The overwhelming emotion I felt as I reflected on the National Suicide Prevention Alliance’s (NSPA) conference in January was one of hope.
Nobody working within suicide prevention believes enough is being done to save lives, but it was clear from speakers and delegates attending that the commitment to make a difference is as strong as ever.
And, as we all grapple with the ongoing mental fatigue brought about by the pandemic, we should take heart from both the data and the incredible work going on across the nation.
Looking at the latest data from the Office of National Statistics and Real-Time Surveillance (RTS), which tracks the number of suspected and attempted suicides, the numbers are flat. Thankfully, the pandemic has not led to a rise in deaths by suicide, according to official data.
However, we must put a big health warning on the numbers. It is too early to measure the real impact of this terrible virus. We may yet face the perfect storm as government support is withdrawn, the cost-of-living soars and people’s mental health is severely tested.
One of the reasons I feel hope is there is not even a hint of complacency from anyone involved in suicide prevention, either in the voluntary or statutory sectors.
As project lead for the Dorset Community Mental Health Alliance, I witness every day the desire to help people live happier lives. For some, it is a lifelong struggle but never has there been more awareness of people’s needs or more tools to help them find a way through.
We know many people face prejudice and services that do not always meet their needs – whether they’re from LBGT+ or ethnic minority communities, feel isolated, are neurodiverse, live with socioeconomic deprivation on the margins of society or face a combination of factors.
And while it is vital, we’re never complacent about gaps in services, there has never been a time when both mental health professionals, and their 3rd sector colleagues have been more aware of the need to do better.
So, what can we do in practical terms to make a difference?
With the support of our Public Health colleagues, we have been able to offer 15 voluntary organisations, which felt they needed better skills, free suicide prevention training. In March we will roll out more courses.
We also want to help members develop suicide prevention strategies for their organisations.
In 2022, we will be working with Ann Luce, Associate Professor in Journalism and Communication at Bournemouth University, who lost her partner Richard to suicide 16 years ago. She has dedicated the intervening years to a tireless pursuit of answers and solutions.
Ann helped Dorset’s three universities produce a life-saving SP strategy, which not only recognises the unique set of challenges that young people face leaving home for the first time, but also gives staff and students clear guidance and support if a young person takes their own life on campus.
We will support Dorset’s Multi-Agency Suicide Prevention Network colleagues as they look to identify emerging trends from the RTS data, while recognising it is the tip of the iceberg because it only records incidents reported to Dorset Police and British Transport Police.
We will play our part in the NHS reforms with representation on both the Mental Health Integrated Strategic Programme Board and the Delivery Board, which will determine the county’s provision of mental health services.
Many of our members are part of the Mental Health Integrated Community Care (MHICC) Project, which recognises that primary and community mental health services need large scale transformation to meet everyone’s needs.
One death from suicide is one too many and so encouraged by the amazing work of the NSPA we must all reaffirm our commitment to create a society where nobody feels taking their own life is their only option.
The alliance isn’t a crisis service
If you or someone else is at serious risk of death or injury, call 999 and ask for the police and/or an ambulance
For 24/7 emotional support, speak to The Samaritans FREE on 116 123 or visit, samaritans.org
Connection is a 24/7 FREE helpline for Dorset residents or visitors of all ages. Call 0800 652 0190 or NHS 111 and select mental health, or visit, dorsethealthcare.nhs.uk/access-mental-health
For more about NSPA, visit nspa.org.uk/
For more about Dorset Mind, visit dorsetmind.uk/
For more about the MHICC, visit dorsetccg.nhs.uk/cmh/
To join the DCMHA, visit dcmha.uk/join/