Guest Blog: Changing Minds

Rob Webster
September 09 2013

Chief Executive
Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust

Rob's Blog

I’m sorry if I made you cry. Crying seems to be one of the frequent responses prompted by my blog from 1 August – Saying Yes to Life, Despite Everything. This blog, about the suicide of my brother, was read by thousands of people. Many of them told me how moved they were. Others offered support. Some brave souls came out with their own stories of how they had been affected. I am grateful to all of them. The blog is here.

I started blogging earlier this year as part of a concerted effort to use social media to enhance my communication. As a leader, I understand the importance of communication. It is also increasingly clear to me that if you want someone to change their behaviour, you have to first change their mind. This is at the heart of World Suicide Prevention Day.

We are setting out to change minds on two important things.

The first is on tackling the stigma associated with suicide. The figures on suicide and self harm are shocking. The biggest killer of young males and an increasing facet of the lives of young girls everywhere. You probably know someone who is affected or have been affected yourself. Yet this is not a subject that is discussed openly. It took me ten years to write the blog about my brother. Perhaps the ten years gave it its focus and power. Despite the incredible feedback, I still find it difficult to discuss. So let’s use today to talk about suicide and begin to break down the stigma, to rub away the stain it leaves in every conversation and every life. Because it is a fact of life in many families and in every community.

The second is to shift the emphasis towards suicide mitigation and compassion to help prevent suicide. Or as Dr Alys Cole-King says – “Every encounter with a suicidal person is an opportunity to intervene to reduce their distress and, potentially, to save a life”. This involves compassionate interventions that are well founded in research and should be available to staff. These reduce the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that kill thousands of people each year.

Imagine the power of these two things combined. Awareness of suicidal thoughts and feelings raised because it becomes OK to talk about suicide and interventions that mitigate suicidal feelings. Perhaps today, we can start to make this a reality. It will take time and persistence and resilience. It will be worth it. For me and my family. For you and yours.