Suicide is everyone’s business

There were 6, 122 registered suicides in the UK in 2014 (ONS, 2016).

Today is National Suicide Prevention Day. This got me thinking about my experiences of suicide attempts in placement and what I have learned, which I wanted to share with you.

I am a student children’s nurse… I know, suicide in children’s nursing?! Yes, children and young people take their own lives. Notice I didn’t say ‘commit suicide’? Well-spotted. This was intentional. Now, it’s not easy to break our language habits, but I’ve found that a good start in communicating with people who have attempted suicide (or any vulnerable person, or, well… people) is to think carefully about what I’m saying. The word ‘commit’ is commonly used in reference to criminal activity, which ties it to negativity, so I prefer not to use that word. I recognise I used the word ‘attempt’ above. Is this word associated with failure? I don’t know. I’m still learning.

During my time on placement, I have observed how well staff respond to these children and young people in a clinical sense, and how they are still learning how to provide emotional and psychological support.

My first experience was with a young person with diabetes who intentionally missed insulin doses and miscalculated insulin doses in an effort to end her life. The nurses were open about their discomfort in communicating with her. I respected their honesty and, from this point, made it my objective to build my knowledge of communicating compassion in these situations. I started by sitting and talking with her. More importantly, I listened.

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Fast forward a few months and I am with a girl who has taken an overdose on the ward. This was an emergency. The charge nurse raised his voice and forcefully asked what she had taken. She stayed silent. Another student and I took a different approach. She held her hand and I asked people to stand back.

We introduced ourselves, explained she wasn’t in trouble and that we cared about her.

Somehow, we got to a point where we were singing and dancing to Justin Bieber in her bay, with the curtains closed enough to give her some privacy and open enough for staff to monitor. We listened to her and gave her our time. She disclosed to us what she had taken and she was treated. She was referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). She thanked us sincerely.

Following this incident, I asked staff which they felt was the best approach, given it was an emergency. Opinion was divided. What do you think?

I could write on and on about suicide prevention, but for now I have listed some of my top tips:

  • Refrain from judgement. If you can admit to yourself that you can be a little judgemental, that shows great level of self-awareness and highlights an area of self-development. For now, try to disguise your judgement. Think about how eye-rolling, tutting and slumping your shoulders whilst turning your back (yes, I have observed these in practice) could make somebody feel – Remember the first standard of the Code ‘treat people with kindness, respect and compassion’
  • Actively listen. Show you’re listening; make eye contact, nod with understanding…
  • Sometimes there are no ‘right’ words, but think about how your language could make someone feel.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’ ‘Would you like to talk?’ ‘Is there anything I might be able to do to help?’…
  • Don’t make promises you cannot keep. If you feel someone is at risk, make it clear you will need to share information confidentially with appropriate colleagues/services.
  • Know who to refer to and what support is available. You are a student, so at this stage it would be your mentor you would raise concerns with, but learn trust safeguarding policies and national and local services. Here are some resources to get you started:

SamaritansMindStamp Out SuicideMaytree, Male-specific: The Calm Zone,

Young People: Papyrus, Children: Childline

  • Be open to learning ways to help vulnerable people who are considering suicide. One small action you make could save somebody’s life. Keep learning. Keep reflecting. As always, I recommend Twitter as a useful starting point:

#WSPD16 #WorldSuicidePreventionDay #ItsOkayToTalk #TalkThroughTheTaboo

Suicide is everyone’s business and you can make a difference.


From fear to maternity……..

So, before I embarked on this student midwife jaunt I was a counsellor for 15 years (I did ALL sorts of counselling-general, bereavement, play therapy with children and adults, couples, mindfulness groups, Neuro Linguistic Programming, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, chronic pain management groups……no therapy stone was left unturned I was the CPD queen!) and when I started to think about retraining in a completely different profession I could not IMAGINE myself ever doing certain…..ahem….invasive procedures! I could not visualise myself (not matter how much I meditated!) as anything other than a counsellor; could not picture myself in a uniform doing medical type things!shocked face

Some may argue that rooting around in peoples subconscious’ for 15 years is pretty invasive but I was so confident and comfortable as a counsellor I was at that joyful stage of awareness/learning known as ‘unconscious competence’ so I didn’t even need to think when I was with clients anymore I  just was!

So, how did I get to thinking about how being a student midwife is not obscure anymore? How did my concerns about carrying out physically invasive procedures (not just vaginal examinations but palpating women’s abdomens, venepuncture, being physically present at such a life changing event etc) suddenly pop into my consciousness again? Because, as I was clipping my name badge on my uniform on Thursday night to go on a night shift just FOUR MONTHS after starting placement the thought went through my head of “off I go to work again….” in a kind of same old same old/blasé way! WHATTTTTTTT?! HOW did this happen?! Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t thinking about it in a boring way-I was excited and apprehensive but it was NORMAL! ME putting on a uniform and heading out to ‘work’ to do all kinds of things I could not even imagine myself doing in September has become…..


This makes me wonder about how adaptable we are as human beings-is it a survival mechanism in us as social creatures that we have to create normality so we can fit in to our new surroundings? Do we/I crave normality and therefore make the abnormal/obscure fit into our frames of reference so we can feel comfortable again?

I can remember whispering to my fellow new student midwives over a pint or 2 on a ‘meet & greet’ night out before the course started “how do you feel about taking blood and doing VE’s?”; some were apprehensive like me but others were worried about other things that hadn’t crossed my mind like talking to women and holding a baby….it made me realise we all have our own hang ups but we push our boundaries, expand our comfort zone, feel the fear and do it anyway and all the other cliché’s I can think of to get us through challenging experiences! As my mentors have got to know me they’ve realised giving me a choice is not an option as I will always find an excuse to not do something I am uncomfortable with mainly for fear of hurting the woman! I tell new mentors “don’t give me a get-out clause just tell me to do it” which so far has worked well! It is likely self reflection will remain a huge part of my learning and at times, standing outside of myself and observing the student midwife stood clipping her badge on her uniform getting ready for another night shift allows me the space to remember how fortunate I am to be given the opportunity of another amazing career at this time in my life and to not take for granted any shift or any experience-whilst orange is the new black so venepuncture is the new CBT…..I may not love it but its a necessary procedure;-) Self awareness is a gift and I feel a necessity in professions such as midwifery as how can we be resilient if we aren’t self aware? I guess that is for another blog though!