Image: Shannai Pearce (Facebook/The Black Dog Institute).
Shannai Pearce was just 14 when she made an attempt on her life.
Considering the severity of the situation, let alone the fact she was only a child, you’d imagine Pearce’s case would be treated with the utmost care and sensitivity. However, social workers accused her of “attention seeking”, and when she was taken to hospital she was given a script for sleeping tablets before being discharged.
“I didn’t see a psychiatrist – nobody. Then my case worker came to pick me up and take me to a youth refuge, where they said I would lose my accommodation if I self-harmed again,” Pearce, now in her 20s, tells the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I never heard from the hospital after that. I just got a bill for the ambulance a couple of months later.”
This story is horrifying, but a new report released by the Black Dog Institute suggests it’s not necessarily uncommon among Australians who have presented to health services following a suicide attempt.
The study, the first of its kind, found many patients in this situation have been met with negative or disinterested attitudes, anger and irritation from medical staff.
Some reported being discharged too early and speaking to doctors who didn't attempt to identify the underlying cause of their distress.
In fact, one third of all patients who presented to hospital after attempting suicide received no mental health follow-up at all after being discharged. Considering more than 60,000 Australians make an attempt on their lives every year, this is a significant number.
According to Chief Researcher Dr Fiona Shand, there are a number of reasons why these findings are concerning.
"We know that emergency departments are often the first point of contact for people experiencing mental distress and a negative experience will result in an unwillingness to seek further help," she said in a statement.
“Secondly, a lack of appropriate mental health care meant people were often discharged too rapidly and without the knowledge of loved ones. In this situation, future suicide risk is increased.”
In an interview with the ABC Dr Shand stressed that many health professionals are committed to providing good care for mental illness, but are working within a health system where staff and systems are under stress. (Post continues after gallery.)
She believes implementing a system that ensures people leaving hospital after a suicide attempt receive ongoing care from a GP or mental health professional would improve the treatment currently available.
Shannai Pearce, who now volunteers as a community youth presenter with The Black Dog Institute, believes mental illnesses and suicide attempts should be treated like any other injury.
"If someone comes in with a broken leg, they'll be put in a cast and there will be referral and follow ups. That could have prevented many many years of suffering for me," she tells the Daily Mail Australia.
"I had six.. seven.. eight years where I was in this void in my life and I'm pretty lucky that I came out of it alive." (Post continues after video.)
Where to find crisis support
Sadly, more than 2500 Australians die by suicide every year. If you think someone you love could be contemplating suicide, or you've experienced suicidal thoughts yourself, it's crucial to know where to find help.
There are a number of organisations in Australia that offer crisis support services for suicide prevention, information and resources, both for people who are suicidal and their concerned loved ones. These include:
Suicide Prevention Australia: visit www.suicidepreventionaust.org
The Black Dog Institute: visit www.blackdoginstitute.org.au
However, if you think someone is at imminent risk of attempting suicide, or they have threatened to do so, you need to call Triple 0.