This is your organisation, we support you, we need you

b4Welcome to The View

Hello, my name is Rob, I’m your chief executive.

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Values based leadership is essential in public service and the NHS – and I have made it a feature of my ambition for our Trust. I always say that you need to be clear on your values so that in tough times you do the right thing or that you have a guide when there is no ”right answer” to a wicked issue. One of our values is being respectful, honest, open, and transparent. At the heart of this is integrity, including a commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. We try and reflect the communities we serve in all their diverse glory.

The news is full of stories and debate that may make people who are “foreign” or “different” or not “White British” feel unwelcome. A positive story about boosting medical training has turned into a suggestion “overseas” doctors are not valued. The emerging policy that all companies will be required to list “foreign workers” has been widely criticised. I would like to offer a balancing view.

The NHS was built on “overseas” staff and continues to run because of them. When I met a group of 100  “Windrush” nurses in Leeds in 2013 they were so proud of the NHS they had built following their journey from the Caribbean. Many of them in their 70s and 80s, they were still excited and passionate about their careers, their roles and their nursing contribution.

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Our own organisation is made up of a mixture of people from different and diverse backgrounds, each contributing to the successful delivery of services within SWYPFT. Our ambition is to ensure that we harness all of their potential and the strength that diversity brings. If you are feeling scared, stigmatised or disappointed by the wider debate, please know that this is your organisation, we will support you and that we need you. Every day, from porter to professor, OT to trainee you are making a difference and enabling people to fulfil their potential and live well in their communities.

Of course we don’t always get this right. There were challenging discussions at the launch of our own Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) network last week and there is more to do. We have positive staff survey results in 2016 to build on. We don’t yet reflect the diversity of our population across the organisation and must act if we are to deliver services that better meet the need of populations.

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Values based leaders accept feedback and challenge and I benefitted from free, expert advice on this agenda when I took part in the “Board” simulation event for the ‘Ready Now’ national leadership programme. The programme takes BAME leaders from across the country and gets them to work on specific challenges. Three groups of leaders were asked to consider SWYPFT’s approach to equality and inclusion, based on our real Board papers and feedback recommendations to the “Board”, made up of 8 real chairs, chief execs and execs. It was a fantastic insight into what was good about SWYPFT’s approach and what was not. Myself, Alan Davis and Tim Breedon left feeling the participants got a lot from the session, and that we got even more out of it. Fresh eyes, real insights.

Perhaps the most courageous statement was from a young woman who said success for her would be

“seeing someone who looks like me sitting at that end of the Board table”.

She was right, and I am sure the Leadership Academy Programme, our involvement in Gatenby Sanderson’s work on NED development for BAME communities and a refreshed inclusion strategy will help. We will certainly be better equipped and informed following the session this week and I would like to thank the participants for their passion and honesty.

Perhaps, she was a good example of “leading from every seat” in an organisation, something I talk about regularly here in the Trust. It’s something I see every day. I see it in the movers and shakers and the unsung heroes putting together the BAME network. I see it in the people challenging stigma and fear, with professionalism, care and a clear link to our values. One of my jobs is to amplify it, point it out and celebrate it.

So, thanks to our team of peer-to-peer vaccinators leading the way on flu uptake. Thanks to the porters at CNDH for raising issues about waste and recycling that was discussed at our executive management team this week. Thanks to the people and teams who were entered for our Excellence awards and congratulations to our finalists. Thanks to the team who put together the SWYPFT cycle club -according to Sarah Hennessy, our librarian, the first cycle this Saturday is an ‘easy’ 22 miles that will be fuelled by mid-way cake.

And thanks to all of you for who you are, how you are and what you do. The world outside is debating difference and there is a risk we exacerbate differences. I’d rather we celebrated our diversity, saw it as the asset it clearly is and used it to deliver for the people we serve.

 

Have a great weekend,

 

Rob

Chief executive

 

This post was sent to all staff on 8th October 2016. I send a mail weekly called The View.

There is always hope, help and life

“Most of us don’t want to change….but what happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change? Change from the known person to an unknown person. So that when you look at yourself in the mirror….do you recognise the person you were but the person inside the skin is a different person?”

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I spoke at the 5th suicide bereavement conference last week. It was one of those events that is somehow uplifting, despite the subject matter and the collective experience of an audience shaped by catastrophe and a common desire to make suicide a rarity, and support for those bereaved a universal offer.

It was an event filled with hope and populated by quietly heroic figures. Bereaved families building hope from catastrophic events that had changed them forever – like Hector’s House for example.

At the event, Author Carla Fine spoke about how death and suicide are not the same thing. Unless you get over the suicide you can’t mourn the death. She also spoke movingly about life before and after suicide and how, following the death of a loved one, you are changed forever. In the aftermath of the suicide of her husband, Carla spoke about the things she had  learned in almost 30 years of study and travel. She spoke beautifully about 5 things that you should do if you are bereaved by suicide.They boiled down to a few simple observations that resonated with me:

  1. Protect your health – look after yourself
  2. Seek out survivors – being with people who understand is important
  3. Be with people – don’t lock yourself away when you have friends and family who will understand and be there for you
  4. Get help – you have been part of a catastrophic event
  5. Accept you have changed forever – life will always now be defined by the time before and the time afterwards

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One of the things that Carla also said was:

“I’ve travelled the globe and there isn’t a  place where suicide doesn’t carry stigma”

My talk also included ruminations on my old friend stigma. It was bookended by my blogs about saying yes to life despite everything, and 5 minutes to slay a dragon. Tears flowed, some of them were mine.

In between was a description of how suicide prevention is a priority in West Yorkshire. I’m proud that this is a major part of work in the region and that we will be taking a “zero suicides” approach, based on a trawl of good practice.  The presentation was loaded with data from the Confidential Inquiry Into Homicides and Suicides and research from Time to Change, as well as work done by the West Yorkshire team. I will post this when it is available. In the meantime, its worth noting that:

  • Only 28% of suicides are in touch with mental health services
  • An estimated 90% of people who die by suicide have some form of mental health problem
  • Mental health issues amplify the chances of suicide significantly

It doesn’t take a genius to see that we have to ensure that mainstream services are more aware of mental health issues. It is also clear that the stigma of mental health prevents people from being open and from getting the help they need – as seen in the report Stigma Shout from Time to Change. The example below is replicated on many ways when you speak to carers too.

 stigmaIn this environment, lives are lost.Stigma. Fear. They will get us in the end if we are not careful. I covered this in my session. Stigma means that people with mental health issues don’t work or disclose their illness. Stigma stops us talking about the issues we face. We have got to end the stigma.

Time to change are pushing progress on tackling stigma with some success. As I write, they have secured another £20m to deliver their work. This is a source of some joy for me. They feature in my story heavily. My pledge in 2013 to talk more about how mental health issues had affected me and my family led to significant changes in my behaviour and my life. They let me see that, as Nick Cave put it, something so catastrophic had happened that I was changed.I speak regularly in public. I have done so four times in the last week alone. I have, I think, become very good at it and rarely get nervous. But the journey from my brother’s suicide to talking about it openly and personally to 300 people in  a packed hall has been the longest and hardest I have faced.

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I must have looked as wrung out afterwards as I felt. Sharon McDonnell, gave me a big hug and told me to look after myself.

It was worth it. By opening up and talking about it, I hope that more people will find #TimetoTalk and #TimetoChange. I want to make this a feature of our West Yorkshire plan. Operating at scale will be important and scale can be delivered when many people choose to change at the same time. Perhaps then we can tackle the stigma of mental health and the stigma of suicide. The alternative is that something catastrophic happens that means we are changed – with the continued death of many people and the suffering of their families and loved ones.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If we talk,  there is always hope, there is help and there is life. Give talking a try. You might just save a life.

If you have been affected by this article – get help here at the CalmZone, the Samaritans, and Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBs)

5 Minutes to slay a dragon

It took me 10 years to write about the suicide of my brother  – the piece I wrote in 2013 is here and is called Saying Yes to Life Despite Everything. Writing the piece was cathartic for me and the response has been humbling. The blog has been re-blogged, read and shared widely. Friends, colleagues and strangers have shared their stories about suicide publicly in response to it. Comfort has been found in shared experience and perhaps a little hope.

I wrote the piece as part of my pledge to the Time to Change campaign. Approached at the NHS Values summit in 2012, I said I would talk more about how mental health issues had affected my family. It is a pledge I have stuck to personally and professionally since.

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Except…..I have never felt able to tell my kids how their uncle died. The stigma, shame and the stain of suicide felt like something I couldn’t put on their tender shoulders. If the subject came up, vague talk of “an accident” sufficed. The tragedy of Phil’s death remained hidden.

In medieval times cartographers denoted dangerous or unexplored territories by putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures on uncharted areas of maps. Over the years, the omission of how Phil died has gnawed away at me and the prospective conversation with my children has appeared on the map of my life with the phrase “Here be dragons” firmly painted over it.  The low heft of dread has dragged through the years and the conversation has reached epic proportions in my mind.

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I don’t believe in dragons or mythology or fate. I do understand fear. Fear of the unknown and fear of consequences. The irrational white noise that prepares your fight or flight responses and subjugates logic. And just as I have learned suicide is often a consequence of a loss of hope and of feeling helpless, I now know stigma is driven by fear. To end stigma we need to face our fears.

The “Take 5” minutes to talk about mental health campaign is a small positive step in ending the discrimination and stigma around mental health. It provides the permission and support to enter unchartered territory. It will be written off by the cyber-cynics as a fad, a #hashtag badge for the worthy or a promotional campaign. It will also save lives and continue a conversation that we must have if we are to map the world we live in for the 21st Century.

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I had signed up to support the campaign on twitter a couple of days ago. I added a twibbon – something i have never done before – and promised myself I would have a chat. I didn’t plan it but left it to emerge.

“How did uncle Phil die” asked my son George today. “Was it cancer? A heart attack?”. We were sitting in a wake and I said I would talk to him about it later. I resolved to use my 5 minutes wisely. Over dinner the subject of Clarke Carlisle came up. Lauren, 12, had heard the story on the radio. We talked about what happens when people become depressed. We talked about losing hope. We talked about mental health. We talked about Phil.

George, 14, looked me in the eye, reached over, squeezed my hand and smiled at me. Questions and answers flowed. The dread sank to the bottom of the ocean. The fear evaporated. The dragon slipped away.

I want to thank Time To Change. It works one person at a time and one conversation at a time. Today it gave me the tools I needed to slay a dragon. It only took 5 minutes. The impact will last a lifetime.

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Saying Yes to Life, Despite Everything

Grief is the most shocking and visceral experience. I was standing in the hallway of my parents’ house. I felt like someone had forced their arm down my throat and grabbed my heart in their fist and twisted. It was excruciating. Just when I thought the pain was too much to bear, they squeezed harder…..My brother had just committed suicide. He was 32 and this was his first attempt. At his funeral, hundreds gathered from across the country to pay their respects. How could he not see how much he was loved by them? By his kids? By me?

I now believe, after many years, that I know the answer. He had simply lost hope.

When looking at suicide, relationship issues, mental health problems, alcohol and substance abuse, financial pressures are usually at the top of people’s lists of probable causes. But hopelessness and helplessness are the main emotions felt by those attempting suicide according to published research. Without hope, what are we?

One of the inspirational clinical staff in my organisation, John Walsh, quotes Viktor Frankl’s work on the power of hope, as set out in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. The original title may be more relevant here – “Saying Yes to Life, Despite Everything”. Frankl survived Auschwitz and lost most of his loved ones in the holocaust. He looked at why people survived the holocaust and the concentration camps. He concluded they were able to find hope in something bigger than themselves – whether religion, family, purpose, love. In brutal conditions in Aushwitz, he discovered:

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire…..I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved…..”

There are now many charities and organisations working how to address or mitigate suicidal risks. These often trade on this idea of building hope or finding meaning.  You probably know someone affected – since 13% of 16 year olds have self harmed and suicide remains the biggest killer of young males. If you or someone you know needs help,  get in touch with your GP who can signpost to some brilliant NHS services – trawl on NHS Choices too.

I would also point you in the direction of the fantastic  Campaign Against Living Miserably which is aimed primarily at men

CALM ambassador-philip-levine

“All men, at times of need, may not know where to turn or go. CALM gives this freedom to know there is always someone to listen and more importantly help. Suicide is preventable”

And UCanCope a partnership between Connecting with People, the Samaritans and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The latter has fantastic free resources aimed at:

 ‘Suicide mitigation: a compassionate approach to suicide prevention’ – the desire that health professionals and those people in a therapeutic relationship with someone who has self-harmed realise that ‘every encounter with a suicidal person is an opportunity to intervene to reduce their distress and, potentially, to save a life.

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This short film says a little more http://vimeo.com/48721158

Today, on Phil’s birthday, this blog is a thank you to those people and organisations who work in this arena.

It is also part of my commitment to the pledge I made to the Time to Change campaign about stigma and mental health – that I would talk more about how I have been affected.

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Perhaps if that stigma didn’t exist and if more time was spent talking about mental health and whether young men are OK, I could be wishing him a happy 43rd birthday. Instead, I will feel the fist around my heart, squeezing ever more gently as time goes by.

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