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Mental health trust launches campaign to end the stigma surrounding suicide

PUBLISHED: 15:32 08 September 2017 | UPDATED: 15:32 08 September 2017

Mental Health. Pictured: A man talks with his friends. Picture: Time to change/Newscast Online

Mental Health. Pictured: A man talks with his friends. Picture: Time to change/Newscast Online

Time to change/Newscast Online

Take a minute, change a life.

Dr Bohdan Solomka, medical director at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo courtesy of NSFT. Dr Bohdan Solomka, medical director at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo courtesy of NSFT.

That is the simple and powerful message campaigners are trying to instil in the public in the lead up to World Suicide Prevention Day.

Experts from Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) are urging people to break the taboo surrounding suicide and talk more openly as the international awareness day takes place on Sunday, September 10.

The trust is using the day to raise awareness of the help which is available from its wellbeing services in Suffolk and Norfolk.

These include one-to-one support, counselling, self-help advice and courses to improve wellbeing.

Liz Howlett, dedicated suicide prevention lead at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo courtesy of NSFT. Liz Howlett, dedicated suicide prevention lead at the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). Photo courtesy of NSFT.

According to Dr Bohdan Solomka, NSFT medical director, such services provide an important opportunity to help individuals at risk.

He said: “Suicide is rarely something which just happens out of the blue.

“Often there is a long build up and people have had conversations about it in the weeks and maybe months leading up to it, which means there are opportunities to try and persuade them to get help.

“It’s really important for people who feel this way to talk to their family or friends and get their support, then ask their GP for a referral to the wellbeing service.”

He added: “There, people can get help to manage their depressive feelings and anxiety, which prevents it from snowballing into something much more serious.”

People can feel suicidal for a variety of reasons and may be facing a combination of problems that have built up over time.

Those particularly at risk are teenagers and middle-aged men, people with a previous history of mental health problems, anyone who has self-harmed or already attempted suicide and those who use drugs or alcohol.

Dr Solomka said: “Talking about suicide or suicidal feelings remains a big taboo in our society, which makes it harder to explore alternatives and find ways of increasing hope and other less final solutions.

“We can all do more to prevent people feeling that taking their own life is the only answer to their problems.

“By talking more openly and thinking about who is at risk, we can offer a helping hand and give them that lift which gives meaning back to their lives.”

As part of the effort to combat the issue the NSFT has appointed a dedicated suicide prevention lead to work with users, carers and patients to help reduce the number of people who take their own lives.

Liz Howlett is responsible for driving the trust’s five-year suicide prevention strategy, which was approved earlier this year.

As part of that work, she is meeting regularly with service users, families, carers and people who have been bereaved to see whether any further support could be put in place.

Ms Howlett applied for the role after seeing firsthand the impact of suicide.

She said: “Throughout my career and regardless of which area I have been working in, I have seen people deeply affected by suicide.

“It not only affects other patients and relatives, but also the staff who were caring for that individual.

Ms Howlett’s initial work includes further strengthening the NSFT’s relationships with partners, such as Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils and third sector organisations, so that every organisation can work together to learn from incidents and share best practice.

She added: “I was really encouraged when the Government published its strategy for preventing suicide across England.

“It focuses on uniting organisations and bringing together the community to combat suicide, which is very much the approach we are following in Norfolk and Suffolk.”

World Suicide Prevention Day is arranged by the International Association for Suicide prevention (IASP), World Health Organisation and the World Federation for Mental Health.

Anyone who is concerned that someone may be suicidal should encourage them to get help by seeing their GP, therapist or a counsellor or contacting the Samaritans on 116 123.

People can also self-refer to the wellbeing service for additional support by visiting www.wellbeingnands.co.uk or calling 0300 123 1503 (Norfolk and Waveney) or 0300 123 1781 (Suffolk).

Strategy

As suicide prevention lead, an important element of Liz Howlett’s work will be centred on the NSFT’s

suicide prevention strategy.

The strategy’s five priorities are:

• Focus on the safety of clinical pathways and get the essentials of assessment and care planning right every time to make a positive difference to the lives of service users.

• Further enhance the support given to families and carers.

• Support staff with the most up-to-date skills and knowledge to enhance their understanding of suicide.

• Use best practice and innovation from elsewhere while also testing new ideas locally to reduce suicide.

• Continue to work with partners to deliver countywide actions developed in conjunction with Norfolk and Suffolk’s multi-agency suicide prevention groups.

Ms Howlett added: “The strategy commits our trust to do all that we can to avoid the loss of life to suicide and strengthens our pledge to consistently deliver good standards of fundamental care.”

To read the full strategy, visit: www.nsft.uk/SuicidePrevention

Facts and figures

Suicide is an issue which is often not discussed.

However, talking about it helps remove the stigma and could allow those in need to get the valuable help required

The facts surrounding the issue show how important it is to start talking now.

Public Health figures reveal that on average 62 suicides take place each year in Suffolk, with this number rising to 77 in Norfolk.

More than 800,000 people die to suicide each year and it is the second leading cause of death in 15 to 29-year-olds and the leading cause of death for young men between 18 and 34.

Suicide rates are highest among men aged between 35 and 53, with men also three times more likely to take their own lives than women.

This is believed to be because men are less open about their feelings and seek help.

It is communities that play a vital role in suicide prevention – providing social support to vulnerable individuals, fighting stigma and supporting those bereaved by suicide.

Myths

As World Suicide Prevention Day approaches the World Health Organisation has issued a series of myth busters around suicide:

MYTH: Once someone is suicidal, he or she will always remain suicidal. While suicidal thoughts may return, they are not permanent and an individual who has had suicidal thoughts and attempts previously can go on to live a long life.

MYTH: Talking about suicide is a bad idea and can be interpreted as encouragement. Talking openly can give people other options or the time to rethink their decision, thereby preventing suicide.

MYTH: Only people with mental health problems are suicidal. Many people living with mental health problems are not affected by suicidal behaviour, and not all people who take their own lives have a mental health issue.

MYTH: Most suicides happen suddenly without warning. The majority of suicides have been preceded by warning signs, whether verbal or behavioural. It is important to understand what the warning signs are and look out for them.

• If you need to talk, call Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

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