The following is a Submission that we wrote to Sir Peter Cosgrove in 2004 with  this same Submission repeated over many years to various Royal Commissions  and Inquiries within Australia 

The issues are exactly the same and have not been addressed anywhere in  Australian society. The scientific fact is that suicide is a neurological disorder  which increases with age. Suicide is, and always has been, highest in the  seventy-year age group and higher, even though this gets no publicity.  “The severe psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder,  severe depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, have been like other  neurologically caused diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, clearly  proved to be disorders of the brain. Their proper treatment demands expertise  in brain physiology and pharmacology, rather than in human relationships.  We have trained literally thousands of mental health professionals ……..  psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric social workers …… to provide  counselling when what we really need are a few thousand professionals such  as neurologists, who are trained to treat diseases of the brain”. 

From: A Well-Intentioned Disaster – the Fallout from Releasing the Mentally  Ill from Institutions by Prof. E Fuller Torrey. 

1a. All patients should have a full physiological/neurological examination,  not just a “mental health assessment”, “psycho-social assessment” and “risk  assessment”. For example, when burn marks and frequent cut/slash marks  are noticed on the patients’ skin and the patients say that they have never  self-harmed/attempted suicide, it is tempting to say that they are hiding/ lying – attention seeking, have personality disorders etc., etc. The truth may  well be that the patients are in fact very ambivalent about their self-harming  behaviour. At one interview they will admit self-harm and at another interview  

they will deny that they will self-harm. 

1b. The fact that they can burn or cut themselves without pain is a feature  of both localized reduction in pain sensation and disturbance of the limbic/ serotonergic system of the central nervous system (i.e. the brain). 

At present the tendency is for professionals to interpret signs of self-harm as  wilful attention seeking by manipulative, antisocial, personality disordered  patients. Rejection by the Mental Health System leads to further suicide  attempts and a high completed suicide rate. The fact is that any mental  illness from anorexia to schizophrenia can involve self-harm/self-destructive  behaviour. 

  1. Self-referral and/or referral by relatives should be treated as an emergency  – if the patient refuses admission, then compulsory provisions of the Mental  Health Act should be used. 
  2. Public safety is paramount and when one talks about patients’ safety, this  must automatically mean public safety. 

The link between suicide and murder is almost without exception ignored by  researchers and planners in relation to suicide policies and responses. 

Professor Hughes in “Suicide and Violence Assessment in Psychiatry”. Gen  Hospital Psychiatry, 1996, wrote “It is estimated 17% of Psychiatric Emergency  Service patients are suicidal, 17% are homicidal and 5% are both suicidal and  homicidal”. 

“Murder is one of the strongest predictors of suicide with a 30% suicide  rate found amongst murderers in England”. Source: “Serotonin, suicide and  aggression. Clinical Studies”. Golden, Gilmore, Corrigan, Eketrom, Knight and  Carbutt. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 1991. 

Recent high profile murders, murder suicides and at least one mass killing in  Queensland were all preceded by one or more suicide attempts. In the worst  killing, the person was regarded as an “attention seeker”. 

Recent high profile murders, murder suicides and at least one mass killing in  Queensland were all preceded by one or more suicide attempts. In the worst  killing, the person was regarded as an “attention seeker”. 

  1. Threats of suicide and self-harm, including actual self-harm, should be  treated as if they were actual attempted suicides. In simple terms, people  are either suicidal or they are not suicidal. Personal judgements about  highly, moderately, vaguely, possibly, suicidal should not be used. They are  dangerously misleading. 
  2. Prisons have best practice suicide prevention. Key features are: 
  • a. If an individual or family member says that the individual is suicidal, he/ she is treated as suicidal. 
  • b. No one grandiose professional can make an arbitrary decision that a  patient who was seriously suicidal one day is no longer suicidal the next.

  • c. High risk assessment teams made up of five people determine change  in observation category for the patient. Each individual on the team  must personally feel safe about the patient before there is a change in  observation category. In simple terms, no senior clinician is able to heavy  other discipline/members to agree with him or her, as currently happens  in the mental health system. We believe that this is a good model to follow  and we would be happy to assist you and help to set up such a system.  (This could put Queensland up there with best practice suicide prevention). 
  1. All terms must be defined. For example, risk means risk of suicide, murder  and violence. Assessment means a step-by-step process starting with a  disciplined, outward physical examination/observation before any verbal  questions are asked. Again, we are happy to take part in training professionals.  This is a practical skill and needs to be taught on the job/ in the workplace,  possibly with the assistance of a training video. If one is honest, assessment  skills as they are currently taught in universities and places of training are  appalling. In reality, many professionals miss obvious suicidal behaviours/clues.  Accurate assessment is the rock on which the service rests. Safety, patient  safety, means public safety, therefore part of this issue is asking the family/ loved ones, if they are happy with the plan of action. Minimum periods of  observation should be a least five days in hospital, for example, beginning  with 48 hours category red or constant observation. Refer also to high risk  assessment teams mentioned earlier. Suicide literally means “self-murder”. 
  2. In more than 80% of completed suicides and other mental health disasters,  someone close to the patient and/or the patient themselves, has tried, in good  faith, to get help from professionals, but has been turned away. 

This is both an attitude and a training problem/issue. 

Our concerns are reinforced by the real life experiences of our members and  supporters and the recently released Sentinel Events Committee Report of the  NSW Government. 

  1. History Taking: Currently, patients are asked only about their immediate  family whereas patients should be asked if there is a history of “nervous  breakdowns” (the term “mental illness” means “raving lunatic” to most people  and they will simply deny it), early death suicide, self-harm, drug and alcohol  use to the point where it destroys family life, for at least three generations –  that is, grandparents and as further back as possible. Family history, anywhere,  is one of the strongest indicators in suicide and murder. 
  2. Suicide is special, and specially prepared professionals should always be  called in before patients are turned away / released. 
  3. Professionals must be accountable or nothing will change; many  psychiatrists see suicide as a nuisance and a “red herring”. To the best of our  knowledge, no Queensland psychiatrist has ever been held accountable for the  death of a patient. 
  4. Mental Health Act legislation must have provisions written in to ensure  early admissions for suicidal patients as was always the case for hundreds of  years, such provisions being removed only as part of the de-institutionalisation  / anti-psychiatry policies of the last 20 years.

  1. The hard scientific or factual evidence is that suicide, violence and  murder are caused by morphological changes in the brain combined with low  serotonin. The structure, function and chemistry of the brain are simply not  normal. 

The newer Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitor drugs (S.S.R.I.s) are said  to be safer in terms of it being harder to overdose on them. However, recent  suggestions are that S.S.R.I.s such as Zoloft, Prozac, Effexor etc. etc., may cause  up to three to five times the rate of suicide in young people, particularly those  below 20 years of age. There are a number of lawsuits against drug companies  and at least one murder in Australia was said, in Court, to have been caused by  one of these drugs. 

Depression is widely promoted as the major epidemic of the modern age and  this in turn has led to a massive rise in the use of S.S.R.I.s, “…. In 1998, doctors  wrote 8.2 million anti-depressant prescriptions compared with 5.1 million  in 1990 ….” Source: “The New Abuse Excuse” by Claire Harvey and Monica  Videnieks in Australian, 25 May 2001. 

There is no scientific evidence that serious mental illness is increasing. It occurs  at the rate of 3% of the general population everywhere regardless of drug  use, child abuse, child rearing practices, stress, modern life pressures youth  of today, on and on ad nauseum. There is evidence that depression is the “in  disease” and that the prescribing of all psychotropic medication is increasing. 

We recommend that anyone who is to be commenced on medication that  alters mood, feeling and thinking ability (psychotropic medication) should be  commenced on this medication in hospital. The reality is that it is extremely  difficult to get the right medication for the right patient. 

Practically all of the newer anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medication  takes 4 to 6 weeks to reach therapeutic levels. All psychotropic, psycho-active  substances have serotonergic effects on the brain – that is, all drugs from  alcohol to street drugs, from speed to Prozac. This, combined with scientific  evidence that there is a cause and effect relationship between low serotonin  and suicide, murder and violence, in our view, means that these drugs should  be commenced in hospital where patients are under observation and being  protected in a place of safety. It is also a clinical observation that in the first  few days of commencing an anti-depressant, the suicide rate dramatically  increases. 

  1. Most of what we have said requires very little “New Money”. If you are  really serious about suicide, then all of these areas must be covered: 
  • Funding 
  • Professional / clinical practice 
  • Public safety 
  • Legislation 

Fanita Clark