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Suicide awareness: RCN mental health lead calls for clear guidance for nurses

Nurses ‘often feel ill-equipped to step in’ when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts

Nurses ‘often feel ill-equipped to step in’ when someone is experiencing suicidal thoughts


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‘I have your back, you have my ear,’ was the take-home message from an emotional discussion on suicide at RCN congress in Belfast earlier this month.

Paul Watson sent those words in a text message to his 21-year-old nephew at 3am ten years ago, but sadly it arrived too late.

Speaking at congress, Mr Watson urged nurses concerned about someone’s welfare to send that text and ensure vulnerable people know they have somebody to talk to.

When to intervene

‘Part of the 6Cs [care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment and competence] requires us to be courageous,’ he said, acknowledging how difficult it can be to know whether to intervene.

The matter for discussion was proposed by the RCN mental health forum’s Tim Coupland, who said: ‘Nurses often feel ill-equipped and have questions about what to say, what to do, how to phrase a response and when to step in.

‘It often feels easier to play it down or perhaps pass it on to a mental health professional.

Help deliver a plan to stay safe

‘Nurses should have greater confidence,’ he added, calling for clear guidance on how to share information responsibly to save a life.

‘Nurses should be able to support others to make sense of their suicidal ideas. To empower, not only to not act on their ideas, but where possible to help them deliver a plan to stay safe.’

Nursing student Aimie Morgan from the West Midlands spoke from personal experience.

She said: ‘A few years ago I suffered a severe depression.

‘I had three beautiful children and a new career in healthcare, and at the time I was well known in my local emergency department (ED), doing work experience through bank.

‘Ashamed and alone’

‘I became so consumed with darkness I took an overdose in an attempt to end my life – and the ED was somewhere I should have felt I was among friends and colleagues. But I’ve never felt more ashamed and alone.’

For help in dealing with suicidal thoughts contact the Samaritans free to call helpline 116 123 or visit NHS choices: Help for suicidal thoughts

Ms Morgan said she is feeling better now, but fears patients are continuing to go without support and comfort.

‘I still see the same nurses that treated me acting in the same way when I do the odd bank shift – cold and disconnected from the young girl who has taken several packets of paracetamol or the gentleman who has lacerations to his wrists – and the patients look beaten and ashamed.

‘I have made it my mission to talk to these patients and tell them it’s okay not to be okay, you can do this, I have been in your shoes. The smile they give me makes up for the shame I felt.’

She called on all health professionals to recognise the humanity of people who have attempted to take their own life.


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