The role of Suicide Prevention Officer is about reading and reviewing police incidents and identifying which cases are suspected to be suicide. I record them on our database and inform the relevant Local Authority Public Health teams as well as entering them into the national recording system called the QES Suicide Surveillance System. This system connects with local support organisations, and they are able to record what they knew of the individual, which can build a better understanding of the circumstances leading to someone taking their own life. I also report the details of the suicide to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) for Real Time Surveillance (RTS).
My role also involves developing training for police officers to help them to understand suicide and suicide prevention, and to break down the stigma of suicide, including providing education about using appropriate language, for example avoiding the phrase “committed suicide” as this wrongly insinuates that the person committed a crime. I also contribute to the development of a Suicide Prevention Portal for South Yorkshire Police Officers which will be an important development for the region.
Through real-time suicide surveillance, we try to identify those that may have been bereaved and affected by a suspected suicide by researching the incident and looking into our systems looking for family members or children of the individual and witnesses to incidents. We also review requests from other police forces who have asked for a death warning to be delivered to family members because someone has died in another part of the country, and where these are suspected suicides we offer the same support as to those who have been affected by an incident in South Yorkshire. I try to contact people identified through the system to check on their welfare, and I also offer a referral to an organisation commissioned by Local Authority Public Health whose staff are trained in suicide bereavement support. Not everyone is ready for support when I speak to them so I send them details of the service and the Help is at Hand booklet so they can self-refer later if they wish, or they can come back to me and ask to be referred. Where I cannot reach someone, I ensure I post the information out to them. The bereavement support service provides a listening ear service, and emotional and practical support.
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought issues such as loneliness and isolation to the forefront and made face-to-face support difficult, but I know that staff are working really hard to provide support. We know the Coroner’s officers have been overwhelmed and longer waiting times are causing anxiety for the survivors of suicides. I think it’s surprising how resilient people have been during this difficult and challenging time, but it has also had an impact on key workers. Nurses and other health professionals, ambulance crews and police officers have been hit hard by unprecedented levels of demand, and the reality is we have seen people in these roles take their lives by suicide. We must not forget to look inward and to our colleagues stood next to us and ask if they are okay as well.
Aside from informing services when there has been a suspected suicide, we also work together with Trusts and charity partners to ensure support is available in school and workplace environments. Additionally, if someone dies within our area, but the family resides outside of South Yorkshire, we link in with those Trusts to ensure support is provided for the surviving families. Supported by organisations such as the Samaritans and through our Neighbourhood Hubs, we are working collaboratively to develop processes around attempt suicides to identify repeat locations to target specifically, and to ensure that individuals who come to the attention of services are offered the support needed. I attend regional meetings to provide information from our RTS about changes that may be linked to age groups, gender or methods so that as a group we can develop initiatives and respond quickly to emerging themes.
My main message to anyone wondering how they can help make an impact would be to urge everyone to undertake training on suicide prevention or intervention. You never know if it may affect one of your patients, colleagues, or a family member, it’s so important to have that information in your toolbox and to understand that it’s okay to ask if someone is thinking about suicide. You are not going to increase the risk of them taking their own life by asking if they are thinking of suicide, to the contrary, it will show them that you are open to them and are worried enough about them to ask- demonstrating that you care. It’s a challenging but rewarding area, and to know you’ve made a difference in someone’s life is amazing.
It would be wonderful if suicide prevention programmes such as this eventually led to no one else having to die by suicide and no families being affected by the loss of a loved one. The work we are doing has put us on that path, but we still have more to do before that can be achieved.