Laura Collins says all undergraduate nurses need training in mental health to reduce high rates of suicide in the UK
In 2013, there were 6,708 recorded suicides in the UK and the Republic of Ireland - that is a rate of 11.9 per 100,000 people. Laura Collins, a newly registered mental health nurse, hopes to lower that number by implementing suicide prevention into the curriculum for all undergraduate nursing students.
A recent graduate of the University of Cumbria’s nursing programme, Ms Collins been interested in healthcare for many years. Before becoming a nurse, she worked with a transfusion service, and with the NHS as a clinical coder and record keeper. But it was her degree in social science that pushed her in the direction of mental health.
“During my studies I saw some figures that stated something like 80-90% of certain groups of people had one or more mental health problems,” Ms Collins says. “I really wanted to help, so I started working as a mental health worker in the community but ultimately decided to go into nursing to make a larger difference.”
Ms Collins says that, because she had just finished another degree and was eager to learn about mental health nursing, her transition to nursing school was not difficult.
While she was on placement in her second year, an event changed the way she thought about undergraduate nurse training.
“A patient I was working with took their own life,” says Ms Collins. “It really affected me. I needed to make sure I knew as much as I possibly could so something like this never happened again.”
Calling this the catalyst for her current campaign, Ms Collins focused all of her energy on researching suicide prevention in her third year. She found that suicide prevention training needs to be much more widespread, and available to nurses working in fields unrelated to mental health.
Everybody needs some kind of mental health training because all types of patients need support in mental health
“I realised I hadn’t even been trained in suicide prevention - never mind everyone else,” says Ms Collins. “Everybody needs some kind of mental health training, because all types of patients need support in mental health. Many people struggle to talk to those who are depressed, so we need a type of training to make it easier for people to talk about.”
Afraid that addressing suicide would remain taboo, Ms Collins emailed suicide prevention leader Juliet Gray at Carlisle and Eden Mind, a mental health support charity. Together, they created a half-day session for second-year nursing students that focused on suicide prevention in the nursing profession.
“There was an incredibly positive response,” Ms Collins recalls. “People started to realise this is something everybody needs to be aware of and be trained in. There’s a fear of not having certain skills and making a patient’s situation even worse. With this course, we’re getting to the problem a lot sooner.”
Ms Collins has convinced lecturers at the University of Cumbria to include the suicide prevention course, and it has even gained interest from those in occupational therapy, social work, and physical therapy. However, Ms Collins says it needs to be written into the NMC curriculum and be taught to every pre-registration nurse.
Suicide prevention training in healthcare settings has been successful in other countries such as Scotland, whose Choose Life initiative strove to train at least half of the frontline staff in suicide prevention by 2010, resulting in a reduction in suicide numbers by 20% over 10 years.
Ms Collins is now a mental health nurse at Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. “I’m excited to get on with my job,” she says. “Now I’m not relying on my mentor and have a lot more responsibility, I’ll really start to learn properly.”