Awareness days can save lives and change lives

My weekly message to staff from 14/09/2018

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Welcome to The View

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

It could be easy to become jaundiced and cynical when faced with a continuous cycle of “awareness days”. What difference do they make anyway? I would argue that they can make a profound and lasting difference that echoes through time. Let’s take two examples from this week.

Sepsis claims about 31,000 lives each year in England. Children, people over 75, people who are immunosuppressed and those with multi morbidity are more at risk. Better diagnosis and treatment of sepsis has become a priority for the NHS in England since 2015, following tragic cases of delayed treatment where parents fought for greater understanding and focus on sepsis. World Sepsis Day took place on Thursday and continues to highlight changes that are required.

Zoe Picton-Howell worked with UK Sepsis on their campaign on the day. She wanted the following to be widely heard:

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This is a lesson that she has learned the hard way, following the death of her son Adam in 2015. It is a lesson we need to learn, given our patients and service users are vulnerable and often have cognitive or physical issues or both. If you read the sections on people at risk, they are our community matron caseloads, the people on a district nurse, podiatrist or occupational therapist’s round and the children our learning disability, specialist nurses and therapists see every day. You can read the NICE guidance available to help staff spot the early signs of sepsis here.

You can also read Adam’s description of what good care looks like here. Please do, he communicated it from a hospital bed by blinking the words to his mum, and the wisdom of a disabled 13 year old boy provides firm evidence that everyone has skills and assets to bring if we only find a way to see them.

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World Suicide Prevention Day on Monday got a lot of airtime. Events took place around the patch and across our Trust. The mayor and mayoress of Barnsley attended a football tournament at the wonderful Barnsley FC on Monday in aid of suicide awareness for example. Thanks to Hannah Burton, sports lead, for supporting the #AlrightPal campaign aimed at getting men to talk more openly.

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This is something I care about and have been prompted into action by the Time to Talk campaign. It was that campaign that made me talk about the suicide of my brother. I now do so openly and have been overwhelmed by the responses from other people affected. The Wakefield and 5 Towns Recovery College runs a “Let’s talk about suicide” course – a friendly and confidential session where students learn the facts and common myths about suicide – to which I contribute with this short film. I know it makes a difference – from the people who have also been bereaved by suicide who I speak to and those who have come back from the brink.

Read these messages of hope that the Trust has been promoting this week. Hopelessness and helplessness are dominant feelings for people who have suicidal ideation. And we know that only 28% of people who die by suicide are in touch with mental health services. The rest are in touch with someone else or hidden. Hence the shock often felt when someone dies by suicide because nobody was aware of the suffering.

I would encourage everyone to take this free 20 minute training provided by the zero suicide alliance. You never know, you may just save a life.

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Do awareness raising days make a difference? They can where they provoke action and a response. Zoe put personal tragedy to one side and used World Sepsis Day to inform and educate. Hannah got vulnerable people together and used World Suicide Prevention Day to inspire and motivate. So what will your response be?

Have a great weekend

Rob

Chief executive

 

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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