An Edge Hill project to improve mental health interventions in India for people who have attempted suicide or at a vulnerable stage in their life is already having a lifesaving impact.

The partnership between Edge Hill University and two hospitals in Mysore, India is delivering crucial mental health interventions in the country, with the first round of training for nursing staff completed in June and more planned for January 2016.

A team from the University’s Faculty of Health and Social Care and colleagues from the CSI Holdsworth Memorial Hospital and Mysore Medical Collage and Research Institute, is supported by the Tropical Health & Education Trust (THET) as part of the Health Partnership Scheme.

To date the project has trained 120 staff champions who can now undertake mental health assessments directly on patients in hospital settings. In addition, 40 trainers were selected and trained to disseminate the training throughout both hospitals. The team has also established ongoing systems to collate learning evaluations, audits of patient assessments and the number of people who have been referred for psychiatry. The aim is to ensure that the interventions benefit patient and families directly and are driven by local needs in India.

The training focuses on improving mental health interventions for those who have attempted suicide and/or are at a vulnerable stage in their life, in one of the worst-affected regions of the country with the world’s highest suicide rate (World Health Organisation report, 2012). There is an acute shortage of mental health trained professionals in Mysore and with 2000-2500 people being referred to just two doctors each year after suicide attempts this is a major public health concern.

You can watch a short film about the work here:

Steve Jones, Senior Lecturer at Edge Hill University said: “This is a heavily stigmatised subject in India. The preferred method of attempted and successful suicide in India is by deliberately consuming pesticides, with thousands upon thousands dying each year.

When we first visited India in 2012, we were struck by the numbers of people in Accident and Emergency and on ventilators in intensive care who had attempted to kill themselves. In Holdsworth hospital there were 23 ventilators operating, and the majority of patients were ventilated after attempting suicide.  However, health care is not free in India except for the most poor, and if poverty led to the attempt then a hospital bill if you survive compounds debts and may lead to further attempts.

“We knew that we had to start somewhere, and we hope our joint training with Indian colleagues provides a starting point. The next stages for future grant applications will be to explore what leads to suicide attempts, and also how community support after the attempt can be started.

“We have to consider the sensitivity and stigma associated with suicide in India, and the shame felt by patients and their families. There are of course many reasons for attempting suicide irrespective of which country and this is a global problem, but India unfortunately has the highest rate in the world.

“During our last visit to India our work received a lot of TV coverage and national press interest, showing the vital impact this work could have on making the issues open to the public, and the sheer desperation for those who attempt suicide. The media have a duty and responsibility to report accurately these issues, and every day in Mysore when we read the local paper it was strewn with poverty and suicides, it was sad reading.

We were also filmed by a team from THET to bring mental health concerns and suicide to the forefront, and the plight of one patient followed and the work of this exciting project was examined. We remain committed to raising the terrible way to die and the issues that surround suicide, not just in India but also in the UK.”

The team plan to evaluate the project in January 2016, to assess how effective the training was, the quality of assessments undertaken by nurses we trained in Mysore, review patients referred to psychiatry and also evaluate staff attitudes to mental health problems and attempted suicide.

The Edge Hill team, which includes Steve Jones, Paul Keenan, Kathryn Lowe and Professor Clare Austin,  work jointly with Dr Murali Krishna, who is a consultant Psychiatrist at Holdsworth Memorial Hospital and honorary senior lecturer at the University and Professor Rajagopal Rajendra from the Mysore Medical College and Research Institute.

For more information about projects under the Health Partnership Scheme click here.