SFA: Suicide First Aid, for Essential Services – The first of its kind dedicated to helping front line staff support customers with thoughts of suicide

In this guest post, Nick Barnes, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Suicide Prevention Education and Training, outlines why the Suicide First Aid Training course launched in partnership with Money Advice Trust is a vital tool for essential services to help their front line staff support customers with thoughts of suicide.

Last week, the UK’s Office for National Statistics published the latest data on suicides in England & Wales for the year 2019. The data shows that there were 5,691 recorded deaths where the coroner reported that the cause of death was suicide in that year alone. Whilst the data showed that the overall population rates were consistent with the previous year (11.0 deaths per 100,000), the male suicide rate is now at its highest recorded level since the year 2000.

What this shows is that, at a time when we are doing more than ever to reduce male suicides, the numbers continue to rise. The reason why may be complex, but part of the solution is relatively simple: learning to talk about suicide.

That’s why we are pleased to be launch a new partnership between the National Centre for Suicide Prevention Education & Training CIC and the Money Advice Trust, specifically focussed on the role of suicide prevention and education programmes for essential customer-facing services. Both of our organisations have been working very hard in the background for the past three years to develop a sector-specific, market-ready programme that teaches front line staff to learn how to have a conversation that could save a life.

The relationship between problem debt and suicide is well established, and in 2018 the Money Advice Trust carried out research which explored this link in partnership with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute and Bristol University. They found that people in debt are twice as likely to contemplate suicide compared to those with no debt, and that just over half (54%) of debt advisers surveyed as part of this research had spoken to a client that they seriously believed was at risk of suicide in that year.

Economic shocks can also have a significant impact on the number of people in problem debt who are at risk of suicide. Research carried out following the global recession of 2008/9 found that for every 1% increase in indebtedness across 20 EU countries (including the UK) there was a 0.54% increase in suicides amongst men. As the immediate financial and long term economic consequences of Covid-19 emerge, it’s vital we continue to work to understand the impact of debt on peoples’ mental health and think about how best to equip creditors and front line staff to support people at risk of suicide.

While the impact of Covid-19 and unprecedented measures to tackle it continue to take effect, the timing of this launch could not be more appropriate. The programme will up-skill and qualify agents to support customers with thoughts of suicide, in addition to increasing their own confidence and reducing anxiety around these conversations – something that is needed now more than ever.

The Suicide First Aid for Essential Services course that we have launched in partnership with the Trust is the very first of its kind – the only accredited course that offers a City and Guilds qualification in Suicide Prevention to those who undertake its study. It has been designed, developed, piloted and now delivered specifically in order to reflect the commercial contexts in which front line staff are working. The course itself covers all the practical questions that staff may have about supporting vulnerable customers with thoughts of suicide. We have also produced a separate guide that firms signing up to the course will receive, covering issues around data recording and how to reconnect with customers who have disclosed suicidal thoughts or intentions. Importantly, the guide also outlines how to support front line staff who have experienced difficult calls of this kind.

Last week, I joined with other experts convened by the Money Advice Trust to discuss the new programme and what essential service firms can do to prevent vulnerable people from taking their own lives. It was a powerful reminder of just why this is so important and by equipping staff with the right tools and confidence, they can have a real and positive impact and potentially save a life.

You can listen back to the Money Advice Trust’s Vulnerability Matters podcast on Understanding suicide intervention for essential services here and find out more about our new training programme here http://www.moneyadvicetrust.org/creditors/creditsector/Pages/Supporting-customers-who-discuss-suicidal-thoughts-and-behaviours.aspx  

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