A reflection from Laura

On 23rd September, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) released an inquiry report investigating the support available for young people who self-harm. Many organisations contributed evidence and advocated for young people in aid of the report, including Harmless.

Many conclusions were drawn from this report, however, the main one was this: the support for young people who self-harm is not good enough.

For those who don’t know me, I’m Laura and I’m one of the clinical support officers for the Tomorrow Project crisis pathway. I started this role in March, following a short internship with Harmless a few months prior. However, I first came to Harmless in 2014 as a 16-year-old client seeking support for self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Whilst reading the APPG report, I was overwhelmed with how many young people are not receiving adequate support for their self-harm. The finding that particularly upset me, was how so many young people are turned away from support, due to their self-harm lacking severity. The report particularly discussed the word “superficial”, and explained how this word alienates young people.

The support system working in this way, gives the impression that young people’s level of distress can be measured by the severity of self-harm, but that is not the case . This sends a message to young people that only those who are severely self-harming are eligible for support, whilst those who are self-harming “superficially” do not meet the necessary requirements, no matter the extent of their emotional distress. This is such a dangerous ideology. All self-harm needs to be addressed, no matter the severity.

The danger of this ideology is reflected in the invalidation of emotional distress. When young people are turned away by support services due to “superficial” self-harm, the emotional distress that they are experiencing is invalidated. I constantly see campaigns, on social media especially, encouraging people to “reach out” and to “ask for help” if they are struggling with their mental health, but let’s imagine how it must feel for a young person to gather the courage and reach out to services for support, only to be met with invalidation and apathy. Rejected, alone, and hopeless are words that immediately come to mind. This should not be happening.

Anyone who needs mental health support should receive it when they need it. No exceptions.

I am so privileged to have accessed support from Harmless. The support that I received was never dependent on the severity of self-harm, and I never once felt as though my mental health was “not bad enough” to deserve to be listened to. I never once felt pressured to prove my distress, and was always met with compassion and validation. Reading the APPG report has made me very aware of how privileged that makes me, as so many young people are not fortunate enough to receive such support.

But this is not something that should depend on luck. Every single young person who is at risk of, has thoughts of, or engages in self-harm behaviour, should be welcomed by support​ services with reassurance, empathy, and kindness. And that is the bare minimum. We must do better.

I have now recovered from my struggles with my mental health, and I am now working for the Tomorrow Project on their suicide crisis pathway. Life has very literally turned 180 degrees for me, and I hope that this reassures anyone reading this that hope exists, and that life can get better. If you are looking for support, please know that Harmless and The Tomorrow Project are here whenever you feel ready, and you will be met by a passionate, caring, and supportive team.

You deserve to be listened to.

Laura x

Link to the full APPG report and executive summary: https://www.samaritans.org/appg/

Link to a Twitter thread from our Suicide Crisis Twitter, summarising each of the 13 recommendations outlined in the report: https://twitter.com/TP_crisis/status/1308754820887728130

Link to our mental health training Eventbrite page, in response to recommendation no. 8: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/harmless-lets-talk-training-14795237737

Here are the details for our three clinical pathways:

Harmless:
0115 880 0280
info@harmless.org.uk

Tomorrow Project – Crisis Team:
0115 880 0282 (leave a message)
crisis@tomorrowproject.org.uk

Tomorrow Project – Bereavement Team: bereavement@tomorrowproject.org.uk

services with reassurance, empathy, and kindness. And that is the bare minimum. We must do better. I have now recovered from my struggles with my mental health, and I am now working for the Tomorrow Project on their suicide crisis pathway. Life has very literally turned 180 degrees for me, and I hope that this reassures anyone reading this that hope exists, and that life can get better. If you are looking for support, please know that Harmless and The Tomorrow Project are here whenever you feel ready, and you will be met by a passionate, caring, and supportive team. You deserve to be listened to. Laura x Link to the full APPG report and executive summary: https://www.samaritans.org/appg/ Link to a Twitter thread from our Suicide Crisis Twitter, summarising each of the 13 recommendations outlined in the report: https://twitter.com/TP_crisis/status/1308754820887728130 Link to our mental health training Eventbrite page, in response to recommendation no. 8: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/harmless-lets-talk-training-14795237737 Here are the details for our three clinical pathways: Harmless: 0115 880 0280 info@harmless.org.uk Tomorrow Project – Crisis Team: 0115 880 0282 (leave a message) crisis@tomorrowproject.org.uk Tomorrow Project – Bereavement Team: bereavement@tomorrowproject.org.uk

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self-harm prevention’s inquiry released today.

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.

Watch, listen and learn.

https://youtu.be/LIx8NcyyvGc

https://youtu.be/_nmJpTsM7Xg

https://youtu.be/wOqDjXX2NfY

https://youtu.be/7q6lWjFBlcc

https://youtu.be/0fJsoj0y-Eo

https://youtu.be/YW52aDvlCGU

https://youtu.be/ppieOt1jN14

https://youtu.be/ppieOt1jN14

https://youtu.be/ItgE5kffzOY

https://youtu.be/cEJEVsWxY50

https://youtu.be/w-nMgxTzDIM

https://youtu.be/7Rr5TAY86vs

https://youtu.be/wXDA95KSt-k

https://youtu.be/bufwJbyGhsg

https://www.samaritans.org/appg/

Internship Opportunity

The Tomorrow Project are recruiting for a voluntary intern who can work with us on a short term project. 

The internship will involve creating support documents about a large variety of topics, for Harmless and its associated services. Examples of topics are housing, sexual health, bullying, drugs and alcohol, learning difficulties, and more. The support documents would contain general information about these topics,  helplines and useful websites that can be accessed nationally, and local support services in the Nottingham/shire area. 

The opportunity is well suited to a student or graduate seeking voluntary experience within a mental health service. This work can be done from home, so is accessible to everyone regardless of COVID-19. 

The project will commence in October and we look forward to receiving your application to the email address katie@tomorrowproject.org.uk. Please put ‘Internship Application’ as the email subject. 

You can express your interest in this opportunity by sending us your expression of interest, a brief summary of your experience, and what you think you could bring to this project. We look forward to meeting our successful applicant, and cannot wait to hear from you! 

Walking for William and making a difference

Andrea is one of the Tomorrow Project’s newest clients in the Derbyshire area and is determined to raise awareness around mental health and suicide prevention.  Off the back of losing her own son William to suicide less than 2 months ago, Andrea is now taking a proactive stance in the battle many people have with their mental health and vulnerability to suicide.  Andrea has first-hand experience of the pain and suffering felt by families when loved ones take their own lives and now wants to ensure other families do not have to experience what she and her family have experienced.

That is why Andrea, and her party of five other friends and family of William, have decided to set themselves the gruelling challenge (at least it sounds it to me) of walking 90 miles from Derby to Skegness in just 3 days! They are raising money which will be split between The Tomorrow Project and mental health charity Mind.  The group will be setting off from Alvaston in Derby on Friday 28th August and will be stopping along the way at Grantham and Boston, before arriving in Skegness where they will be releasing balloons in memory of William. They will also be walking with a new attire with T-shirts with William on the front and wearing tutus of different colours, even the lads!

Not only are the 6 walkers pushing themselves physically, but they will also be doing it without the comfort of a cosy bed at night because they will be camping in the Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire countryside. Now that is dedication to the cause…

On behalf of the Tomorrow Project (and the wider Harmless team) we wish all the people taking part the best of luck, you’re going to smash it!

It would be great if everyone could get behind Andrea and her courageous group to ensure they raise a huge amount of money that will contribute to supporting people with their mental health and suicide prevention.  If anybody would like to donate to this cause, you can do by clicking on the link below.

Tom,

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Accepting that some questions may never be answered

Throughout my career suicide has been at the forefront of my professional life, and over the years I’ve heard so many stories from families and individuals bereaved by suicide.  Each story is unique, but equally heart-breaking and a devastating tragedy on all levels.

In this line of work you cannot help but ask some of the bigger questions and reflect on life, and what it is all about. Unfortunately, there are far more questions than answers, something that is particularly difficult to come to terms with, the ‘why’ and ‘what if’ questions.  It is acceptance that some questions may never be answered that is a step towards hope and recovery.

Whilst there may be signs to indicate suicidal thoughts, despair can also be invisible. Someone may become reclusive, others may appear outwardly confident, indeed the life and soul of the party.

During the pandemic we have seen more campaigns on mental health awareness and encouraging people to speak out, to not be afraid to seek help -which is great. But we should also nurture a culture that works both ways. Take the time to notice others, to offer support even when it may not be obvious it is needed.

You cannot second guess how you think someone else is feeling, but by asking and listening you can find out. You might be the only person that has actually shown an interest in how they are.

The Tomorrow Project continues to offer crucial support for those who have been bereaved, affected or exposed to suicide.

If you have been bereaved or affected by suicide, no matter your age or who you lost, send a message and we will get back to you within 72 hours. :

bereavement@tomorrowproject.org.uk

Stay safe everyone x

Stacey,

Suicide Bereavement Support Officer

Its not what you say, its how you listen

Active Listening

Talking about suicide can feel scary. It can be difficult to know what the ‘right’ thing to say is. But, often it’s not what you say that makes a difference, it’s how you listen.

Active Listening doesn’t only mean hearing what somebody is saying. It is the ability to focus completely on them, understand their message, and respond thoughtfully. Many mental health services such as the Samaritans or Nightline, train their volunteers in Active Listening. I was trained as an Active Listener for Nightline while I was at university, so here are some verbal and non-verbal tips that I remember from my experiences volunteering for them.

Verbal

Ask open questions. Closed questions (questions that can only be answered with a one-word answer) can sometimes be useful when trying to get information, but the constant use of them can make the flow of the conversation difficult. Open questions encourage the person you’re supporting, to talk openly about their experiences and how they’re feeling. Some examples of open questions are: “How are you feeling about…?”, “Tell me more about…”, or “What happened when…?”.

Avoid redirecting the conversation towards yourself. Personal anecdotes can be helpful, as it shows the person you’re listening to that you understand and can relate to what they’re saying. It can encourage them that they are not alone in what they are going through. However, when using personal anecdotes, make sure to ask an open question afterwards, so the conversation is redirected back to the person you’re listening to. They should be the focus of the discussion.

Don’t be afraid to backtrack. If something is mentioned earlier in the conversation but the conversation flow didn’t give opportunity to discuss it in-depth, don’t be afraid to bring it back up again. A way you can do this, is by saying: “Earlier you mentioned this, would you like to talk more about it?”. Not only does it give the person you’re supporting a chance to speak about something that they may be struggling with, but it also shows that you were listening and that you remembered an earlier part of their conversation.

Empathy .  Asking questions is really important for getting information about the speaker’s experiences and feelings, but without empathy, it might feel like an interview. Saying “It sounds like you’re going through a really difficult time”, or “That must have been really hard”, to the person you’re supporting, validates their feelings and shows that you’re understanding how they feel. Empathy can also be linked with an open question to continue the conversation flow, for example: “It can be hard when… how has it been affecting you?”.

Non-Verbal

Body Language. Looking at the person you’re listening to, even if they’re not looking back at you, is important. If they take a glance at you and you’re looking around the room, or at your watch or phone, it suggests to them that you’re distracted and aren’t really listening. However, if they take a glance at you and you’re looking at them, it shows that your attention is unwavering.

Silences. Sometimes there will be silences in a conversation. Whilst silences can feel uncomfortable, they will always feel more uncomfortable for the listener than they will for the speaker. The person you’re supporting is likely to have so many thoughts that they’re trying to put across into words, they need time to think. This is particularly likely if they aren’t used to talking about how they feel. Silences are important for that. Signs that a silence is necessary for a speaker to have space to think, could be them not finishing a sentence, closing their eyes, or saying “umm” or “errr”. However, signs that a silence is uncomfortable for the speaker could be them looking around the room, or fidgeting. If this happens, ask an open question to get the conversation flowing again.

But, don’t forget that it is okay to not know what to say. Be gentle and patient with yourself; even trained mental health professionals can struggle for words sometimes. And it’s okay to be honest with the person that you’re supporting, and tell them that. Hearing “I don’t know what to say, but I really care about you and I want to try to help” can do wonders for someone who feels alone, scared, and suicidal.

If you need us, we are here. Leave a message on 0115 880 0282, or send an email to crisis@tomorrowproject.org.uk.

Laura

Suicide Crisis Support Officer

The University of Grief: the impact of bereavement by suicide on a young person starting a new chapter in their life

Suicide. It is a huge word that has so many different meanings, different viewpoints and different attitudes. There is a huge stigma to the word too. People always feel uncomfortable to say it. And that’s understandable. That one seven-letter word can be the heaviest weight to someone who is bereaved by it…

It has been over two years for me now, since my father sadly left this world back in February 2018. I was nineteen years old back then, and still so young. Initially, as most people affected by bereavement feel, I didn’t know how to feel. I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know how to function. The best word to describe is numb. So many thoughts were racing through my head. When I first found out, I didn’t know what to do. You would expect me to be crying. But that didn’t happen for me. Instead, I just felt numb. Lifeless. And most importantly – lost. Lost because, how am I supposed to navigate the world around me when a piece of my life who has been present ever since the day I was born, has been taken?

It felt like the loss of my father came at one of the biggest moments in my life. Just three months after his death, I found myself sitting my A-Level exams with a place at university on the line. I was studying non-stop, and I like to think that the pain made me use my study as a distraction. In retrospect, it seems crazy how I managed to juggle losing my dad to suicide – all those emotions, thoughts and confusion – and studying for exams that would literally determine which university I would attend. On top of that, I was also working at my part-time job, as well as contending with all the other issues that a typical 19-year-old boy has to deal with. It all seems overwhelming. Overwhelming doesn’t even feel like the right word – it’s exhausting. Draining. Scary. Uncertain.

Losing your parent at such a young age is something that nobody should ever, ever have to experience. But in September – 7 months after my dad’s death – an even bigger life change was impending. I was starting university and living away from my family for the first time in my life. Studying at university is always something I have wanted to do, and my dad supported my ambitions. There is so much support out there for people who are affected by suicide – The Tomorrow Project is a fantastic example – but it is difficult to find somebody who is in the exact same circumstances as me. Living and studying at a new place, in a new city, and knowing nobody at all. It was a lot to deal with.

There’s a lot of uncovered ground and unchartered territory, when it comes to the effects of bereavement on education. But when you throw bereavement by suicide into that, things get even more difficult. My first month at university was, admittedly, a good one. I had managed to gain new social connections and had the time of my life during the infamous fresher’s week. All of this juxtaposed with the feelings of grief and loneliness I was experiencing at the same time. However, a few months down the line and things had changed drastically.

I had made some friends during the first few weeks at university and felt like I was having fun. I was for sure living the typical student experience. However, these ‘friends’ I had made soon started to drift away from me with no reason. And that is when everything turned sour. I felt so alone and unwanted, when my messages to meet up were met with an excuse, or sometimes even a lack of response. I really thought these people were my friends, and we were going to experience the rest of our university lives together. That was far from the truth. This led me into a downward spiral, and I felt so unmotivated to even study for my course. This obviously had a drastic effect on my academic life, because I was not achieving the grades I should have if I reached my full potential. I didn’t make any social effort, and I didn’t join any societies. I was always alone in my room. Sometimes, I would cry for hours on end. I felt so alone and worthless, because everybody around me was ‘living their best life’ whilst I was on my own. And being away from my family didn’t help. Some nights, my dad would be on my mind more than other times. And sometimes, the circumstances of his death played heavily on my mind. I had nobody to talk to, and I was so distanced from my family that I really felt all alone in this world. That is a feeling I would never wish on anybody, not even my worst enemy.

When I look back on this, do I have regrets? Of course I do. I wish I had joined more clubs, I wish I didn’t put my trust in those so-called friends, and sometimes I even wish I had decided to take a year out before starting university after everything I had been through. However, one significant thing I wish I had known at the time is the importance to accept and acknowledge your situation. My situation was unique – I was living away from home for the first time at university, so soon after losing my dad to suicide. We still had not had the inquest at this point, and that was also playing on my mind. And I really wish I had took the time to realise this. When I was crying my eyes out and blaming myself for not having any friends, I now realise this wasn’t an abnormal reaction. I had been through a hell of a lot, and it makes perfect sense how I didn’t feel in the most social mood at the time. I had trusted the people who were my friends at the start of university, because I wanted to fit in and have a sense of normalcy. After everything that year, I finally felt like a normal young adult during fresher’s week. I had so many people around me, but now I realise that I still felt alone. Nobody else around me was in my situation. It was always an internal battle as to whether or not I wanted to tell people about losing my dad. In my mind, I thought – will they view me differently? Will they see me as vulnerable? Will they treat me differently and patronise me? I never explicitly told the people around me about it, but most people found out after the date of my dad’s birthday. I had posted a picture of him on my social media in memory alongside a caption, and that’s when people realised. Messages came in, with people saying they were ‘there for me’. But – nobody actually did check up on me, apart from my mum. Nobody asked me, ‘are you okay?’, in the long run. Three small words, which can mean so much.

Fast forward to now, and things are… different. I am still not in the place I want to be, but that’s okay. I’m working towards it. I am now grateful to have actually made a few more friends at university, and my grades have improved. And I’ve also struggled with mental health myself. Which makes me feel almost connected to my dad in a way – I just wish I could have helped him with his mental health issues when he was struggling. Now I understand what it feels like to be in such a low state of mind. I guess the point I’m trying to make is – it is SO important to acknowledge that your situation is different to everyone around you. We are all different, and that’s what makes us so special. I constantly felt, during my first semester, that I needed to be going out every night and making memories to feel normal. But now I realise, things were not ‘normal’ and it is understandable that someone who had just lost their father felt socially distant from others. Now I am able to look back and say – it’s okay. It’s okay that I didn’t have the typical first semester, because my entire situation was far from ordinary. I shouldn’t feel the need to be doing a certain thing and living the typical student life, because my situation is different and that’s okay. In regard to the fear of telling people about how my dad is no longer here – I am now able to speak about it more openly. Life does get better, even when it doesn’t seem like it will. I still have a long way to go, but I am lucky enough to say that I feel like I am working towards recovery. The most important thing is to realise that everyone is different, and everyone has their struggles. As long as you are trying to be the best version of yourself, then that’s all that matters! It doesn’t matter what other people are doing – your own wellbeing is paramount.

S