Analysis

Save a life: the nurse-led training course on suicide prevention

Two mental health nurses at the University of Wolverhampton are leading an award-winning training course on how to recognise and help people with suicidal thoughts

Two mental health nurses at the University of Wolverhampton are leading an award-winning training course on how to recognise and help people with suicidal thoughts

  • Training covers suicide awareness, self-harm and emotional resilience
  • Idea is to move away from a ‘professionals only’ model of care
  • The training is attracting interest from outside the university

When a student experiences distress or suicidal thoughts, the most obvious sources of support might seem to be university counselling or psychological services.


Picture: iStock

But two mental health nurses at the University of Wolverhampton are leading a different approach to suicide prevention that encourages a wider view of how to help, including staff and fellow students becoming involved.

The university is moving away from a ‘professionals only’ model of care to one that recognises that other staff, such as security guards or canteen workers, may be just as likely – if not more so – to encounter a student in turmoil.

Three Minutes to Save a Life

It is doing so through a training course established last year for staff and nursing students called Three Minutes to Save a Life.

Senior lecturer in mental health nursing Stuart Guy, who is one of the lead trainers, explains: ‘If you are walking across the road and are involved in an accident you would want someone to come forward and give you CPR. We want to create the same feeling for emotional distress.’

Creating an open culture is at the heart of the training, which has been completed by 700 staff and students.

700

University of Wolverhampton staff and students have taken part in the training

The one-day course was developed by Connecting with People, a not-for-profit organisation that devises and delivers suicide awareness and response courses for sectors including healthcare.

Its modules were inspired by motivational speaker Kevin Hines, who at the age of 19 survived a suicide attempt in which he jumped from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.

Clearly in distress

Prior to the incident in September 2000 he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features.

Before the attempt Mr Hines had been clearly upset with tears on his face, but tourists, oblivious to his distress, asked him to take photos of them, and no one asked if he was okay. He says such a conversation might have stopped him from jumping and avoided the multiple injuries he sustained.

Speaking of the training approach, Mr Guy admits: ‘Initially I thought this was really basic stuff, but having delivered it and seen the effect it has, I now know otherwise.’

Awareness, self-harm, emotional resilience

The course covers three key areas:

  • Suicide awareness – challenging stigma, learning to develop a compassionate approach and how to use the learning and resources to assess suicidal individuals.
  • Self-harm – developing empathy for and understanding of why people self-harm, and exploring other ways of dealing with distress.
  • Emotional resilience – understanding the positive ways to deal with stress or emotional distress, and safety planning for what to do in a crisis.

There are also modules on ‘suicide response’ which offer more in-depth training, aimed at professionals including mental health nurses.

The approach was developed in response to concerns of the university's student support centre staff about how to deal with people who came to them in distress.

‘The majority of people who take their own life are not known to mental health services’

Stuart Guy

Figures from the university show that in the year to October 2015 ‘suicide ideation/crises’ was the second most common cause of student referral to the institution’s mental health and well-being coordinator.

These figures do not include referrals by the university’s counselling or chaplaincy services and are made up of referrals including those from accommodation services, security and academic staff.

Mr Guy says: ‘The majority of people who take their own life are not known to mental health services.’

And as he told a training session: ‘You are not just a bolt-on service. We all have a role to play in suicide prevention.’

86%

of staff who undertook the training in March 2016 said they learned more about the myths associated with suicide and the barriers to seeking help

Analysis of feedback forms shows that 86% of staff who undertook the training in March 2016 said they learned more about the myths associated with suicide and the barriers to seeking help. Almost two thirds of participants said they felt they now knew how to talk to someone in emotional distress.

In January 2015, prior to the start of the training, 25 students were referred to the well-being coordinator for suicide ideation. A year later, the total number was five – an 80% fall.

Similarly, total referrals to the coordinator fell by half over the same period, from 70 people to 34.

Manage expectations

The course emphasises the importance of self-care for those receiving the training and explains how to write a safety plan for a student in distress.

Fellow course trainer and university mental health and well-being coordinator Clare Dickens, who is also a nurse, told a training event of the need to manage expectations.

2/3

of participants say they felt they now know how to talk to someone in emotional distress

‘You may get a disclosure from an email at 2am but you can’t be that crisis response… and if you create that co-dependency, at some point you are going to let them down.

‘When you write the safety plan, say you cannot guarantee that you will be there at 2am, but you don’t want them to interpret that as you not caring. Put your availability at the bottom of your email signature.’

‘If you see someone in distress, you ask them if they are okay’

Stuart Guy

The training is attracting interest from outside the university sector, and last year won the Times Higher Education Award for outstanding support for students.

Berwyn prison in Wrexham has already sent staff on the course and others are coming from Wealstun prison in Yorkshire.

The team now hope the approach will be spread further, ensuring more and more people will be equipped to have the conversation Mr Hines craved on Golden Gate Bridge.

'If you see someone in distress, you ask them if they are okay,' says Mr Guy.

How to talk to someone who is emotionally distressed

Recognise that the person is in distress – notice for example how a person makes no eye contact, slouches and appears to have to make an effort to speak.

Acknowledge the distress – words such as: ‘I can see from your expression that you are not yourself today. What is it that is troubling you?’ moving up to: ‘Are you starting to feel overwhelmed by your distress?’

Develop trust and encourage them to seek help – saying: ‘I’m so glad you felt you could share these feelings/thoughts' and move towards: ‘Who else can you tell?’

Safety plan

Make a safety plan – is there anyone at home they can talk to? Encourage the individual to confide in their social circle to show they are worthy of support. Course resources explaining the support available.

Break confidentiality if necessary – intervene if you think it will deter a person from harming themselves. Contact their GP. If you’re told there are no appointments available ask to speak to the practice manager or nurse.

Source: Connecting with People, Suicide Awareness Training booklet


Further information

Seeking support via Connecting with People

If you would like more details on the Wolverhampton course email Stuart Guy or Clare Dickens.


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