Stepping back from suicide

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Anyone can have suicidal thoughts, but there is always hope. Julian Stanley considers how we can remove the stigma around mental health issues in schools.

Next week is NHS Change Day. It is, as the promotional literature describes it “the largest ever simultaneous improvement event in the NHS, mobilising 65,000 colleagues into a single day of collective improvement action”. 

The key purpose of the day on Wednesday (March 13) is “to make a difference for patients and to do something better together”. There are various pledges on how departments and organisations might focus their Change Days. One pledge is around mental health, and more specifically suicide.

The pledge is to share with everyone that it is possible to overcome suicidal thoughts and feelings, and that there are many resources available to help those who are struggling to cope. A key message is that anyone can experience suicidal thoughts and that there is always hope.

As a charity working in the field of mental health, Teacher Support Network has pledged to help spread this message of hope. Yet why do we need to change our attitudes to mental health and suicide?

Figures from the Office of National Statistics out earlier this year showed a significant rise in UK suicides – 6,045 people killed themselves in 2011, an increase of 437 since 2010.

According to reports on the BBC, among other media outlets, the highest suicide rate was among men aged between 30 and 44. About 23 men per 100,000 took their own lives. In Wales, the suicide rate has increased by about 30 per cent in two years. Out of 100,000 men, 22.5 killed themselves in 2011, compared to 16.2 in England and 13.2 in London. 

It does not end there. The charity Time to Change warns that one in four people and one in 10 children will experience some form of mental health problem. In reality, this means that we most likely work with someone experiencing a mental health problem. Nine out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma or discrimination.

This stigma can lead to secrecy or an unwillingness by many staff to disclose their illness. In the Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2012, just one in 500 university staff admitted to their employers they had a mental health problem.

Another mental health charity Mind found that “one in five workers would not disclose stress or mental health issues to their manager for fear of being placed first in line for redundancy”. They also found that 92 per cent of the British public believe that admitting to having a mental health illness would damage their career. The study revealed that one of the professions most likely to be affected was teachers.

Similarly, in the HSE’s Labour Force survey, education, teaching and education professionals were listed among the occupations with the highest rates of total cases of work-related stress, anxiety or depression respectively. As many as 40,000 people working in education right now could be experiencing some kind of mental health problem.

So what can we do? There are, of course, many activities, initiatives and campaigns that we could all get involved with, either individually or collectively. In the meantime, here are four simple things you can do right now to make a change:

  1. Know the facts from the myths. There are so many myths around mental health, make sure you know what is true and what is not. Most mental health charities list the facts, or you could try the Understanding Anxiety guide from Anxiety UK.

  2. Share the facts. Once you know the facts, tell your friends, colleagues, and family.

  3. Know where to get support. Put support line numbers next to the phone in the staffroom, on noticeboards, or even in the toilets.

  4. Speak up. Donate your social media for the day to #Change and update feeds with mental health facts. 

  • Julian Stanley is chief executive of the Teacher Support Network. Visit www.teachersupport.info or call 08000 562 561 (England), 08000 855088 (Wales).


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