NSPA Conference: Part 2. Suicide Prevention: the changing conversation.
4. State of Mind Sports Charity (http://www.stateofmindsport.org/) made a dazzling presentation about how they promote positive mental health in sportsmen and women, fans and wider communities, thereby preventing suicides. Danny Sculthorpe gave a moving account of his dark times when his brilliant rugby career was seriously threatened by a very painful back problem.
“I just felt like I had lost everything and that nobody cared. After a couple of months, I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage, and because Bradford were denying any responsibility for the injury, I had to try and find £3,000 for the physiotherapy I needed to give me any chance of getting back playing. At that time, all I could think about was how I was unable to support my family, that my career was over and that the only way out was suicide.”
Sculthorpe found help after opening up about his feelings to his parents and through support from the Rugby Football League. He now works for the State of Mind charity, which established a partnership with the game after it was rocked by the death of Wigan and Great Britain hooker Terry Newton in 2010.
Their resounding message is: “We are all one big team.” So true!
5. Professor Tim Kendall, National Director for Mental Health, NHS England presented the 5 year forward view. He appeared rushed, ill-prepared and unempathetic to a room half full of people whose children had died. Considering he was the most powerful person in the room, he was most disappointing.
6. Counsellor Richard Kemp has been a member of Liverpool City Council for 30 years. He is passionate about providing good housing, community centres and parks for the well-being of people. Ironically he also seemed to think the suicide was a relatively small problem. Interestingly he got this insight from a psychiatrist. However, I strongly agreed with this statement he made – “We need fewer guidelines and more vision.”
We can’t have a speaker from Liverpool who doesn’t mention the Beatles – All the lonely people, Eleanor Rigby, Father McKenzie… This song was well used to speak about the widespread problem of loneliness.
7. Panel discussion at the end had representatives from – Public Health England, Champs, Grassroots and Mental Health Foundation. They discussed finding the ‘seat-belt’ of Suicide. May be there isn’t one. We should work with the information we have in addition to continually looking for stronger evidence. It is important to identify protective factors and talk about them too. Policy makers need to embed these into schools and colleges. Staff must be educated to enable them to spot the warning signs of suicide in a young person and to keep them safe.
Overall, it was clear that the conversation is changing, even though there is plenty of dead-wood around. It is apparent that the motivational level of charities is much higher than the government. There are big questions about the funding of government plans. GP training is still something that is not being addressed as it should be. Somehow there is a level of denial around it, even when it is clear to many of us as an area that needs serious attention.
The drivers of these changing conversations and policies should be survivors of suicide and those bereaved by it. Lived experience is an invaluable source of a wealth of information on the lessons that can be learnt and the changes that are required.