The trouble with listening to other people is you end up changing your mind…which is the point, I guess!
Last night I chatted briefly via Twitter with Professor Louis Appleby about the proposed “target” for suicides being zero. I got his assurances that the intention is to have shared aspiration and concerted effort towards a significant reduction rather than an aim of absolute zero. I also heard from Dr Alys Cole-King who shares his views – we have a phone call booked this afternoon to talk about how I might help with her research and how she might get involved in Time to Change.
At the Guardian debate last night, I challenged the panel to say what they were going to do personally to make sure such a policy would not have the perverse impacts feared by me and many others who, from time to time, experience suicidal thoughts.
Their answers were really thoughtful. I know some people doubt The RH Norman Lamb‘s sincerity when he says that he has been battling for mental health within the corridors of Westminster since he was appointed as Minister in 2012. But I believe him, as I do his shining conviction for much greater aspiration for people who experience mental illness, and the importance of removing silos across health and social care. I was also convinced by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh who is not afraid to speak his mind, but engages people through his emotional and intellectual intelligence, and humility. He said that the aspiration within NHS England is for real investment in mental health and to break down unhelpful barriers between mental and physical illness. He also said that Norman Lamb was on their backs about it all the time. And Julia Manning not only talked about the financial disincentives for pharmaceutical companies to invest in new treatments. She also made the audience sit forward by talking with great courage about her own experience of mental illness since the age of 22.
So where am I now? I remain unsure about an absolute zero target for suicides, because it could set people – patients and staff – and services up to fail. And I think the work of NHS Change Day and Time to Change are vital because not everyone in public services is as well-informed or humane as members of that panel. But I do now believe that a target to reduce suicides, based on the sort of thing we are doing in Brighton and Hove to become a suicide safer city, engaging the whole community, will truly change lives. Anything that gets mental illness and effective treatment and support out of the ghetto and into the mainstream must be a good thing. As Dr Mark Porter said last night, we artificially separated mental illness from physical health when we built the asylums.
Now is the time to bring it all back together, and make mental health part of health, and everyone’s business. Onwards…