Mental health patients in Northern Ireland are not getting adequate support in the critical week after they leave hospital, a new survey suggests.
Major concerns have emerged from the study which revealed 25% of patients interviewed had no appointment with medical professionals in the seven-day period after discharge.
Mental health campaigners say this is despite it being the most vulnerable time for suicide. The findings were part of research carried out by Belfast-based lobby group the Patient and Client Council (PCC).
Nine of the 12 people interviewed said they got a follow-up appointment or visit within seven days but three people did not.
Research shows most post-discharge suicides occur in the week after leaving hospital and 24% of post-discharge suicides take place before the first follow-up.
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said "an average" of around 96% of mental health patients were offered a follow-up visit within seven days, but the PCC said the service was "not consistent and not always good".
Three people said they did not get contact details for someone to call if they felt unwell.
"They say, 'if you need us we're here give us a ring,' but when you ring in you don't get anything back so what's the point? "
Meanwhile, four people said they were not given details about the seven-day follow-up.
Another claimed they felt "ignored", relapsed and had to be admitted to hospital, while one was distressed over trying to reschedule the appointment. "I felt very let down and isolated – I couldn't make the appointment because of the side-effect of medication."
Martha McClelland, who was involved in the research, said: "When a person feels support is non-existent, inadequate, or simply does not meet their recovery needs, it raises profound doubts about the meaning, provision and efficacy of 'care in the community'." A spokesman for the HSCB and health trusts said an improvement programme called Releasing Time To Care aimed to improve patient experience by involving patients in all decisions.
"The HSCB is also in the process of developing new integrated care pathways, which will ensure patients meet the care team providing follow-on care in the community prior to discharge," he said.