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It's No Coincidence That It Was A Person With Mental Health Diagnoses Who Set Up A Suicide Crisis Centre Which Has Achieved Zero Suicide

06/09/2016 16:30
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When I said that I wanted to set up a Suicide Crisis Centre, few people thought it was possible. It was the summer of 2012 and I had recently been in suicidal crisis myself and under mental health services.

We have now been running the Suicide Crisis Centre for three years and have never had a suicide of a client under our care.

This week we are giving a presentation about our work to the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Group, at the request of the Government's adviser on suicide. It's something I could never have anticipated happening in the early days, when I faced so much scepticism.

There are a number of reasons why our Crisis Centre has achieved zero suicide and we think it's a combination of the way our services are set up, our approach and our ethos.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/joy-hibbins/suicide-prevention-crisis-centre_b_11401902.html

However, we have rarely looked closely at the fact that the Crisis Centre was set up and is run by a person with lived experience of a crisis and whether that has contributed directly to its success.

In March 2012 I had an extremely traumatic experience - an event so destabilising that psychiatrists believed that I had a psychotic episode in the days afterwards. During the event itself I felt fear, shock, horror and intense emotional distress. In the days that followed I was convinced there were malevolent forces in the house, and had clearly temporarily lost touch with reality. I was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a post-traumatic syndrome, and psychiatrists feel that the traumatic event triggered both.

That event profoundly changed me. I am not the same any more. For a long time that was a source of regret to me. I was no longer the optimistic and contented person that I had been previously. However, I am starting to recognise that the event changed me in a way that made it possible for me to achieve something which was considered so improbable and unlikely.

I developed an inner strength, tenacity and determination which meant that I would never give up on my plans, however many barriers were placed in my way and whatever resistance I encountered.

Other people talked in terms of "if the Suicide Crisis Centre is set up...." I talked in terms of "when" because I knew it would be set up somehow. If we came up against a barrier, it was simply a question of finding a way round it, over it or under it. I simply wasn't like this before - but then I didn't need to be. I think you find qualities within yourself when you have to. Perhaps they are always there, waiting to surface if they are required.

I seemed to develop more courage - not just in fighting to set up our Crisis Centre in the face of scepticism and incredulity, but also in finding a voice. Before 2012 I hated speaking at meetings. I never really felt that I had anything that people would want to hear. Now I am confident to speak not only in meetings but also in front of large audiences and I find this the most powerful way to explain our work. I am so passionate about our work and that overrides any fear.

I think the experience of trauma does change you and my new-found tenacity can be explained in part by that. However, my determination was also fired by a realisation that the Suicide Crisis Centre was needed so much that I had to find a way to create it. I couldn't find the help that I needed when I was in suicidal crisis and I felt sure that I was not alone in this. It felt like there was a gaping hole in terms of provision for people in crisis.

I think many people would recognise that if you have experienced something yourself it can give you a particular empathy for other people who are in a similar situation. I have an understanding of what it is like to be at the point of suicide and to have attempted suicide - but I have also experienced mental health services and other statutory services in the same way that many of our clients have. Everything I experienced, including every distressing or unhelpful experience, had an impact upon the way I set up our services. In many ways, I set up the opposite of what I experienced.

The qualities I gained after experiencing trauma helped me to set up our Centre. But they continue to impact upon the way I work, too. The tenacity I developed extends to the way we work to ensure that our clients survive. We fight for their survival at a time when they cannot, because their distress or mental ill health is impacting upon them so much.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last year, some people advised me not to reveal it publicly. I didn't want to keep it hidden, though. It is part of me. It may indeed have contributed in some ways to the success of the charity. In my hypomanic episodes I can work extremely long hours, and have real clarity of thought and am very creative and productive. The downside is the depressive episodes which mean I need to take time off work.

In the spring of this year I had a severe depressive episode and was sectioned. It took everybody by surprise, including me. Many people wondered whether I could come back from this and whether our charity would be affected by it. I needed time to get well again but I have come back stronger than ever.

If anyone doubts that a person with significant mental health challenges can run an organisation such as ours, then I hope that my experience serves as reassurance. What many people saw as such a severe disadvantage has been a strength. If I had not developed mental health issues, our charity and our Suicide Crisis Centre would not exist.

Contact the Suicide Crisis Centre at http://www.suicidecrisis.co.uk

or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SuicideCrisisCentre

Useful websites and helplines:

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
  • Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: help@getconnected.org.uk
  • HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41
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