We are so proud to be hosting the first national conference examining female suicide and to be bringing people from across the world and the UK together to look at this very important issue.
The calibre of those people coming to present and to share their experiences are high and we welcome people from all over the UK, but in particular we would like to say a special thank you to Katrina.
Katrina is travelling from the University of southern Australia to share with us and co-facilitate a workshop with myself around the invalidating use of language about women in the mental health system.
I am really looking forward to this collaboration because it will give us an opportunity to really look at what words do to other people.
We recognise historically that words are used against particular groups of people to blame them or name them or shame them.
We are able to reflect back on the time of witchcraft and on periods in history where women have been placed in a particular cultural and societal position and the language that has accompanied this positioning.
We are able to reflect on more recent shifts and the #metoo movement which really has given a voice to many women who have been sexually mistreated by others, often as a matter of the course of their life.
But how well do we examine the everyday language and words that we use to describe women especially in those services who are meant to protect the vulnerable?
In my experience as someone who has faced emotional difficulties and self harm and now works as a professional within that mental health system, there is still a great deal of invalidating and powerful language used against women.
We know now for instance, that self harm is a predictor of risk especially associated with suicide.
We know that young females are demonstrating the fastest growing rate of suicide and of those people who died by suicide in the most recent statistics 88% had a history of self harm. Yet, I would argue that the group of people most invalidated for their emotional experience is that of young females.
Every day I hear individuals in the community, parents and carers, and sadly professionals refer to this group of people without concern.
We often say things like ‘they are doing it to fit in with their friends’, ‘it is just a fad’, ‘they’ve only split up with their boyfriend’, and we refer to this group of women as hysterical just as in the past we have labelled women hysterical. When we do that we also offer them access to help.
Nowadays this language should have moved on, but it seems that we have accepted a narrative about young women that we don’t often enough question.
Now is the time to question it.
We know that the reason people describe for not seeking help when they are suicidal is a poor previous experience of contact with services.
If we listen to the user-narrative, especially those of women, they will tell us that they feel invalidated. They tell us that no one listened when they said they were suffering. If we miss those opportunities to listen and hear that someone is suffering without using a tone of language that invalidates that suffering, we are missing an opportunity to intervene.
At the forthcoming conference we will be looking at how we develop the knowledge and skills to enhance our practice not only in a direct manner but also in the subtleties of language that we use with or without intention and I look forward to welcoming you to our workshop and welcoming Katrina to the UK.