Samaritans supported the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self-harm prevention’s inquiry into the support available for young people who self-harm.
In undertaking the inquiry, the APPG brought together experts through oral evidence sessions, as well as collecting written evidence, to better understand what services exist for young people who self-harm, how effective these are, and how they can be improved.
We, at Harmless we’re privileged to give evidence at one of the oral evidence sessions and are proud to have given a voice to those that we help and hopefully to the other services like ours, doing critical work.
Give it a read and be a part of the change that’s required.
We’ve made the recommendations into audios where young people give their voice.
This is such an important week for me and my family. It is PRIDE month with the rainbow flag flying high and a symbol of hope and suffering for so many.
I am the CEO of Harmless and the Tomorrow Project and with my wife Amy, co-founded the organisation in 2007.
So much has changed in the world since that time and thankfully, so much continues to change for the better in so many ways, but we have still so far to go.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately impacted by so many psychosocial factors, including mental health, self-harm and suicide.
I have spent many years trying to communicate broadly about discrimination and how it is inherently entrenched in our systems and services, and ultimately our communities. This means that change needs to happen, but it also means that we can each contribute to that – in the way we think and speak and behave.
I know for writing this, for instance, on some platforms I will face a backlash of anti-gay insults, but i am going to write it anyway.
I am 41. I am married to a woman. We have 5 beautiful children – our eldest of which is 8. My wife and I are equal parents with equal responsible lawful responsibility for our children. There is no ‘dad’ so please don’t ask us who their dad is – we are their parents. We are both mums. Our children have two parents. I am mum, and Amy is mummy. Simple.
The year we had our eldest boy was the first year that same sex parents in the UK would be given equal rights as equal parents. Prior to this point the systems that existed to allow same sex parents to have children (eg. IVF) would have given the sperm donor legal rights to parentage for six months of the child’s life – after which the second parent would have then been able to apply to adopt.
This inequality was less than a decade ago.
We have been lucky. But we have also been sensible. We moved to a village where we already had links and connections and support prior to having a family. Even then we have faced abuse. For the most part we are seen as accepted as a family in our own right, a loving same-sex parent family with five beautiful children.
We often forget that we are any different to any other family. Until those dark times when we are a victim of hate crime and targeted with unjust referrals to social care by someone who inherently believed that our family make up is wrong and thus that our children were at risk. Or when we have to check with the place we are booking our holiday with that they will be comfortable in allowing us to stay.
Such experiences are rife amongst the LGBTQ+ community.
Mostly though it is the subtle ignorances that are the most tiresome. The assumptions that when I refer to my partner, that they are a he as opposed to a she.
One of my most common experiences is when people talk about how Harmless was established and assume that because my wife and I share a surname, that we must be sisters; that is the most common assumption. I am tired of redressing this assumption. I am tired of outing myself, so I don’t, mostly.
It does however remind me constantly that although this is undertaken in the most innocent of manners it is something I have to face regularly and at best is tiresome and worst, upsetting.
The most hurtful of situations that I face is as a parent. People generally assume that because we have children, that the manner and means by which we have had these children is up for discussion. Intimately. I am proud of my family and wherever possible, am comfortable to speak openly about how we have come to have five such beautiful little people. They know who they are. They know how we had them and they know that they are loved but we regularly get asked, mostly by health professionals – ‘who’s mum?’.
We both are.
‘Do they have the same dad?’
They don’t have a dad; they have two mums.
What people mean to ask is – who was birth mum?
Or do the children have the same donor?
Neither of which are rarely relevant to anyone other than to suffice a person’s own curiosity, but please think about the questions before you ask them.
Every day it is assumed that I am a heterosexual woman. Every day I have to decide whether or not I correct someone’s lazy assumptions or if it is easier not to. Every day when we are out as a family we consider our behaviour to each other. We wouldn’t confidently display affection in public for fear of recrimination, or hold hands without second-guessing ourselves.
Things are better, but we are not where we need to be.
I am confident that my children are growing up in a world where acceptance is far greater than my generation, and where they truly will feel more able to be whomever they are. This is good news but please lets not forget those things that still need to be addressed and improved.
A few years ago a ‘friend’ of mine said to me ‘I dont understand why gay people have to make such a big deal about their sexuality; everyone’s equal nowadays!’
And the truth is, we are not yet in a time of equality. And when inequality exists it leads to unfairness and issues and stresses and strains that are distinct to the stigmatised group.
I feel it.
Assumptions are made about me that are wrong – do i address them?
Language is used to describe me that is wrong – do i address it?
I can be heckled, or spat at because I am gay. How do i stand up to that?
I can be inappropriately propositioned by men, because I am gay. I can feel unsafe because of my sexuality.
So my answer to that friend would be this: when all of the above is no longer an issue/issues I face because of the gender of the person I spend my life with, then we can talk about equality.
When I can hold my partner’s hand in public without ever worrying for our safety, then we can talk about equality.
When I can travel the world without worrying that I may be arrested or even worse, killed, then we can talk about equality.
And when my children are seen as that from any other family, without intrusive questions about their parentage and genes, then we can talk about equality.
In the meantime let’s not overlook the additional stresses and strains that may occur because of being LGBTQ+ because I’m tough, but it can feel exhausting.
This has always been our tag line since our service began in 2007.
Now more than ever it is pertinent that we address inequality.
To echo The Samaritans
‘In the midst of a pandemic which is disproportionately impacting the Black community, the recent killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Nina Pop have propelled a collective pain so great that we must initiate change now.
Some of us have been carrying this pain for our whole lives. Others may just now be understanding the extent. Either way, the violence responsible for these tragedies is not new. Systemic racism permeates our society, creating massive institutional barriers and often fatal endings for many Black people in our country.
The field of mental and behavioral healthcare is no exception. Though many work tirelessly to fight inequity and injustice, the racial disparities in our country are real. Although we are listening and learning, we know that is not enough’.
As a suicide prevention service we pay attention to the people who need our help and in working towards enabling the system to better serve justice to our clients. Often, within an inherently prejudicial system.
This year we have focused upon raising awareness of female suicide, an area in which we feel strongly that there is inequality for women and men alike.
Given the LGBTQ+ elevation in risk we too stand with our LGBTQ+ friends in a call for justice and fairness at a time where trans equality is being politically undermined.
Let these factors which set us apart, unite us in one voice unified by #BLM and continue to educate ourselves about what we as individuals and as services can do better.
Self harm does not discriminate- neither do we.
Stand with us as we endeavour to work for a mental health system that has parity of esteem and help us to continue to stand against inequality and continue to save lives.
We will be taking a closer look at inequality and discrimination in a series of articles and discussions bringing issues pertinent to our clients, to the fore.
We are working on a video project – we’d love you to take part.
In this new project we are inviting those who have been bereaved by suicide to join us in a video project of remembrance.
We will be asking those who would like to take part to contribute a video message – where they address their loved one directly and speak to them as if they could hear.
The contributors will record their own video messages on their iPhones or mobile devices and send them to our service who will then edit them together to create a visual act of remembrance.
The videos can include acts of remembrance and memories, conveyance of feelings, regret, remorse, wishes – whatever you wish you could say to the person that you lost.
The videos do not have to be long but should be as honest and direct as you feel they need to be- we want to capture the range of human experiences and losses – we want this to be an audio visual testimony to what comes after loss to suicide.
The messages will be recorded in the first person. Referring to you (deceased) and I (contributor).
You can record the video on a regular iPhone or equivalent- just check that there’s a quiet background before recording. And then you can send to us via email email@example.com
If you struggle to send that way then you are invited to send by WhatsApp or a video free transfer app such as wetransfer.
As a therapist and the CEO of Harmless often people look to me to tell them what to do, both personally and professionally. This happens both implicitly and explicitly; a request for help, some advice on a pertinent issue, a hand to hold in a crisis… but often in the kind of role that I hold people look to me for guidance in a different way.
I try to lead by example. That’s the best tool that I have in my armoury, really, and the best advice that I have to give.
I live a life that’s relatively easy to follow; I live my life quite simply. Work hard. Love hard.
One example that I haven’t set in a positive manner is that of work- life balance. Whilst I adore my family I have systematically found myself over-working because the burden I feel to support the many, many vulnerable people that access our service is pressing.
Over recent months our service has faced the most tremendous challenges in the face of covid-19 and many of us faced burnout.
I am now revisiting so many old strategies to try and recover a state of catharsis, recovery and pass times that aren’t just related to being a mum or a CEO; they are about being something to myself and for myself.
I have read a book, picked up my pencils and started to draw and ensured that I spend at least some of the day in the outdoors. This is a new effort because no matter who we are, we really need to make the effort toward self-care.
For those of us with a tendency toward perfectionism and drive with a high work ethic it can be ever more pressing to try and revisit the concept of catharsis and escapism. I
t doesn’t come easy; it takes practice and it doesn’t matter who we are and what we do, it is an effort worth making as we all try to stay healthy and well.
The University of Nottingham and Harmless are inviting professionals to participate in a study exploring effective suicide prevention in primary and secondary healthcare settings.
We are inviting staff, as well as academics and researchers who work in this field, to complete a short survey which will help us to understand the facilitators, constraints and barriers experienced by staff across various primary and secondary settings.
Our aim is to identify current issues with implementing best practice guidelines for suicide prevention in primary and secondary settings and how this varies across different agencies (e.g. community mental health teams, GPs, crisis teams). It is hoped that this research will help to inform and provide recommendations towards best practice guidelines for frontline staff in local settings. This research will form part of a research project for the MSc in Mental Health: Research and Practice at the University of Nottingham and has ethical approval from the University of Nottingham Division of Psychiatry & Applied Psychology Ethics Committee (Ethics reference number: 1514).
Creativity is such a critical part of who I am. I draw. I write. I think creatively.
In part it is my abstract and creative thinking style that often lends itself well to my work with people and certainly in driving our service forwards.
I have just written three children’s books to enable my own children understand emotions; I have driven our photographic work, I’ve published poetry widely and one of my most proud products is our book In Our Own Words.
I try to use my creativity to convey things that are difficult to understand and find that the use of metaphor and imagery is really important to me in all aspects of my life. They help me express things in a different way.
I’ve published a paper on how poetry and metaphor can be used to develop a shared understanding of someone’s experiences. If you’d like to read it you can access it HERE