In Mind: The latest update from Chief Executive Joe Rafferty on World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day

Last week I was able to announce that the trust had been shortlisted for a major national award. As the week progressed, we learned that we had in fact been successful being nominated in three further awards: so we will be at the HSJ talking about Just and Learning Culture, redesigned serviced at the PD Hub, our Global Digital Exemplar transformation and also how we’re reducing self harm. This is excellent news and well deserved recognition for the work of Mersey Care staff at many levels.

In addition, as a trust we will soon be hosting this year’s Positive Practice in Mental Health Awards, bringing together excellence from across the sector. I will be telling attendees that yes, they are allowed to show off just a little about the innovations and great practice that they deliver to our service users. This is because the quality of nominations displays their professionalism and commitment to those we serve. And crucially, those shortlistings demonstrate that we have colleagues around us achieving meaningful results for more and more people in the care of the NHS. Our successes make a difference.

Earlier this year, our work with the Zero Suicide Alliance (ZSA) was itself shortlisted for the NHS 70 Parliamentary Awards. We had not long returned from Westminster where the Secretary of State and politicians from across the spectrum had helped to launch the Alliance. Colleagues, friends, partners - coming together and delivering. Much more recently, well-informed media coverage and awareness-raising about suicide – particularly affecting young males – has given us strong evidence of the value of the ZSA. The downward trend has been especially evident over the past 12 months, achieving the lowest rate of suicides per 100,000 population at any time since starting our programme.

But one death is one too many. Our resolve is to continue to see this downwards decline continue in the months and years ahead.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day and, as Chief Executive, I want to thank everyone who supports our efforts and send my strongest wishes and support to all affected by suicide. Mersey Care is playing its part strongly. We now have mandatory suicide awareness training for all. Please, if you haven’t yet taken that training, can you make it a matter of urgency to do so.

I know many have taken the additional ZSA training and I appreciate that this is perhaps especially useful for community staff as they now work with vulnerable people under the banner of a trust traditionally associated with mental health support. The training brings together the experience of suicide survivors, bereaved families and clinicians to form a co-produced package that is robust, accessible and clinically sound. It only takes 20 minutes and may save a life.

On Friday I stood alongside the Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham and mental health champion Luciana Berger MP as we launched the zero suicide programme in Merseyside. I had already pledged that Mersey Care was going to be the first mental health trust in the country to achieve zero suicide in our care, now we aim is to make Liverpool the most active suicide-prevention region in the country.

The old barriers about how we talk about suicide are also really starting to change. Too many of us fall back on the old phrase “commit” – it’s sometimes hard to break habits - but as prominent people like Alistair Campbell and Steve Mallon were sharing on social media last week, suicide is a mental health issue, not to be seen as a crime or a sin. How we talk about it does matter.

To that end, Luciana Berger has been leading work to ensure media awareness of the use of language. There's an open letter in many of today’s newspapers to which I am a co-signatory alongside Luciana, Norman Lamb MP, Andy Burnham, broadcasters Zoe Ball, Fearne Cotton, John Humphreys and Stephen Fry, partners such as Stonewall leaders and many others. In the letter, we say that how the subject is reported must change, starting with that phrase, ‘committing suicide’. We say: “This form of words can imply that to take one’s own life is a selfish, cowardly, criminal or irreligious act, rather than the manifestation of extreme mental distress and unbearable pain. It also adds to the stigma and feelings of shame that prevent people from reaching out for help.”

I've also been part of a wider conversation with global suicide prevention leaders. They have a real focus on deaths not only in health services but also more broadly in our communities. So, I would ask you all to listen to and share the suicide prevention “Talk to Me” message: there’s a new catchy and poignant short music film (see below) that spells it all out. Save a life, protect your community, take the training.

Joe Rafferty

Chief Executive