Charities are aiming to work with teachers, taxi drivers and hairdressers hoping to transform Brighton and Hove from a city with one of the highest suicide rates in the country to one with the most support for suicidal people, NEIL VOWLES reports

Business should have trained staff capable of dealing with mental health problems in the same way they have first aiders trained to deal with physical injuries, according to a leading suicide prevention charity.

Brighton-based Grassroots Training believe having staff trained in suicide awareness is more essential than ever, as the recession is being cited as the cause of 1,000 more suicides a year nationwide.

It is just one of the innovative ideas that the newly-formed charity is attempting to make a reality in a bid to make Brighton and Hove the first Suicide Safer City in Europe.

The campaign began in September and is a three-year bid to try to hit a number of targets to increase the amount of support available to those contemplating taking their own lives.

As part of the campaign, Grassroots has been approaching local businesses to become a supporter, champion or ambassador of the Suicide Safer City scheme.

In return for financial donations, companies would receive support packs and even intervention training for their executives or HR teams.

Mental health first aiders

Chris Brown, a director of Grassroots Training, said that support was needed more than ever with workplaces becoming increasingly stressful.

Ms Brown said: “Employees can turn to first aiders if they are physically injured at work.

“We want to have mental health first aiders trained in suicide intervention in large organisations.

“Since we know that one in 20 people think about suicide in any one year, it would be great to have that sort of ratio of staff to trained workers.”

Crisis intervention

The charity is also looking to establish a 24-hour centre where people suffering from suicidal thoughts can go to for support.

The city’s suicide prevention strategy group is looking at creating a specialist centre as an alternative to more traditional health services.

The proposal is inspired by the Maytree centre in London which models itself as a “sanctuary for the suicidal” and offers those in desperate need the opportunity for a short, one-off stay.

It can be very difficult for anyone in need of immediate suicide support to get crisis intervention care if they haven’t been previously identified officially as having mental health problems.

Wider choice

Ms Brown said: “People’s choices are really limited at the moment. They can either go to A&E or to an out-of-hours GP.

“We would like to offer them as much choice as possible.”

Other services that the Grassroots team would like to see brought in if funding is available are a bereavement squad that would be alerted whenever someone has had a sudden or traumatic death by suicide, or has attempted suicide, as well as providing trauma support for victims of flooding or major accidents.

The campaign received a boost at its launch when singer Sinead O’Connor, who has become a vocal campaigner on the issue following her own battles with mental health problems, appeared via video link.

Despite the publicity, Ms Brown says that the issue of suicide still suffers from stigma and silence.

Suicide stigma

She said: “It is more difficult for those of us working in our field to get funding compared to other conditions.

“There is still a stigma around suicide.

“If you talk to most people, they will have a personal connection to the subject but it remains something that is unspoken and untreated.”

To launch the campaign, organisers received some NHS funding and there are hopes that further funding could be confirmed soon.

However they concede that fundraising will have to go a long way to plug the gap in the £123,000 it has been estimated the project will need to meet its targets by September 2015.

Waiting list

The Suicide Safer City bid also includes proposals to train up hairdressers, taxi drivers and bar staff who might come into contact with people struggling with suicidal thoughts.

So far that remains just an aim, but Ms Brown is confident that there are hundreds of volunteers waiting to attend training once more funding is in place.

She said: “All the people who have signed the pledge could tick a box saying they would be willing to do the training, so we have a waiting list of about 100 people who are interested in being trained when the money is available.”

Grassroots is hopeful that a Chuckle comedy night in March and the night-time Moonriders London to Brighton cycle ride in June will raise much-needed funds.

Spreading awareness

These fundraisers have been made possible by the switch the former community interest company has made to become a charity.

Ms Brown said that the move simplifies matters, with many people uncertain what a community interest company was, while it is also hoped that Grassroots as a charity will also attract more donations, including legacies from families affected by suicide.

The charity is looking to spread awareness and training through a number of key institutions that will become Suicide Safer pioneers.

One of the leading organisations for levels of training among its staff is BHASVIC College in Dyke Road, Hove.

Student support

The school’s assistant principal for student services, James Moncrieff, said the staff looked at ways to tackle what they perceived as an increasing number of students with suicide issues in January last year.

He said: “We wanted to do something in recognition of the increasing numbers of female students who were saying they were in a bit of a state and were thinking about suicide or male students who were further down that route who needed pastoral support.

“Those students who came to us needing help were generally not having problems with social media or bullying or having particularly dysfunctional lives themselves, but were having problems at home and having a breakdown in relationship with their parents.”

So far 11 members of staff have been trained on the high level suicide intervention course while 30 staff members are now booked in for safetalk alertness training in June.

Know the risks

Mr Moncrieff added: “For the next step we are looking at students with some skills, so that those who might be having suicidal thoughts can speak to other students.

“But we need to do that very carefully. You cannot just throw students into that situation and we know that the risks have to be managed even more so than with staff.”

To sign the pledge agreeing to speak out over suicidal thoughts, visit the website bit.ly/TellMepledge.

For more information, visit prevent-suicide.org.uk or Facebook page bit.ly/Grassface.

‘Suicide casts a long and difficult shadow’

Lisa Rodrigues, pictured below, the chief executive of Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which delivers mental health services across the county, said: “Suicide is a distressing subject, it invokes strong feelings and we all know someone affected by it.

“Some of us will have lost someone dear who has taken their own life. Suicide casts a long and difficult shadow.

“Contrary to popular belief, most people who commit suicide are not mentally ill.

“People commit suicide for many reasons – because they are lonely, worried about something they have done, have lost their job, are in debt or because someone important to them has died.

The Argus: Lisa Rodrigues

“Suicide rates tend to go down in times of war or natural disasters, when people feel more connected to others suffering hardship, and up in the aftermath.

“They also tend to increase during a recession and we are sadly seeing an increase in the national suicide rate.

“Perhaps because of the make-up of the population of our city – fewer children and elderly people, more students and younger working people, and higher use of drugs and alcohol – we have a higher suicide rate.

“But we can all make a difference in how we talk about suicide. “One in 20 people are actively considering suicide at any one time.

“Instead of wringing our hands, or blaming someone else, we can each learn how to spot the signs and reach out to help our fellow humans.

“You are many times more likely to be able to help save a life using suicide prevention than by CPR and yet most people don’t know this.

“We want to change this, and help make Brighton and Hove a suicide-safer city.”

Suicide safer city status

To achieve Suicide Safer City status there must be: n A Brighton and Hove leadership committee that works with the city’s Suicide Prevention Strategy Group (SPSG) and plays a meaningful role in promoting suicide prevention.

  • A research-based action plan to complement the work of the SPSG and informs the community about mental health and wellbeing.
  • Two training programmes to teach a minimum of 1% of the city’s population aged over 15 about suicide awareness.
  • Accessible suicide intervention services available to people at risk of suicide, e.g. out-of-hours GP services, 24-hour helplines, a home treatment team, acute and community mental health services and voluntary and peer-led services.
  • Accessible and specific resources in place to support people bereaved by suicide.
  • A number of organisations in the city that have achieved suicide-safer designation, with staff within those organisations trained in suicide alertness and intervention, robust suicide policies and procedures.
  • And they need to mark World Suicide Prevention Day every year on September 10.

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