Councillors have called for better information about self harm and suicide in Milton Keynes as they probe mental health services in the city.
Members of an MK Council scrutiny committee were reacting to figures that say there have been 26 suspected cases of suicide in Milton Keynes in just seven months this year, compared to 19 confirmed cases in the whole of 2018.
Cllr Alice Jenkins (Cons, Danesborough & Walton) said the figures that she had obtained showed there were “three or four suicides each month”, and she asked health officials what the council was doing about it.
Muriel Scott, the council’s director of public health, said the council carries out an audit of suicides every three years because the number varies from year to year.
“The figures are looking high this year but the numbers do vary,” she said. “That’s why we carry out an audit every three years in real detail. We will be doing a suicide audit this year.”
She added that even though suicides are considered to be suspected until the coroner formally decides at an inquest, the data on deaths in the city is looked at in ‘real time’ so that the authorities can react quickly.
Teams of people are sent to provide support to friends of the deceased and other students at schools and colleges, for example, when young people appear to have taken their own lives.
Tracy Keech, of Healthwatch, urged committee members not to talk about people “committing suicide” because it adds to the stigma around mental health issues, and it is important to encourage people to talk to someone.
One of the council’s key tactics to prevent suicide is to address the issue of self harm, and to encourage people to use online and face to face services to seek help.
The committee was told that the only routinely available data related to self harm is for emergency hospital admissions, but that this is the tip of the iceberg.
Cllr Paul Williams (Lab, Central MK) said self harm was not just an issue among young people, it affects people beyond the age of 18.
Muriel Scott agreed, saying: “Self harm is an issue across the age ranges, including those aged over 65. If affects more young people but it is across every single age range.
“We want to make people aware of the support, so they can work through the pain.”
Cllr Jenkins, who chairs the committee which met on Wednesday, asked whether there was any data that suggests that the council has a problem with people accessing mental health services.
Muriel Scott said the council is carrying out a wide ranging assessment of mental health needs, which is due to report in October.
Cllr Jenkins said: “We have all sorts of data on falls, and heart attacks but at the moment we have no collated data from all the sources for mental health. This is despite it being a council priority.”
The committee agreed to ask the council’s Cabinet to review the available data and look to improve the way it is recorded. The committee also wants to scrutinise the council’s suicide prevention plan.
> There are a number of ways people can get help with mental health issues in Milton Keynes. These include a confidential online service called KOOTH, support in schools, counselling in the community via the Youth Information Service and Service Six, and the CAMHs service provided by the NHS.
> The Samaritans are also available to speak to on 116 123 or via their website https://www.samaritans.org/