We all have a role to play in suicide prevention

As part of Penumbra’s work around suicide prevention, we’re pleased to be a member of the Scottish Government’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (Read the Group’s recent statement in response to coronavirus here). Spotlight had the pleasure of talking to one member of the Group’s Lived Experience Panel to talk about the role of lived experience and collaboration in suicide prevention. Here’s what Liam had to say.

I’ve always been involved with mental health charities and initiatives, and it’s really important to me that I am able to help people in any way I can. However, I think that we all have skillsets and life circumstances that make us particularly well suited to helping in different ways. I’m loud, driven, I speak my mind and I’m accustomed to public speaking, so for a long time I’ve been keen to move into campaigning, public engagement and organisational roles. When I moved to Glasgow for my postgraduate studies in 2018, I decided that I was in more of a position to start working in those areas. I’m loving it and I want to do more!

The NSPLG Lived Experience Panel was a great starting point for me because I have an unfortunately long history with suicidality.

I think that if Scotland is going to take a lead on suicide prevention, we need to make sure that it is relevant, and lived experience is a vital part of that.

I wasn’t in contact with anybody in Glasgow at the time and just applied after seeing it on Twitter, but now I’m meeting a lot of fantastic people who share my passion, and I know that I will get involved in some great future work with them too.

I see my membership on the Panel as being a part of my own recovery journey, and it’s a journey that will never end. I think that I will always have the problems that I have and that means that not only will I always be working hard to keep myself healthy, but I will also always have something to give. My work with the panel is a part of the next stage of my journey, but it won’t stop there. The longer I live, the more I have to give. Read Liam’s full recovery journey.

The development of mental health initiatives requires input from a lot of people; clinicians, researchers, marketing etc. I think that people underestimate how much collaboration goes into these projects, I certainly did before I got involved. However, the final goal is to improve the lives of those that the project is aimed at, and whilst some people from these roles will have their own lived experience, lived experience must be a formal part of that process. The sad reality is that a lot of people do take their lives and some of those people never seek help, seek help but don’t get it, or are lost even with the support they received. All three must be addressed. The people who can really help us understand why that is the case and how it could be different are the people who have those experiences. The panel consists of people from a variety of backgrounds from across Scotland with many different experiences such as direct experience of suicide themselves and bereavement. It’s a fantastic group of people and we are supporting project developers who are doing an incredible job. Read the Group’s recent statement in response to coronavirus.

I am proud of how hard everybody is working to drive suicide prevention in Scotland, but I’m trying to save much of my pride until several years in the future when, hopefully, suicide rates in Scotland will have actually dropped.

The only way that can possibly happen is if there is cooperation throughout Scotland and we get people on side, and really, such recognition of the work being done is a really positive sign that that people are in fact responding to what we are doing. The public response is also very important and I (and others) are constantly trying to make sure that people know we are doing this, because without public engagement suicide prevention can’t be successful. That such a positive response is forthcoming gives me real confidence that we will make this work, suicide rates will go down and the people of Scotland will feel hope. 

As with any social issue, people typically become desensitised over time and they forget that the problem exists, or at least the extent of it. I think that the pandemic is serving as a mental health flashpoint, it’s bringing mental health back into the view of the public. More importantly however, I everybody’s lives have been upended whether by the virus itself or the consequent lockdown, and I think that this has made people realise that mental health affects everybody. As the pandemic has also interfered with the delivery of mental health services, it also highlights the problems that occur when those with mental health problems can’t access the support that they need.

The important thing now is to make sure that when the intensity of the pandemic recedes, we all remember that those problems will still exist. There will still people struggling with their mental health, there will still be lives being lost to suicide and there will still be either inadequate or inappropriate service delivery. The pandemic is learning experience, but we mustn’t forget the lesson.

Suicide is a dark part of my life and has been for over a decade, and it likely always will be, but that means that it’s normal to me. Sometimes I say the word suicide in conversation and you can see people tense up or start shifting in their seat. Suicide isn’t a normal part of life for most people, they prefer not to think about it and it’s uncomfortable to talk about. This will always be the case until it stops being something that people feel ashamed of, which is why it is so important to keep on talking about it. I don’t just talk about my experience, but I also try to get others talking about it, because that’s the only way that the stigma can be combated.

Loved ones can always help, but the role that they take will differ person to person. For some people they need their family around them, and their family are the people that they talk to about their issues. For me, I keep my personal problems disconnected from my family because that’s how I deal with it best and so the best thing that my family can do is respect that and not try to force their way in. Both approaches and everything in between are valid, the important thing is to make sure that we are supporting our loved ones in a way which is appropriate to their situation.

Thank you, Liam, for sharing your ongoing journey and for being a vital part of Scotland’s work on suicide prevention.

If you’d like to share a story with Spotlight, please drop us a line at communications@penumbra.org.uk