Guest blog by Sarah Stone, Executive Director, Samaritans Wales – Local action saves lives
One of the early conversations I had when I first joined Samaritans was with an organisation with which we were working in partnership to train staff and raise awareness.
I asked what the biggest change the past few years of working together had made. The answer was that above all, the partnership had changed their very culture and that staff throughout the organisation including those on the front line, now understood far better that suicide is not inevitable. They understood that an intervention, sometimes just a small one like approaching someone and asking if they are ok, can make all the difference.
This understanding that there is effective action we can all take together to prevent suicide underpins Wales Suicide and Self Harm Prevention Strategy ‘Talk to me 2’. The strategy sets a good direction of travel and identifies priority people and priority places. It also encourages a ‘3Cs’ approach, one that is truly cross-governmental, cross-sectoral and collaborative in design and delivery. Suicide is a complex issue involving many factors and therefore needs a co-ordinated effort across the whole of society to address it.
Wales’ National Advisory Group on Suicide and Self Harm, of which I am a member, has just released guidance on how to plan locally to deliver the strategy. This is a very welcome development because it is at a local level that action will really have an impact on suicide prevention in Wales.
Those of you who are part of suicide and self-harm prevention forums will have seen the guidance already. Those of you on Public Service Boards who are not on such a forum may not have seen it yet, but it is highly relevant to the work you are undertaking. The priority people identified in the strategy include men in mid-life, older people with depression, children and young people with a background of vulnerability, people in mental health services, emergency department staff and priority care providers. Priority places include hospitals, prisons, police custody suites, job centres, workplaces and schools.
As the forward, written by Wales’ Chief Medical Officer, says, those who are working directly with people who are struggling are often the helping hand which is needed. It is the responsibility of all of us – as friends, family members, colleagues, or members of our local communities who interact with each other day to day. ‘Working at a local level’ the forward notes ‘requires tenacity, empathy, stoicism, foresight and understanding’.
Suicide and self harm prevention are public mental health issues and early intervention needs to be a key part of our thinking. Actions to improve wellbeing are well aligned to what we need to do to reduce suicide.
The guidance shows how local areas can develop their own plan and includes an idea for action section to help meet local needs.
The guidance identifies three main indicators of active local suicide and self-harm prevention activity in Wales:
1.Developing a suicide prevention strategy and/or action plan that is based on the national strategy ‘Talk to Me 2’ and local data, which sets out specific actions that will be taken to reduce suicide risk in the local community
2. Participating in Regional Forums (North Wales, NW; South East Wales, SEW; South West Wales, SWW) and involving all key statutory agencies and voluntary organisations whose support is required to effectively implement the plan throughout the local community
3. Completing a suicide audit by collecting data about local suicides from sources such as coroners and health records, to build an understanding of local factors including high-risk demographic groups where resources allow.
The guidance recognises that strong leadership from public health, primary care and mental health services within Health Boards with the support of elected members is required to bring together and maintain a multi-agency partnership (Regional Fora) on suicide prevention.