Wednesday, 24 June 2015

What Connecting for Life really means

The morning Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Junior Minister for Health Kathleen Lynch launched a new national suicide prevention strategy – Connecting for Life.

The document has been welcomed by mental health organisations and campaigners across the country. And it does contain a lot of positive rhetoric. But what does it really mean for those of us who are fighting against stigma, working in the mental health sector, or us with our own history of mental illness, self harm and suicide? 

The strategy acknowledges the effectiveness of stigma reducing initiatives, such as Please Talk and the work of See Change, since the Reach Out report.

The next 5 years need a renewed focus on those vulnerable groups – young men, LGBT community, Travellers – and it’s recognised that a lot of work still needs to be done to address mental health in a proactive way with these groups. And the strategy aims to do this on a community level – with increased focus on training entire communities in SafeTALK, and the importance of the connections with family, friends and communities being emphasised. 

But there is no specific reference to one area that I am particularly worried about; the farming community (middle aged men are mentioned yes and people who work in isolation, but the farming community is particularly struggling with the affects of suicide, loneliness and isolation, and I would have liked to seen a stronger emphasis on them and specific measures to be taken to help a group that can be very much of the 'What will the neighbours think?').

There are 7 Goals that shape action points:
1. To improve the nation’s understanding of and attitudes to suicidal behaviour, mental health and wellbeing.
 2. To support local communities’ capacity to prevent and respond to suicidal behaviour. 
3. To target approaches to reduce suicidal behaviour and improve mental health among priority groups. 
4. To enhance accessibility, consistency and care pathways of services for people vulnerable to suicidal behaviour. 
5. To ensure safe and high-quality services for people vulnerable to suicide. 
6. To reduce and restrict access to means of suicidal behaviour. 
7. To improve surveillance, evaluation and high-quality research relating to suicidal behaviour.

Action points describe in detail how to achieve the strategy’s objections with points like:

1.4.3 The Press Council will amend its code of practice to include a principle on responsible reporting of suicide.

I’m of the opinion this could have gone one further and asked for responsible reporting of mental illness. Too often have we seen newspapers leading with headlines like ‘crazy’, ‘psychotic’, ‘deranged’. God only knows how they’d choose to describe me if I were ever the subject of some newspaper worthy story.

But there lots of positives.

Such as the increase from 20 to 35 crisis nurses throughout the country (which some argue isn’t enough, but I like to accept any sign of positive change for the time being).

Supporting mental health promotion and suicide prevention in primary and post primary schools – a lot of mental health issues develop at this time and an increased emphasis on what mental health and mental illness constitutes (other than that sheet where you have to write positive compliments for your class mates) is very much welcomed.

Working with the HSE to develop national guidance for higher education institutions in relation to suicide risk and critical incident response to address any gaps which may exist in the prevention of suicide in higher education.

Delivering bereavement support to families affected by suicide.

Of course, unless these points are acted on then it is just rhetoric. But the strategy has in place an implementation structure. 

This strategy is different to a lot of government issued documents that I've seen. Action points are clear and well laid out, and have a definite line of accountability by stating which department or body is responsible for each point. Okay, so maybe they are a little vague at times, but there is a clear structure in place to implement the policies.

It points out the importance of connection as a tool for saving lives. And that cannot be emphasised enough. 

Overall the strategy provides guidance on how suicide prevention can be most effective and it will hopefully shape the amount of money allocated to the mental health sector in all subsequent budgets.
And, it’s putting suicide and self harm in the news in a positive way. 

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