by Alison Ryan, Head of Recovery and Psychological Services
Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust


Recent national figures on increases in suicide place a spotlight on the need for an integrated and whole system approach to suicide prevention across communities. Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (HPFT) invited Dr Ed Coffey invited to speak about his suicide prevention work in Detroit.

Inspired by Dr Coffey’s pioneering work, we set up the Spot the Signs, Save a Life suicide prevention campaign. This became one of the four sites of the ‘Zero Suicide’ Programme then developed across the East of England, and funded by the Strategic Clinical Network. We were also fortunate to have our East and North CCG match fund this work in Hertfordshire.

The campaign was launched by HPFT in partnership with Hertfordshire Mind Network. The goals of the campaign were education and awareness raising, challenging stigma and providing training in suicide prevention to a range of frontline workers, particularly GPs. We were very much aware that to be effective, we needed this campaign to extend far beyond our mental health trust in Herts. Thus a wide range of other organisations were involved in the campaign including CCGs, Mind in Mid Herts, Herts County Council, Samaritans, and Public Health. Several businesses such as John Lewis, Skanska, and Boots have also been involved to date, as well as schools, police and job centres.

“... training in suicide prevention has been delivered to 168 GPs... After the training, there was a 20% increase in GP referrals to mental health services.

To raise public awareness, we created brochures and other resources, website material and a Twitter account, and we have attended events and meetings with local organisations. The campaign has attended over 70 community events since February 2015, and has had radio and press presence across Hertfordshire. A campaign pledge was created for individuals and organisations to sign to commit to talking openly about suicide prevention. Three hundred individual pledges and thus far 15 organisational pledges have been signed in Herts.

The second part of the campaign links to the well-established evidence base which suggests that training for GPs and primary care staff, and removing the means of suicide, especially in ‘hotspots’, are two of the most effective interventions in reducing suicide. In line with this, training in suicide prevention has thus far been delivered to 168 GPs and over 140 practice staff, with further training arranged for the remainder of 2015. After the training, there was a 20% increase in GP referrals to mental health services. Bespoke suicide prevention training has been also provided for voluntary organisations, including Mediation Hertfordshire, CRUSE, PoHwer, Dacorum Mencap, Age UK Dacorum, Carers in Herts, Herts Help and Herts Young Homeless. Training has also been provided to 55 CCG staff. Other planned training includes Hertfordshire Constabulary, including Force Control Room staff, front line ‘Champions’ and potentially line managers, as well as on-going discussions with Hertfordshire Jobcentre Plus.

If we can secure ongoing funding, the campaign is planning an extension into working with young people and children, exploring the value of a peer led, co-produced approach to self-harm and suicide prevention with young people, as well as bringing together into one directory all the resources that currently exist to support young people, children, families and schools in our county.

We are also currently exploring how we can work with community volunteers who can act as influencers and change agents.

Ultimately, this campaign is all about working in communities and breaking down stigma, so that those who have suicidal thoughts feel able to speak and ask for help, and those who are concerned about others, feel able to have that first conversation. It’s hard to imagine something more important.