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Health Professionals who Die by Suicide – 5 Tips for Change


If the content of this post has affected you in any way, please visit the support page of this blog….

Yesterday was #NHSChangeDay, and I pledged to #StartTheConversation and raise awareness about health professionals who are in psychological distress. As it happens, @WeDocs conveniently hosted a  #WeDocs Tweetchat on preventing suicide in health care professional populations. It was great to see an issue I feel so passionate about being discussed, shared and given some much needed attention. This kind of innovative Twitter usage is one of the things I love about our NHS radicals!

Throughout the conversation, there were seemingly many people concerned and wanting to prevent clinician suicide, but not many solutions to prevention were put forward. -> See the chat summary here

A recent situational analysis into Suicide by clinicians involved in serious incidents in the NHS has identified the current support services available clinical staff, yet there is no consensus on how to effectively support clinical staff, and nobody has yet taken responsibility for the well being of NHS staff (Strobl et al, 2014). This has been further complicated by the fact that Clinicians often have difficulty in recognising symptoms and risk factors associated with their own suicidal behaviour (Goldney et al, 2002). Clinicians are at a higher risk of suicide than the general population, can be misunderstood and left unsupported whilst under immense pressure (Chan et al, 2014). The GMC have recently published a report in regards to a high rate of professionals dying by suicide whilst under investigation. A tragedy for all.

Psychological safety for NHS staff is critical for patient safety and every shiny new white paper will tell you this. But it is also critical for the NHS’s ‘ethical well being’ to care for it’s staff. If the NHS as an organization lets its staff suffer, how will it ever live with itself? The trauma will inevitably become endemic.

So what changes can we make to prevent suicide?

1. We could treat NHS staff as ‘innocent until proven guilty’ & eradicate ‘Name Blame and Shame’ Cultures.

2. Consider that poor behaviour may actually be ‘ill’ behaviour in need of medical treatment before disciplinary action takes place (Brooks et al, 2014).

3. Consider alternatives to discipline & create psychologically safe work cultures.

4.Expose investigation staff to front line clinical practice to understand organizational cultures and pressures.

5. Develop a tailor made national support programme for NHS staff which is confidential, anonymous and provides professional amnesty (The aim of my entire PhD research project)

Also… please keep the conversation going 🙂

Brooks, S, Del Busso, L, Chalder, T, Harvey, S ,Hatch, S, Hotopf, M, MadanHenderson, M (2014) ‘You feel you’ve been bad, not ill’: Sick doctors’ experiences of interactions with the General Medical Council BMJ Open 2014;Vol.4 (7) :e005537 doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005537.

Chan, W., Batterham, P., Christensen, H., Galletly, C (2014) Suicide literacy, suicide stigma and help-seeking intentions in Australian medical students. Australas Psychiatry April 2014 vol. 22 no. 2 132-139

Goldney RD, Fisher LJ, Wilson DH (2002). Mental health literacy of those with major depression and suicidal ideation: an impediment to help seeking. Suicide Life Threat Behav 2002; 32: 394–403.

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Am I too late to the ‘NHS staff wellbeing research’ party?

I began this research journey because I saw an opportunity to make a positive contribution to the healthcare community (and gain a PhD)! I believed that NHS Staff wellbeing was an under researched and undervalued subject (and it is to a large extent). When I began my time at Coventry University, I presented my research proposal to a group of peers at the West Midlands Health Informantics Conference just before Christmas 2014. My ideas were met with enthusiastic conversations and praise for my work, people were excited that it was happening, it was ‘new’.

Then of course I begin to delve into the literature and start to see a plethora of papers and super duper academics who have introduced me to this wondrous world. I see TV snippets, twitter conversations, national and local conferences, action groups and new research on the topic. Am I too late to the party?

What I plan to do has never been done before, but I know that many people have had the same idea. Will it be a race to publish? I hope not. I hope I can find similar minded people to drive forward this positive movement forward, collectively. We should all be in this together, making change happen through collective leadership and a shared passion for the wellbeing of NHS staff. I do worry that I am not really contributing towards new knowledge, but I must keep focussed on the end goal (and beyond the PhD)!

The most refreshing thing is the open discussions being generated through twitter – The next one I will be involved with is on the 11th March, 2015 hosted by WeDocs using #WeDocs – Preventing suicide in NHS staff

This new research is inspiring and I would like to share it:

Wilkinson, M (2015) UK NHS staff: stressed, exhausted, burnt out. The Lancet Volume 385, No. 9971, p841–842, 7 

Sheen, K, Slade, P, Spiby, H (2014) An integrative review of the impact of indirect trauma exposure in health professionals and potential issues of salience for midwives. Journal of Advanced Nursing. Volume 70, Issue 4, pages 729–743, April 2014

Implementing culture change within the NHS: Contributions from Occupational Psychology

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#mybluelight Campaign

Today, Mind Charity published its Blue Light Campaign to provide mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England.

One quarter of a million people who work and volunteer in the emergency services are even more at risk of experiencing a mental health problem than the general population, but are less likely to get support.

As usual, they found that it was stigma that was the biggest issue in staff seeking help. Stigma truly is the real killer, and I will be writing a blog on it soon. The campaign will do the following to help our emergency services:

  • An anti-stigma campaign, working together with Time to Change, and guidance for employers to improve the way they support their staff
  • A bespoke mental health training package for managers as well as frontline staff and volunteers across the emergency services
  • A pilot approach to build the mental health resilience of emergency services staff and volunteers
  • An information helpline and resources just for emergency service staff and volunteers, and their families.

The support will be available from April 2015 and the Blue Light Programme will run until March 2016. It is being developed in consultation with individuals from across the emergency services.

The Twitter hashtag for this campaign will be #mybluelight

It is so refreshing to see this issue (which as you know I feel super passionate about) being addressed. Although I hope this project will extend to all health workers who may all at some point be exposed to the same psychological traumas. A great perspective on other Blue Light professions is given by The Mental Health Cop who was also part of the advisory board for this campaign.

Although this work is amazing, it also involves empowering staff with resilience, and this concept concerns me. It may suggest that there are some who can cope and others who are weak. It may imply that if you have resilience, then you will not be affected. In other areas of work based psychological distress, you shouldn’t have to be resilient. For instance to bullies, blame and scapegoating cultures, it should just stop. We will always be affected by traumatic incidents, and I know that this anti stigma campaign and valuable resource guidance will improve the mental health and well being of NHS Staff.

Why not ask your NHS Trust to sign the Blue Light Time to Change pledge and develop an action plan. Commit to support better mental health in your workplace – get in touch with Mind and give your name, job title, the service you work for and your contact details.

Email bluelight@mind.org.uk with your name, organisation and contact details and Mind will send you updates on the programme.

If you have been affected by anything discussed within this post please see the support page on this blog.