Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Consequences of Making a Suicide Threat

It is misconceived to dismiss an expression of suicidal ideation as merely an act of manipulation. Suicidal ideation can be evidence of Borderline Personality Disorder.   An expression of suicidal ideation requires a risk assessment, so that a risk of imminent harm can be properly established.  Upon the suicide threat being made the person threatening suicide is someone who needs immediate professional mental health and medical attention. That is the case irrespective of whether the threat was made in the presence of the children of the relationship. Where there are children involved in the relationship, the person making the suicide threat should expect that threat to be the subject of a Child Concern Report with the Department of Children’s Services.  Making a false claim of suicidal ideation is a form of emotional blackmail and emotional abuse.

Given the need for professional mental health and medical attention for the person who makes the suicide threat and the severe consequences which may result if the threat is real and not merely manipulative, the safer view is that suicide threats should always be taken seriously. Let the medical professionals determine if the threat was just manipulation. That also enables the process of obtaining professional mental health and medical attention to commence. It will also enable records to be kept of the episode. Reference may be made to those records in the future, if necessary.

Upon being notified of the suicidal ideation of an employee, the employer should acknowledge the need to subject the author of the ideation to a comprehensive suicide risk assessment. Without that assessment it is hard to see how the employer can assert that the subject employee is fit or safe for work. (See Grant v BHP Coal Pty Ltd (No 2) [2015] FCA 1374)

The Full Court of the Family Court looked at suicidal ideation by a parent in Houston & Houston [2011] FamCAFC 178.  In that case the Court posed a number of questions and made a number of observations.
  • The risk for further or ongoing suicidal ideation needs to be assessed
  • What is the history of suicidal ideation by the parent making the suicide threat?
  • Has the parent with the suicidal ideation had any thoughts of harming the children?
  • Where the mother who made the suicide threat gives a history of the father wanting to harm their children, it is noteworthy that evidence to substantiate her beliefs is not available
  • The dearth of evidence to support them suggests that these beliefs are not based on facts
  • What is the psychological profile of the mother?
  • Has the mother had previous thoughts of harming the children?
  • Should the Court’s findings not be to her liking could this occur in the future?
  • The features of the mother ‘of histrionic, paranoid and borderline personality features were a major issue” for which the mother should “seek treatment on an urgent basis.”’
  • “the mother had nonetheless done nothing in a “practical sense” to follow the recommendations of the psychologist”.
  • Are the children at risk of psychological harm if they remained in the care of their mother who made the suicide threat?

In Hunter & Morrison (Contravention) [2014] FamCA 198 the Family Court also dealt with suicidal ideation by a parent. In that case the father maintained that he was fearful for the safety of the children and concerned about the ongoing mental health of the mother.  The father did not support unsupervised time between the mother and the children.

The Court supported the father:
  • writing “to seek clarification of the opinion of the treating psychologist of the mother specifically in relation to the prospect of the mother experiencing and, if she experienced, entertaining, suicidal ideation whilst having the children in her care” (See para [52]); and
  • withholding the children from their holiday contact with the mother in order to protect them from risk of harm (See para [55]).

The suicidal ideation of a parent and the possible self-destructive behaviour of a parent are issues which should be agitated before the Court.  They are matters of which the Family Consultant should be apprised and which the Independent Children’s Lawyer would be expected to agitate before the Court. Records compiled as a result of the suicide threat being reported to the medical professionals will assist in that consideration process.

It is clear that the suicidal ideation of a parent is something of which the other parent is entitled to be apprised, so that they can make fully informed decisions as to the safety and welfare of the children. Particularly bearing in mind Section 60CC (2) (b) of the Family Law Act 1975, “the need to protect the child from physical or psychological harm from being subjected to, or exposed to, abuse, neglect or family violence”.

In addition, the suicide threat having been made, the legal representatives of the respective parents should ensure that they have properly discharged their obligations under s60D of the Family Law Act 1975 (obligations in relation to best interests of the child) and advised the respective parents of the need to protect the children from harm.

It is hard to see how parenting orders can be made in the best interests of the children without proper consideration of these issues.