jenny, for example, spoke highly of her husband’s GP. She also thought that his NHS psychiatrist was excellent, although it was not until he saw a private psychiatrist that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The NHS psychiatrist was sympathetic and included David in all decision making, so much so that sometimes Jenny thought that David might benefit from a bit more direction.

Some people said that the person who had died had been admitted to hospital but discharged too quickly, either without follow up care or without an adequate care plan.

Parents sometimes wished that the doctors had told them more about their child’s mental health problems but understood that issues of confidentiality were involved because their child was over eighteen. Susan was also upset and angry that her son, Stephen, had had access to illegal drugs when he was in hospital. She argued that if he had money he would buy drugs but the hospital staff said that he could not be prevented from having his own money.
People also criticised the health care system, the lack of options and resources, poor communication with families or the lack of continuity of care. Helen, for example, was upset because for a while the psychiatric team refused her daughter care because she was taking illegal drugs and had been transferred to the Drugs Team. Her daughter was told that she would only be seen by the psychiatric team when her drug problem had been sorted out. 

Rose’s mother considered admitting her to the local psychiatric hospital but felt that it was so depressing that her daughter would just discharge herself.

Kavita wishes her brother had been forced to stay in hospital, under the Mental Health Act, for hospital treatment. To some extent she blames the health professionals for his suicide because even though at times he appeared perfectly well at other times he told them that he was feeling suicidal. Melanie also wishes that her husband had been ‘sectioned’ but she understands that he could not be kept in hospital because he did not reveal enough of his ‘torment’.

After the bereavement some people said that their GP had not given adequate help and support, but others spoke highly of their GP and the excellent care they received (see ‘Help and support from professionals’ and see ‘Messages to professionals and policy makers’).
Amanda was grateful that her son’s counsellor expressed her grief and sorrow that her son had died by suicide while he was in her care. Knowing that she was genuinely sad really helped Amanda.

Last reviewed July 2017.


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