Mental health staff should ask about experiences of domestic violence

  • 10 January 2023

People presenting to healthcare services after self-harm or attempting suicide should be asked if they have experienced domestic violence (DV). The Bristol Suicide and Self-harm Research Group (SASH) has released a video highlighting how important it is to discuss DV in the context of self-harm and they are trying to raise awareness of the issue.

In England and Wales over 5,000 people die by suicide every year. For every death there are roughly 100,000 who self-harm, and 30,000-675,000 who have lost a loved one to suicide. UK data suggests that 1 in 4 suicide deaths are impacted by DV. Roughly half of people who present to services following self-harm report experiencing DV in the last 12 months.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines say that all healthcare professionals dealing with people who attempt suicide and/or self-harm should ask about issues such as DV. However, evidence shows that patients presenting to mental health services after self-harm, or a suicide attempt, aren’t routinely asked whether they’ve experienced DV.

Bristol’s SASH group created an animation highlighting this issue. The group is encouraging healthcare professionals to talk to patients about their experiences of DV, when they present following self-harm.

The animation is part of a pilot study designed by the team to investigate potential barriers stopping liaison psychiatry staff from asking patients about DV following self-harm. Liaison psychiatry teams provide psychiatric services to patients attending general hospitals.

During the study, researchers interviewed psychiatry staff working in adult mental health services who were involved in assessing people presenting after self-harm. The study team wanted to understand why healthcare professionals working within psychiatry services weren’t routinely asking about DV when speaking with patients. The findings from the study are currently being written up.

Dr Duleeka Knipe, SASH group co-lead, said:

“There is a strong and consistent link between domestic abuse and suicide and self-harm across the world. Despite this, the attention that this risk factor gets in terms of prevention is remarkably low.

“Individuals who experience domestic abuse are at an increased risk of both self-harm and suicide. They are also more likely to repeat self-harm and present to services. This crisis point is an important opportunity to intervene, but at present questions regarding domestic violence exposure are not routinely asked.

“As part of the study we are conducting, it became clear that there was a general lack of awareness amongst liaison psychiatry staff of the strength of the association between domestic abuse and self-harm. We are hoping that video will increase awareness and serve as a reminder when clinicians come into contact with someone who has self-harmed. ”

Watch the video here: