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Article: World Suicide Prevention Day 2023: Blog by Rosemary Ellis, NSPA Executive Lead

An NSPA blog article marking World Suicide Prevention Day 2023 by Rosemary Ellis, Executive Lead of the NSPA.

In the first of a series of reflection pieces, marking World Suicide Prevention Day 2023 and the start of our campaign, Reflecting on the past to drive change for the future, the NSPA’s Executive Lead, Rosemary Ellis, talks about some of the changes in suicide prevention along with reflections from the NSPA Steering Group.

Refreshing action for suicide prevention

“It’s a little over three months now since I joined the NSPA and it’s been both informative and inspiring meeting with people from across the alliance, as I listen and learn about the current suicide prevention landscape, the challenges members face and the changes they want to see.

We are at a critical juncture in suicide prevention. A new suicide prevention strategy for England brings with it a renewed impetus for action and a lever for change. The newly opened £10 million voluntary and community sector grant fund for suicide prevention, while modest, will be vital for addressing the increased demand for suicide prevention services and activities and supporting innovative approaches. This is a great time to be refreshing action for suicide prevention. But we also know that current funding for local suicide prevention work is soon to end, and this is against a backdrop of the rise in the cost of living and rising inequalities in society, factors we know that contribute to suicide.

Significant opportunities and challenges lie ahead, but we want to harness the momentum built over the past decade and continue to support and work with the NSPA network to drive change.

Pause, reflect, learn, grow

This World Suicide Prevention Day we decided to do something a little different from our usual approach. We’re using the 10th September to start a conversation about the most significant changes we have seen over the past 10 years, what we can learn from these and what changes we want to see moving forward. We plan to keep the conversation going through the autumn by inviting members to share their own reflections through our short survey and by running a series of online discussions thinking about what’s needed to support suicide prevention work with publication of the new strategy. What we learn from these conversations we will use to inform our work and develop our offer to members.

A decade of suicide prevention work

I find myself in the uncommon situation of being simultaneously new in post but not really new. Ten years ago, I joined Samaritans as a project officer to help set up a new suicide prevention alliance for England. This built on an initial Call to Action that brought together 48 national organisations to identify a set of consensus priorities that fed into the 2012 strategy and setting out collective commitments for action. That alliance was the NSPA. I have been away from suicide prevention for the past six years, and as an observer coming back to the space, I can see that so much has changed.

I asked our Steering Group members what they thought some of the most significant changes were. There were many different reflections and we will be sharing these in the coming weeks. One theme in particular that emerged, was increased public awareness of suicide. As Emma Williams, Steering Group member and Lived Experience Influencer reflected, “there are more conversations and campaigns around suicide prevention and more visibility of the subject”. This is something I have noticed in my everyday life, particularly the recognition of male suicide. Now I often see male friends outside of the mental health and suicide prevention space, talking about the importance of seeking support and breaking down the stigma of help-seeking in men. There is much that has changed in public discourse but we need to do more to educate people about how to have conversations about suicide, as Clare Stafford, NSPA Steering Group member and CEO of The Charlie Waller Trust notes, “It’s OK to ask.  Crucial that we have simple, evidence-based information and training to support this of course as stigma still exists.”

Valuing the voices of people with lived experience

One of, if not the most, important changes we have seen and another strong theme that emerged, is the increased recognition of the benefit and value that lived experience expertise brings to suicide prevention. This includes the expertise of people who live with suicidality, have survived a suicide attempt, and people who are bereaved through suicide. This is one of the things I have found most encouraging. I think it’s important to recognise that people with lived experience have been influencing suicide prevention for many years. The transformation of suicide bereavement support across England is undoubtedly thanks to some incredible work and influencing by those who have been bereaved. But lived experiences voices have not always been consistently listened to or recognised as essential to suicide prevention. That has, and is changing, we see this through our Lived Experience Network and how many more local areas are seeking to involve people with lived experience in strategy planning and service development. Later in the week, Jess Worner, our Lived Experience Manager will introduce a blog with a curation of reflections from our Lived Experience Influencers, including their calls to action for suicide prevention professionals.

Local suicide prevention

Ten years ago, local authorities were under no obligation to take action on suicide and nearly a third of local areas did not have specific suicide prevention strategies. There were calls for prioritisation and the need to invest in local suicide prevention work, and there is a need to continue beating that drum, but progress has been made. A review by Samaritans and the University of Exeter showed that, by 2019, the vast majority of local authorities in England had a plan in place. So, the question now is ‘how can areas be supported to deliver what’s in these plans and what does good local suicide prevention look like?’.

“The sector has grown significantly over the last ten years, together with people with a range of lived experience using their experience to drive change.  A multitude of suicide prevention initiatives are now happening locally across the country. We have to make sure we continue to learn from these about what is working well and take the opportunity to build on what is already happening.”

~ Jacqui Morrissey, NSPA Co-Chair and Assistant Director of Influencing, Samaritans

No time for complacency

These are but some of the changes we’ve seen; there are more, which we will reflect on in the coming weeks, alongside some honest reflections of where not enough has happened. We know, for example, that there are communities that are in the greatest need of support, but whose voices have not always been heard or needs prioritised. And the groups and communities in need of support can of course be different across England and change over time. The point perhaps, is that we need to move towards suicide prevention that speaks to the diversity of the UK population and the diversity and intersection of people’s experiences and identities.

Whilst the suicide prevention landscape may well have changed, we also have to ask ourselves if the pace of change is enough. Yes, we may have come far but with more than 5,000 people dying from suicide every year in England, those numbers over a decade are even more sobering. It’s also important to remember that what’s not reflected in this, are the many people who may live with suicidality or have survived a suicide attempt and whether we understand enough of how current suicide prevention activities impact on these groups.

We are not complacent. Our ambition is to reduce lives lost to suicide. In taking stock of where suicide prevention is at and what’s changed, our hope is that it will spur greater action and give us courage that our collective actions can effect change. So our calls to action this World Suicide Prevention Day are:

– Tell us your views on what’s changed in suicide prevention and the changes you want to see via our survey

– NSPA members – get involved in our online discussions, talking about the challenges faced and what is needed to bring about meaningful change  

Become a member if you want to be part of the change

About The Author

An image of Rosemary Ellis, NSPA Executive Lead
Rosemary Ellis

Rosemary is passionate about suicide prevention work and bringing people together to both raise the profile of the issues and collaborate to find solutions. She returned to the NSPA in May 2023, having helped establish the Alliance between 2013 and 2017. Rosemary has a wealth of experience managing projects and programmes in the mental health and suicide prevention spaces, and across a range of sectors. Since leaving the NSPA previously, her work has mainly focused on children and young peoples. This has included addressing youth unemployment working in partnership with The Prince’s Trust, and addressing childhood trauma and working with children whilst at the Anna Freud Centre. Most recently she was managing a student mental health change programme led by UCL’s academic psychology department.