I recently attended an event launching NHS Change Day 2014. One theme discussed was stigma, stereotyping and how to change individuals’ and practitioners’ perceptions towards all kinds of people and groups in our multicultural society.
A session that particularly resonated with me was a talk by Dr Alys Cole-King, a psychiatrist who runs the U Can Cope Campaign aimed at spreading the message that it is possible to overcome suicidal thoughts and feelings and that there are many resources available to help those who are struggling to cope. In her talk she spoke of how they are teaching young people to develop resilience and tackle problems before they spiral out of control into self-harm and or suicide.
This got me thinking about a piece of research that mruk did last year for Young Minds, the charity committed to improving the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people. The work looked at how different audiences understand self-harm and the stigma that many place on it. Audiences included: parents, teachers, GP’s and young people themselves.
One striking finding was that over half of the GP’s surveyed believed that young people who self-harm are likely to commit suicide. However studies into actual self-harming behaviour have shown that people don’t necessarily self-harm because they want to commit suicide; that self-harm can instead be a coping mechanism to help manage overwhelming feelings. This finding has incredible consequences because, by linking self-harm to suicide, many healthcare professionals (HCPs) might not feel confident dealing with the issue and might fear making the situation worse, thus hindering the offering of effective treatment.
“In my experience, front line staff feel uncomfortable and under confident when dealing with self-harm patients. They assume that self-harm is connected to suicide feelings and they do not know how to ask questions about this topic. If they understood that self-harm and suicidal intention is not the same thing they may feel more comfortable themselves and in turn be able to adopt a bedside manner which allows them to get more information out of their patients”. Psychologist
This is not a criticism towards GP’s, it is simply a suggestion, a learning, a development, or even a pledge that they can make to change how they operate. mruk’s research has revealed that GP’s cannot simply rely on their expertise and their education when treating young people, more knowledge from young people of the challenges they are facing is needed. I propose that Change Day 2014 should focus on bottom up approaches in how HCPs deal with their patients. Use knowledge, learnings and expertise but listen to the patients themselves and learn how to understand them as an individual. This way HCPs will feel more confident treating patients and as a result they will get care that is tailored to their specific needs. This way they will get treatment according to their needs rather than a blanket approach.