Putting coproduction at the heart of our suicide prevention services


In this blog for World Suicide Prevention Day, Helen Garnham, the Head of Equalities at Rethink Mental Illness, talks about the work we have started with North West (NW) London to co-produce suicide prevention initiatives that offer hope, connection and support to prevent people from wanting to take their own lives.

The pandemic has had an impact on all communities, widening and exposing inequalities and affecting the most vulnerable. Recent ONS statistics show that suicide rates did not increase during the early stages of the pandemic. Thankfully – it is likely that the support measures mobilised at short notice in response to the pandemic have had a protective impact. But no level is acceptable, and we must not be complacent. There are also concerns about risk factors such as rising rates of unemployment and debt.

Rethink Mental Illness are very proud to be working across NW London to develop a multi-agency suicide prevention plan, rollout suicide awareness training for professionals and implement innovative projects and pilots for the local population. NW London has a diverse local population of over 2.4 million and there is much suicide prevention activity already underway. Our work will build on and co-ordinate this work as well as rolling out tailored co-produced awareness training for professionals and innovative projects and pilots for the local population.

Co-production is at the heart of this programme. Engaging and connecting with people who have personal experience around suicide – those who have experienced suicidal ideation, cared for someone or who has been bereaved by suicide – is essential. This will improve the quality of services and people’s experiences but may also be a part of the Expert by Experience’s recovery – feeling that something positive has come out of drawing on their experiences, talking with peers and that they have made a difference to other people in the future.

To lead this, we are currently recruiting two Co Production officers – who will, in turn, recruit 8 Expert By Experience Leaders. Our own Lived Experience Advisory Board are overseeing the process.

Reaching people who reflect the full diversity of the population will arguably be one of the biggest challenges. At Rethink Mental Illness we have approached this by developing a diversity matrix that helps to understand needs and perspectives across protected characteristics, underserved groups and high-risk factors.

Once we have identified the communities we need to reach we will harness the power of community listening– taking time to build relationships through co-produced one to one conversations, working with a diverse range of groups, including faith, grassroots and civil institutions. By building local relationships and listening to our communities and local leaders, we are better able to surface the deep issues affecting those suffering and enable them to become part of the solution and part of co-producing suicide prevention initiatives. We appreciate that it can be hard for smaller charities to be involved in projects due to capacity constraints and budget limitations. We are therefore planning to follow the successful model for Open Mental Health, who offer micro-grants to enable them to engage with the work.

When I discussed with the NWL Lived Experience Advisors how we should approach this project, they emphasised the importance of connection – between people, communities and services. This is particularly poignant at a time when so many have experienced isolation and separation from friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, many have also been recipients of extraordinary help from complete strangers within communities. We hope that our work in NW London will build on this community cohesion and support people to reconnect. Please do share ideas and comments on how we do this in the comments.

‘Unless you have real-life, visceral experience – lived experience – equally valued in shared considerations and decisions you will be missing a big part of the picture. When done properly co-production is genuinely transformative.”

- Samantha Holmes, Head of Co-Production Rethink Mental Illness.

'The benefits of co-production include better support, wellbeing for all involved (people with lived experience and professionals/staff), collaborative working and the power of the community. Being an Expert by Experience Advisor was life changing, using my own life experiences to implement new models of care and improve quality standards. Furthermore, it helped my self-esteem and increased my self-awareness. Service users and carers play an increasingly important role in a variety of activities. What is crucial in their involvement is to build a relationship where professionals and users/carers support each other on an equal basis and share a common goal where trust, respect and value are at the centre.'

- Vittoria De Meo. NWL Lived Experience Advisor.

NW London is committed to deliver the Long Term Plan commitments for suicide prevention and bereavement by developing and delivering a multi-agency suicide prevention plan and suicide bereavement services. In NW London we know that we have higher rates of suicide in some boroughs and communities than in others; the NW London Suicide Prevention activities will play a significant role in targeting at risk groups and reducing inequalities across communities.

- Annabel Crowe, GP and Clinical Lead – Mental Health Crisis Care, NW London CCG.

If you are struggling to cope, please call Samaritans for free on 116 123 (UK and ROI) or contact other sources of support, such as those listed on the NHS's help for suicidal thoughts webpage. Support is available round the clock, every single day of the year, providing a safe place for anyone struggling to cope, whoever they are, however they feel, whatever life has done to them.

If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact helen.garnham@rethink.org. You may also be interested in hearing more about the National Suicide Prevention Alliance’s Lived Experience Network