Monthly Archives: April 2016

Clare Knighton – Peer Support – ‘You’re trained now aren’t you?’

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Having found hope in dark places, having experienced the power of Peer-support for myself, I have returned to the world of employment.

Can I ask you to let that sentence just sink in? I felt I had lost everything and would never work again. Here I am, fully employed as a Peer-support worker.

So my recovery journey has taken an unexpected path. I work full time on an acute ward. I have a pass for the ward, after years of trying to escape these places; I now have the responsibility that comes with being a member of staff! I’ve gone from utter despair to now believing that things will be ok, that I’m ok. I feel so lucky that the team I now work with have made me so welcome.  Not only that, they value my opinion and can see the key role that Peer-support plays in a ward environment.

However this is not a fairy story, I still have my dark days, and dark moments, but I have a reason to get up in the morning again, a reason to carry on and these thoughts alone prevent a lot of my previous self-destructive behaviours.

The other affirmation I kept saying to myself was that I am trained! Not only do I have my own lived experience, I am now an accredited Peer support worker. The IMH peer support training gave me a great foundation around principles of recovery. Learning how to apply these in a very acute environment can be hard. I have to remind myself that there will be steps backward as well as forward for both me and the patients! The feedback I get from patients is amazing, they are often really encouraged by the fact that I have returned to employment, and it often gives them hope that it’s possible for them too.

Some of the patients I work with haven’t even heard of the word recovery, and they are often unaware of the mutual benefit I get from talking with them, sharing stories and ideas, validating their experiences and providing them space to hear their story. They are all helping my recovery and I will always be grateful to patients for the mutuality of peer support that I get.

I work with a great team of people. They genuinely care so much about helping, and now, as a member of staff, I get to see just how busy everyone is, how many parts to the jigsaw of an inpatient admission there are. Peer support is a now a part of that jigsaw and I feel valued by everyone. They look out for me, and have welcomed me as part of the team. I will always be grateful to my colleagues on the ward who no matter how busy they are, they are always there for me too. Peer support works!

Clare Knighton

Peer Support worker, Worcestershire

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Emma Nielsen – Media Matters: The impact of media reporting of suicide

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This article was co-written by Emma Nielsen, a researcher in the Self-Harm Research Group at the University of Nottingham and Sophie, a mental health worker with lived experience of bereavement by suicide.  Sophie’s words are quoted throughout.  ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

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Sometimes it feels like the world is full of a lot of rules:  don’t walk on the grass, eat five portions of fruit and veg a day, double space after a period if (and only if) that full stop marks the end of the sentence in APA formatting.  Sometimes this guidance feels trivial and rules feel restrictive and pedantic.  The guidelines for the media reporting of suicide probably fall under this category for some people.  Perhaps at first glance they seem overly prescriptive and counter to creative expression or editorial judgement.  But despite first impressions some rules really matter.  The guidelines for media reporting have been put in place for a specific reason and by people that really understand.

I am the first to admit that I don’t always like being told what to do.  It is not simply a case of stubborn independence or wanting to do things my own way all the time.  It is more than that.  It is the, ‘but why?’  Rules are hard when they aren’t understood.  You need the why.  Often it is not a commandment that is frustrating but being asked to adhere to something when you don’t know how it makes a difference.  It is far easier to tolerate the green wavy lines of grammatical corrections when you appreciated that double-spacing post-period is not mere convention, it is recommended to increase reading comprehension.  Similarly, it is perhaps easier to see the importance of media guidelines when you appreciate why they were created – and there are big whys behind these guidelines.  They are there to keep people safer.  They are there to keep people alive.

Often it is in listening to people’s experiences that we understand the truths of a situation.  Perhaps by feeling the impact of reporting which doesn’t adhere to the guidelines we can start to appreciate how, why and the extent to which these codes of practice really do matter.

“When a close friend died by suicide* my world shattered. Aged 21 and living in a close knit university community meant the grief rocked everyone around us. But for me, and I imagine her other close friends, the pain was unbearable. The depth of emotion I felt, including the shock, horror and the forever unanswered questions have reduced in intensity now, five years on, but they still linger under the surface. The immediate aftermath of shock, sadness, guilt and confusion are still vivid in my mind when I recall it.

I don’t remember how I found out about the first newspaper article that was published. It was the first in a number published by many different newspapers. I can recollect vividly, however, how much the pieces magnified the pain I was in.

Looking back, the papers broke almost every suicide reporting guideline: they commented extensively on the method she used, showed pictures of the place she died and described the act with unnecessarily sensationalised language. The articles speculated on reasons, or lack thereof, she might have had to kill herself, and erroneously linked the tragedy to two other (unrelated) deaths, one of which was also a suicide, that had occurred that term.”

In the reporting of suicide, it is important to think about both what is said and also how it is said.  Discussions around suicide are of paramount importance.  Conversations need to be encouraged but they also need to be constructive, accurate and educated.  The media hold a privileged position. Good coverage can be a catalyst for encouraging a better understanding of the topic, in wide audiences.  Indeed, research evidence suggests that responsible media reporting can have a suicide-protective effect – the Papageno effect – especially if reports consider aspects of positive coping in difficult circumstances [1].  Conversely, irresponsible and negative messages carry scope to make just as big an impact.  This is dangerous.  There is robust evidence that media reporting of suicidal behavior can lead to modelling and contagion – the Werther effect [2]. This is what the current media guidelines set out to prevent [3]. To borrow a catchphrase from Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.

It is vital that those producing media content not only think carefully about the content they are creating but also take responsibility for the way in which these pieces are presented and how people are encouraged to interact with and respond to them.  Education matters and so does compassion.  Opening forums which permit unmoderated comments is perhaps unhelpful in this instance, particularly given the potential for eliciting comments which magnify distress.

“Worse still were many of the comments left by readers, a number of which were nothing less than horrific.  Most exacerbated the extreme distress myself and friends were already experiencing.  Seeing the worst of them ‘upvoted’ by other readers did nothing to help this matter.”

For a journalist, the piece they write may be just another story.  For those bereaved it will always be an important story.  It matters that media producers understand the lifelong impact of being bereaved by suicide.  People who are grieving are vulnerable to experiencing suicidal thoughts themselves and need support.  It is not uncommon for those bereaved by suicide to report having been distressed by media coverage [3]. It is vital to consider the distress surrounding suicide and, if writing a piece, use it as a platform to help others and to signpost them to sources of support.  It is a matter of responsibility and respect.  We need to be considerate.  We need to be hopeful.  These are people’s lives we are considering and people’s futures that we are being hopeful for.

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“Losing a loved one, particularly to suicide, is a pain that may reduce in intensity over time but never really goes away.  Apart from her Facebook page, these articles are among the only tangible online records of the tragically short life of a dear friend.  She should be remembered as the vibrant, gifted, articulate, hilarious woman she was, not as someone portrayed as selfish who couldn’t cope with her studies.”

There is a role for us all. While those producing media undoubtedly have a big role to play, we, as an audience, also hold power.  We shouldn’t be passive recipients. We need to challenge irresponsible and dangerous coverage. If we see reporting that we aren’t comfortable with, or that we know may be difficult for other people, we can politely challenge it and direct people to the guidelines.

Worldwide, someone makes a suicide attempt every 3 seconds. Someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds [4].  Anyone can be affected and each year thousands more are.  We need to create safer spaces for us all..

“It is our collective duty to take action and effect change.

Insensitive reporting causes avoidable distress for those experiencing some of the most difficult periods of their lives.  For the sake of vulnerable people and the bereaved, I implore journalists to use their powerful positions to help, not hinder, the grieving process.”

Emma Nielsen (@EmmaLNielsen) is an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Mental Health and PhD student in the School of Psychology (Lpxen@nottingham.ac.uk)

 Sophie wished to write this piece anonymously. However, she would be glad to hear of any comments. These can be left on the blog or e-mailed, via Emma.  

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*Note: I have not used the word ‘committed’ here – see Emma Nielsen’s excellent blog on the reasons why

 Interested to learn more?

Information and great advice for media reporting of suicide is available from the Samaritans, Mindframe and the World Health Organisation . These codes of practice acknowledge that not everyone is an expert in suicide prevention. They don’t have to be – those with expertise have done, and continue to do, the leg work.  The research evidence is there, the guidelines are outlined on this basis and there are even people there to provide advice. The Samaritans’ Press Office is available 24 hours a day for consultation on any media enquiry or sources of support:

  • +44 (0)20 8394 8300 (during working hours)
  • +44 (0)7943 809162 (out of hours contact)

They are also able to provide up-to-date statistics and advice around their interpretation.

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If you need someone to talk to, Samaritans are available round-the-clock (and free to contact) on 116 123 (UK & ROI)

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[1] Niederkrotenthaler, T., Voracek, M., Herberth, A., Till, B., Strauss, M., Etzersdorfer, E., … & Sonneck, G. (2010). Role of media reports in completed and prevented suicide: Werther v. Papageno effects. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 197(3), 234-243.

[2] Pirkis, J., Blood, R. W., Beautrais, A., Burgess, P., & Skehan, J. (2006). Media guidelines on the reporting of suicide. Crisis, 27(2), 82-87.

[3] Chapple, A., Ziebland, S., Simkin, S., & Hawton, K. (2013). How people bereaved by suicide perceive newspaper reporting: qualitative study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 203(3), 228-232.

[4] World Health Organization. (2000). Preventing suicide: A resource for primary health care workers.

 

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