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Alison Gadsby

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‘Mental well-being is a health promotion priority’

I’ve been thinking about suicide over the past few weeks. Not personally, I hasten to add, but professionally, partly because it comes up a lot in mental health services, and also because it has been in the news.

There have been 17 suicides by young people in the Bridgend area of South Wales since the beginning of last year. This is quite a statistic. One theory is that the media are somehow ‘glamorising’ suicide and making it an appealing proposition.

I find this hard to believe. Suicide will only be attractive to someone who is already some way drawn towards it. I know that impulsive suicides happen but look into that person’s history and I’m sure you’ll find some clues.

So what can mental health services, and health services as a whole, do? In England, the National Service Framework for Mental Health has suicide prevention as its seventh standard.

Constant access to mental health care with 24-hour crisis teams was a result of the NSF’s recommendation so that desperate people would have somewhere to turn.

This is all well and good. But what about those who, maybe like some of the young people in the news, seem to be coping with life perfectly well, then shock family and friends by their actions?

We can assess people for thoughts of suicide until the cows come home – but only if they come into contact with services. And even then, there are no guarantees. I’m sure many of you have examples of times when someone in your care committed suicide despite your best efforts.

So what can we as nurses do? Another standard in the NSF is to do with health promotion, and this must surely be a good place to start. There is a lot of focus on physical health and it makes sense to promote mental well-being in tandem, because the two are closely linked.

Why not teach coping skills in schools and colleges along with healthy eating and exercise classes? Train school nurses to recognise when those under their care need mental health support and ensure they know how to access it. Be open about
the struggles that many young people face. And have mental health nurses linked to medical and surgical wards to support the work that staff there are already doing.

I could go on, and I’m sure you could think of or know about many more ideas. Any suicide is a tragedy, so let’s work together to help make life worth living.

Alison Gadsby is a mental health nurse in Cambridge

NEXT WEEK: Brian Belle-Fortune on those who have hijacked the term ‘multiculturalism’

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