All day today 55 years old Charles Kennedy has been on the news – a prominent political figure found dead at his residence yesterday. He struggled with alcohol, his father passed away earlier this year and he lost his parliamentary seat of 32 years in the recent elections. Police are treating his death as ‘not suspicious’.
Interesting description. Isn’t it? I, on the other hand, am very suspicious.
My thoughts and prayers are with his family. For them the nightmare begins.
From the documents that have been sent to me for the inquest, it is revealed that my son’s depression score on PHQ-9 was the highest possible, ie. 27/27, sixteen days prior to Day 0. It indicates severe depression. It doesn’t get any worse. Yet, no alarm bells rang for anyone and he was sent home on the same medication and no escalation of care, despite it being requested. On the follow-up visit 2 weeks late, the test was not repeated. Wonder why?
PHQ-9 score ≥10 had a sensitivity of 88% and a specificity of 88% for major depression and it is a validated tool for monitoring depression.
Eli Robins and colleagues at Washington university studied 134 suicides and came to this conclusion: “If we had found that suicide was an impulsive, unpremeditated act without rather well defined clinical limits, then the problems of its prevention would present insurmountable difficulties using presently available clinical criteria. The high rate of communication of suicidal ideas indicates that in the majority of cases it is a premeditated act of which the person gives ample warning.”
Identification through proper assessment of suicide risk must precede any attempt to treat psychiatric illness. Asking the patient directly about suicidal thoughts or plans is an essential part of history taking. Other major risk factors that need to be evaluated are: the presence of severe anxiety or agitation; the type and severity of psychiatric illness, the extent of hopelessness; presence of severe sleep disturbance, current alcohol or drug abuse, ease of access to lethal means, lack of access to good medical and psychological treatments (!), a recent setback, family history, close proximity to a first episode of depression, mania or schizophrenia and recent release from a psychiatric hospital.
Once identified, acutely suicidal patients need hospitalisation as a protective measure and for further evaluation. It does not prevent all suicides but definitely saves lives.
Hospital beds are like gold dust. Patients verbally and clearly proclaiming suicidal intent are sent home due to lack of beds. ‘Length of stay’ is another criterion for assessing how well a hospital is doing. So, even if they do manage to find a bed, patients are discharged earlier than they should be. There is tremendous pressure on the system and the carers at home.
There is almost nothing doctors can do about major stresses in patient’s lives as they are difficult to predict and govern but there are things that can be done to influence the underlying biological vulnerabilities to suicide. The proper management of mental illnesses, especially those closely linked to suicidal behavior, is vital.