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A conversation with Professor Sir Louis Appleby on the Suicide Prevention Strategy for England

by | Jan 25, 2024

Bianca Romanyk - Storm Skills Training CEO

Blog by Bianca Romanyk, CEO, Storm Skills Training CIC:

At the end of 2023, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Professor Sir Louis Appleby. We spoke specifically about the most recent Suicide Prevention Strategy for England.

For many, Louis needs no introduction. He is widely recognised for his dedication to suicide prevention at a national level, dating back decades. He currently leads the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England alongside his roles as Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manchester and Director of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health.

The strategy is a really important publication to help all of us within the expanding self-harm and suicide prevention community, to come together and focus our efforts. 

Admittedly I was quite awestruck and nervous on the day of the interview – it’s not every day I meet a Sir! Unsurprisingly, I found our conversation engaging, warm, and informative. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I did. 

Photo of Professor Sir Louis Appleby

Photo of Professor Sir Louis Appleby

I just want to ask first of all - how are you?

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“That’s very kind. This is a relatively busy time and you can sometimes feel that there are too many things that need to be done, and there is a sense that the task is very large.

However, it also means that there’s a lot of positive response out there. People are looking for advice, they’re looking for an intervention and for some sort of confirmation that what they are doing is going to make a difference.

We’ve recently published the National Suicide Prevention Strategy, which is the first in 11 years. This is a very important moment because, at a government level, it is a way of saying that suicide prevention matters, and the work that all of us do matters. The very fact the strategy exists is the first positive. 

The government got rid of a lot of its possible strategies in different areas of public policy due to limited resources. It was simply not possible to do them all.

Governments are bombarded with good ideas all the time, so selecting and prioritising the strategies is a challenging task. In the end, the government had to select which strategies to focus on, and the Suicide Prevention Strategy made it into the final few.

It’s important to think about why that happened – why has suicide gone from being hard to mention at all to being the kind of thing that the government will attach its reputation to?

The government’s adoption of a strategy for suicide prevention is one of the ways in which we might make progress in the future.”

The strategy has only been around for 21 years. That’s not a long time in the scheme of things. What did suicide prevention look like before it existed?

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“It’s an interesting question and it depends on how far back you want to go. The perception of suicide has evolved over time. If you go back centuries, suicide was viewed as a moral crime.  

When you look back at the beginning of evidence in the late 19th century, you see that people viewed suicide as the act of somebody whose mind was disturbed. It was very much an individual act determined by what we would now refer to as mental illness – “insanity” is how people would have talked about it then.  

Early research attempted to place suicide into some sort of social context – to say, for instance, that certain societies are more vulnerable to suicide than others. For people within those societies, this was the first time that suicide had been related to social rather than individual factors. This moved the discussion on from suicide as an act of individual temperament or “insanity” to suicide as a feature of society that is remediable through social interventions.  

In the 20th century, we saw some big economic pressures and the 1930s had the highest suicide rates ever in this country. Since then, there has been a gradual but fluctuating fall over a long period of time. In a sense, a tug-of-war – between these ideas of individual versus social causes of suicide –  has played out in different ways over the last 50 years. 

Before the implementation of a suicide prevention strategy, I would say there was still a prevailing sense of suicide as the natural mortality of mental illness. We first started talking about suicide prevention through mental health services, but there was a definite resistance to the idea from professionals. I think this was partly because they sometimes felt powerless, in that suicide does occur in mental health services and it doesn’t always feel that you can do anything about it. I can understand where that resistance came from, but I think it meant that people were reluctant to see suicide as a priority for them.  

I suppose that there’s always that feeling that if you don’t prevent something that is preventable, you must be doing something wrong. So fault and blame become quite high in people’s minds.  

By the time we got to (the first) national strategy,  there was still some resistance to the idea that suicide could be prevented. Both individual and social perspectives led to the same conclusion: suicide was not something you could simply reduce through government policy. What place is there for a government policy if you’re talking about either an intractable social problem or a mental illness that’s hard to treat?

Yet look where we’ve got to: within five years of the suicide prevention strategy being launched in the 2000’s, we had the lowest suicide rate ever in England which is the lowest for 150 years.  

The drop in suicide rates may not have been solely because of the strategy, but it would be churlish to say it had nothing to do with the strategy. 

I think we’ve moved on from that, but the debate continues and plays out in different ways: What’s the role of society? What right has society to intervene? If we’re in a society now where individual autonomy is the zeitgeist – which it sort of is, in that people are self-determining, self-declaring in so many areas of their lives – what’s the moral ground for saying that we should stop somebody who has decided that they want to end their life? I think there are plenty of grounds for doing that, as I’m more in favour of solution/addition of responsibility, but not everybody would agree with me.”

In your time, 21 years of national strategy, what do you think has been the biggest and most important change?

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“There have been both good and bad changes, but I think the most important thing that’s happened is that we’ve had a period of comparatively low suicide rates.

I say “comparatively” because there are still 5,000 suicides a year in England, and we can’t be too pleased about that. Importantly, however, national rates have been consistently lower since the implementation of the strategy than they have been in the preceding two decades. We’ve also had some of the lowest rates on record in England in 2007 and 2017 –  so there is evidence that the rates have improved following the government’s strategic response.

Having said this, there are some groups that seem to have had a bigger benefit than others:

  • The rate among mental health patients has fallen: That’s very important because they’re obviously a group at particularly high risk. People are sometimes surprised to hear that the rate of suicide in mental health patients has fallen, but it has. Perhaps people under mental healthcare have benefitted especially – that’s a big positive.

  • Older people who used to have the highest suicide rate in this country now no longer have the highest rate: There’s been quite a significant fall. That pre-dates the strategy but it continued into the strategy period.

  • We have far better evidence: What is the effect of having a strategy? It doesn’t automatically produce a consequence, but it does start to sharpen people’s awareness of an issue. That’s the advantage of having governments taking a stand on something: it ripples out into the health service, public health, the research system, and public consciousness. All of those things happen because there’s a profile for a government strategy. One of the effects of this is that we have better evidence on which to base our prevention efforts – better than we’ve ever had in so many areas.

There are however, some whose rates have not gone so well. The obvious one is young people, whose rates have increased over the last 10 to 15 years.

There is always a mixed picture, because suicide is never one thing and the rates are never doing just one thing.

The overall rate is a composite of rates of different groups.”

When I say I work in suicide prevention, people want to know the answer to that one question: is it getting worse or is it getting better? And I think there’s both in there, and I think it’s important that we have that nuanced conversation about suicide and where prevention is working and where it's not. Including that perhaps the problem is increasing for young people. In your mind, what do we need to do for young people? Do you have some answers?

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“Yes, but let me first comment on the interesting point you made about public perception. I’m not sure I totally agree with you, because I think it’s slightly worse than you say. 

Whenever I meet people, they don’t always ask, “Are the rates going up or down?” They assume that rates are going up.

My experience, is that people say, “Oh it’s terrible, isn’t it, that it’s become so common nowadays?” And I say, “Well, actually, the rates in recent years are the lowest rates we’ve seen”. People can’t believe it.

So why is there that mismatch?

It must reflect the fact that society is more prepared to discuss suicide.

Hardly a week goes past without there being a story that has something to do with suicide in the press. Sometimes it’s implied rather than explicit, but there is usually something about suicide.

People have begun to see suicide as a phenomenon out there in society around them, but it’s been a gradual realisation. The apparent perception is that it’s become more common, but really what’s happened is that we’re talking about it more.

Now, let’s shift our focus to young people by going back to one of my many standard aphorisms: suicide is not one thing, so suicide prevention is not one thing. This is particularly true for young people who face a lot of pressures in their lives which may contribute to their risk of suicide. Therefore, what we need to do about for young people is pretty varied.

If we start at the sharp end of public services, professionals have to be alert to risk among young people. They also have to be good at assessing and managing risk. I hardly need tell you at Storm Skills Training that this is a really important part. Professionals need to have the skills and the confidence to be able to recognise risk, because recognition is a really big issue. They then need to make some kind of informed judgement about what they need to do that is appropriate to that risk. This aspect of prevention relates to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). Importantly, however, suicide prevention among young people is also about some other agencies which are not explicitly about mental health, such as youth justice, social care, education, schools, and universities.

“There are also a number of experiences that are unique to childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. While many of these things are a natural part of growing older, they can put some young people at risk.

We mustn’t be frightening the population by saying the things that happen in normal adolescence are potentially disastrous, but when these experiences are combined with other stressors – such as bullying or bereavement, especially by suicide – this can add to their risk.

There are risks in relationships. Young people are becoming isolated and losing potential sources of support – and, of course, there’s the online world and everything that this entails. Young people may have experienced, or be experiencing, abuse, neglect, or disruptions within their families due to parental mental illness, drug misuse, or domestic violence. The potential for risk accumulates during adolescence for young people who have experienced these kinds of adversity.

Then, of course, there are some risks which are associated with older adolescence: the onset of depression starts around this point, along with alcohol and substance use at times of stress. All of these things start to add up, and you see a sense of young people’s lives getting a little bit out of control. If we’re talking about prevention, then, we have to target the full range of things that can go wrong for young people throughout their early lives.

There’s also the issue of what makes suicidal behaviour attractive to young people. There is some evidence that young people have increasingly come to see self-harm as a way of dealing with stress. That’s a worrying thing, because if they learn self-harming behaviour as a way of coping, the way in which they self-harm might become more physically serious as they get older. They then enter into the more suicidal age groups, and there is this danger of having a cohort of young people with elevated rates of suicide- not just rates of self-harm. That’s a strong argument for better self-harm services. We need to help young people cope with their unique experiences and problems, but without the need to resort to self-harm.

There’s one other thing, and that’s the values that society brings to young people. If we give the impression that young people’s values and aspirations (which often relate to diversity, internationalism, the environment, equality, and opportunity), do not matter and will not lead to good jobs, stable housing, and a positive, many young people will feel demoralised. For some young people, this will elevate their risk of suicide

All of this matters – from CAMHS services through to the values that we talk about in public discourse. All of these things are part of suicide prevention.”

How do we take what we know about risk in groups, and populations, and apply it effectively in conversations with someone who is in distress?

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“Well, that’s a very interesting question, because it is about the relationship between population-level data and individual risk. There is a relationship, but it’s not a simple one.

When faced with somebody who seems in despair, you can’t dismiss their risk just because they don’t seem to be in a high-risk group. That doesn’t make sense.

On the other hand, we do have to try to reflect the evidence in how we approach people who might be at risk.

Take, for example, the fact that men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. If that evidence leads us to disregard the risk in women, then that’s the wrong outcome. If it leads us to try to respond proportionately to the risk in men, then that’s the right outcome. We need to make sure that we do not dismiss potential risk in any group, even if population-level data indicates that group is ‘low risk’.

It’s one of the truisms of suicide prevention that a lot of deaths by suicide are among people who have been deemed ‘low risk’. While they may be considered “low risk” in population terms, in that they don’t fall into any particular high-risk group, a tragedy still happens. We have to be prepared to think broadly about who we might want to do more for.

In clinical practice, that’s led us to an approach of “personalised risk management”, which is about trying to respond to a person’s individual circumstances. It’s not enough to say, “Well, we know that certain things put people at risk, so let’s look at the top five risk factors, and if this person doesn’t have any of those five, we shouldn’t be too worried.”

What we should do instead is say, “What is this person telling us about their life that is leading them into distress and potentially despair? How can we help them with the thing that they are describing?”. This is the personalised model, and it leads us to think about how somebody might respond in a crisis.

 

When you’re assessing a patient, client, or even a friend and you say, “They seem okay right now, but how will they be tomorrow, next week, or in a month’s time?” It’s about planning for that natural changeability in how people’s lives go. People’s lives are complex. Things happen.”

What do you think are the key skills that are most important for those conversations to be effective? What do frontline team members need to be good at?

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“Having the confidence to be able to talk about difficult and painful subjects is crucial, because sensitive inquiry is a key part of risk management and risk recognition.

I mentioned earlier that risk recognition is where it starts.

Experienced professionals are quite good, on the whole, at assessing risk, but sometimes where some things go wrong is that first step: risk recognition. It’s that level of concern which might lead someone to think “This person or this patient seems quite cheerful.

They’re well turned out, they’ve come looking for help, so maybe things are okay here and I can just check how they’re doing and make sure that we’re offering some sort of support.” You have to go beyond that; you have to be able to say, “There is something potentially not right here. This poor person, often a young person, sounds okay and they’re saying the right things. On the other hand, they’ve come looking for help in the middle of the night at the accident and emergency department. What does that tell us? That tells us they’re not alright. They’re not feeling good. They’re worried about themselves, and they maybe don’t feel safe.” 

We must not be overly reassured by the way that somebody is able to present themselves, particularly in the case of young people. They get into a clinical setting and then find themselves almost defending how they feel. “No, I’m okay”, “No, I wouldn’t do anything”, “No, I’m going to be alright.” We have to be able to see beyond that, because sometimes the evidence is indirect. Sometimes it has to be about our experience. Again, it’s an issue of confidence. Are we able to say, “I know you’re telling me you feel okay, but I’m worried about you. Am I right to be worried about you?”. Then it starts to come out.

There’s mention of the Safety Planning Group in the strategy, and I’m wondering if some of the work that they will do will influence or relate to the work we’re doing here at Storm Skills Training?

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“It’s hard to know exactly where the working group itself will go. I’m hopeful that there’s already a process underway within NHS England (NHSE) that will be looking at safety” [at the time of publication we have been informed that there is process underway at NHSE].

“I’m just wary of safety planning going the same way as risk assessment.”

Bianca Romanyk:

“I’m wary of this too. Are we going to treat safety planning as a template-building process, which then means it’s about the paperwork or about prediction or about doing things that aren’t necessarily person-focused? Or are we going to look at the nuances of the person? And I think that we need to look at the whole process, from engagement to assessment to formulation, and then how all of those culminate in safety planning. So I have the same concerns as you, Louis, possibly?”

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“I think that’s where we are heading, but we do need to be careful about it. I think the other side to this is that people have talked about the failings of the checklist-based risk assessment for some years now. In my research field, we have produced quite a bit of evidence about that, so it’s not entirely new that the checklists are not really doing what they’re meant to do. There’s a level at which people say, “Well, this is so frustrating! Why aren’t people doing what they should do?”  That’s a very important question – why don’t people do what the evidence has convinced them is the right thing? It’s an important thing about how cultures work.

And I think we have to be a bit more sympathetic with NHS colleagues and realise that probably they’re not sure what the alternative is. If we are talking the language of safety planning, then we have to be able to go beyond the phrase “safety planning” into the reality of what it might mean.

They will have to feel confident that they have the skill to do it, and that sense of ownership of the method has to become widespread. It’s not enough to say to staff, “Right, that’s enough of checklists. We want you to do safety planning.” We need to come back to these issues of confidence, recognition, and sensitivity.

Professionals will have to develop a method or model of practical working and will have to be able to apply these qualities in a clinical setting.

The other bit to this is that the organisations, and the people who manage mental health services, will have to give permission for that to happen. 

We can’t be instilling defensive practice in frontline staff and then expecting them to do human things because they don’t work together. Getting that right is important. Getting that sense of joint working with patients and services users, and getting them to feel that there’s been – to use your word – the conversation.

When I first trained 20-30 years ago, the idea of suicide was something that we did to people. Suicide prevention was a thing that we, as professionals, were doing, and other people were the recipients of suicide prevention. That’s now not an acceptable model.

In a way, the big challenge for all of us who are in this field is to develop the suicide prevention model for frontline services because that’s where a lot of people are at risk. This model also needs to be respectful of people’s autonomy. This doesn’t meaning accepting the autonomy of suicidal intent – that’s much too far – but it does need to accept that people have autonomy over how they live their lives. We have to strike a balance, so that we say to people, “Well, you’re doing these things, but those things can put you at risk, so let’s have a plan for what you will do if you find yourself at risk because of whatever it is. If you’re in a relationship which is causing you pain, I’m not going to tell you to break up that relationship. Instead, let’s talk about how you deal with the pain that comes from the relationship that you want to maintain, or from drinking, or from some other factor. Let’s talk about how we allow your life to go in a way that you want – but, at the same time, we build that sense of social responsibility around you so that people are there for you when you need them.”

 

With the new strategy, what would you hope that Storm Skills Training would do with that strategy? How can we help to achieve some of the aspirations that you’ve got?

Professor Sir Louis Appleby:

“Well, I think you’ve touched on one very important area already which is the model of risk assessment becoming more personal, sensitive, responsive, and respectful of individual autonomy. Although, as I say, I draw the line at the point where people need a responsible society to intervene. We still have to have that, but I think that changing that model and the balance of the relationship is part of risk management. I think that bringing that model to frontline staff will be an important task for many of us and I would say Storm Skills Training included. I think there is a public need. 

One feature of the new strategy, which was less evident in its predecessor, is that we’re talking the language ofsomething here for everyone”. Just as every one of us can be at risk, every one of us can also play a part in prevention. The question for us in this field is, “What is that part?” We ought to be able to help people see where they may play a suicide prevention role. They may not see it in those terms, but if you’re calling in on your lonely neighbour, there is an element of that which is suicide prevention. We might not want to call it that, but in the end it’s about their wellbeing and it’s about their connectedness with people – and those things are, in the end, a version of or a contributor to suicide prevention.

Everybody has a part to play and we need to help people see what their part is. If I am worried about my neighbour, or if I’m a school teacher, or I’m running a charity in my local area – whatever my position is in society – and I’ve got some people that I’m concerned about, I want to know: what’s my suicide prevention role? I can’t become an expert or a psychiatrist. I can’t do any of those things, because that’s the job of a professional. So what’s my job as an informed, concerned, member of the public who is worried about my daughter, father, or my next-door neighbour?

That’s the thing that we have to help people towards. And that’s a kind of training too – it’s a raising of public skill. For organisations whose tradition has been working on frontline skills, there is another frontline out there: the public frontline and how we support each other.”

Bianca Romanyk:

Thank you

“A huge thank you to Professor Sir Louis Appleby for taking the time to have a conversation with me. I took so much away from the interview, and I hope you did too.

I found many things inspiring and hopeful in particular:

  • How far we have come and the advancements we have made across 20 plus years of having a national strategy
  • That the frontline of suicide prevention is changing, its expanding and we all have a role to play
  • From mental health services, schools, universities, employers, friends, family, neighbours, sports groups, community groups, and even strangers – what’s key is that suicide prevention doesn’t need to have those words on it. It can be in everyday things that we do for ourselves and others.

The training community has a really important role to play in the strategy in helping to build knowledge, skills, confidence and help people to see their role in preventing suicide. And together we hope we can have less lives lost to suicide and self-harm – and that’s our aim.”

Linda's Story:

Meet Linda Gask: Co-founder

I studied medicine in Edinburgh, before moving to Manchester where I trained in psychiatry. I had both professional and personal interest in mental health, having experienced depression and anxiety myself. I was acutely aware of the need for effective communication to better understand and work with my patients.

Storm Skills Training started as a research project Manchester University funded by the Department of Health in the 1990s. Myself and Richard Morriss developed a training package that demonstrated how using viewing recorded roleplays could actually change people’s behaviour. We first tested our approach in Preston, then across a wider area in South Lancashire.

At that point, we named it Storm Skills Training and we were joined by Gill Green to roll out the delivery of training. Gill further developed Storm as a CIC and it’s wonderful to see how it has grown to where it is today under Bianca and her team.

My passion for many years has been on making mental health support more accessible in primary care. Until the Spring of 2023, I was Presidential lead for primary care at the Royal College of Psychiatrists and I continue to offer advice on the issue.

I moved to Orkney full time in 2020 at the start of the pandemic. I am Chair of a local mental health organisation called the Bilde Trust. As a rural community, we face our own challenges with mental health – it’s great to be involved in making a difference where I live.

Orkney is a wonderful place, unlike anywhere else in Scotland or the UK. I particularly enjoy writing here. After my first book, The Other Side of Silence, was published, I wrote my second (Finding True North) about how moving here positively impacted my own mental health.

My third book will be published at the end of 2024, exploring mental health and feminism. Maybe then I will take it easy, but that’s very hard for me to do!

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A not-for-profit social enterprise delivering high-quality skills training in self-harm and suicide prevention.

Keith's Story

Meet Keith Waters: Non-executive Director

Keith has over 25 years of clinical experience in Liaison psychiatry, self-harm and suicide prevention and was awarded an Honorary Research Fellowship by Derbyshire Healthcare Foundation Trust (DHCFT) in 2013.

For many years he was the lead for the Derby site of the Multicentre Study of self-harm in England, a study which he still maintains a very active role in. Until recently he was the Clinical director for self-harm and suicide prevention for the Trust and retains a post within the research team.

Keith is also a Storm Skills Training consultant with many years experience in facilitating, delivering, and supporting Storm Skills Training and has for a number of years held a seat on the National Suicide Prevention Alliance steering group.

He has been the Suicide Prevention manager for the East Midlands and Clinical Advisor for Suicide Prevention with the East Midlands Academic Health Science Network, developed a business and clinical case for Liaison Psychiatry Services in Derbyshire, and was the clinical advisor for its implementation.

Keith is an experienced trainer, facilitator, and presenter in Self Harm and Suicide prevention and management, locally and nationally in addition to the work with DHCFT and Storm Skills Training, has helped develop and delivered an initially lottery-funded suicide awareness training program across the East Midlands and organised chaired and delivered at numerous nation conferences and events. Keith has also been a joint author on numerous published research works, and chapters in clinical textbooks on self-harm and suicide prevention and has contributed to policy and practice guidance developments locally and nationally.

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Alf's Story

Meet Alf Hill: Non-executive Director

I first encountered Storm Skills Training CIC during my time as a volunteer Business Mentor at Unltd – a charity that supports social enterprises. Co-founder Gill Green was one my mentees in 2010 when Storm Skills Training was still within the University of Manchester and at the beginning of its journey to becoming an independent Community Interest Company.

At our first meeting I asked Gill, “How do you think I can help you?” Gill’s response was “Well… you could explain accounting to me.” We worked together for 18 months to develop Storm Skills Training as a social business. When Storm Skills Training CIC was finally incorporated in 2011, I was invited by Gill and Linda to be a non-executive Director and became Chair of the Board ten years later in 2021.

I’ve had a diverse career; initially as a civil servant, then in senior management and executive and non-executive roles in insurance and reinsurance in the UK and USA, in the corporate sector, and in Lloyd’s of London.

I returned to the public sector initially in adult education then at the Equal Opportunities Commission, later the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

A qualified accountant, I’ve been trustee of several charities, local and national, currently the Yapp Charitable Trust and the Centre for Investigative Journalism.

At Storm Skills Training, post-pandemic I feel that we are stronger than ever. I’m excited about the future with our new team with an ambitious plan.

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Gill's Story

Meet Gill Green: Co-founder

My career has taken me from nursing to academic research and finally to the development of Storm Skills Training CIC as a skills training company.

When I was nursing, so many of my patients often expressed that they felt so hopeless that they thought about ending their life. And like so many of my colleagues, I felt ill-equipped to know the right way to respond. It was a dilemma that I wanted to address through skills training – to give fellow healthcare professionals the confidence and practice they needed to have those difficult conversations.

In 1997, it was a chance job advertisement in a national paper for a Trainer and Researcher that introduced me to Storm Skills Training. At the time, I saw the 12-month project, working with Linda Gask at the University of Manchester, as an opportunity to learn new skills to take back to clinical practice. After the project, I stepped away for a few years, remaining in research but working with prisons on a different project. Research was definitely where I wanted to be.

I came back to the University of Manchester in 2003, when Linda and I started to develop the training package we now know as Storm Skills Training. It was important to us to translate the theory into usable, effective practice. I knew that as a healthcare practitioner, it wouldn’t be enough to sit in a room and be ‘taught’ suicide prevention. It is only through practice that we can actually ‘do’ suicide prevention.

I’m looking forward to supporting Bianca in realising her vision for where we go to next – and to exploring even more new directions for my own career. 

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Bianca's Story

Meet Bianca Romanyk: CEO

After 20 years in the mental health field, I am incredibly proud to be CEO of Storm Skills Training.

In my early career as a probationary psychologist working in community mental health, I can remember thinking that I’d like to one day have a role that could influence and impact the lives of many who were in distress. I recall meeting the CEO of the mental health service and being inspired by her and the compassion and empathy she showed those experiencing mental health issues.

Being in a small town in rural Australia I had the privilege of my role spanning across several areas of mental health, including working in an ongoing way with people with severe mental illness and crisis assessment (and being on call). I enjoyed all of it - I loved working with people, building trusting relationships, and working alongside them. I developed a special interest in working with younger adults with complex trauma and was lucky enough to train and be part of the Dialectical Behavioural Team for a short while. All of these experiences in my early career have driven my passion to make a difference for those in distress. I believe it is the quality of the connection that we make with people that makes a difference.

My career took me away from the frontline but rooted deeply in mental health and creating positive change. I found myself sat in a Storm Skills Training session as a trainee facilitator in 2013, Gill was delivering the course. I’d started in a brand-new role, working with schools in Australia to support their communities impacted by suicide. I recall vividly the anxiety of being on film in front of my new colleagues and the relief, value, and benefit the experience gave me. I left the training session feeling so empowered – I knew this course would help teachers and others working in schools to have conversations that made a difference to young people in significant distress. I wanted everyone to have Storm Skills Training!

Life presented itself with an opportunity to move to the UK. In 2014, before I left, Gill returned to Australia, we agreed to meet and talk about the opportunity to work together when I arrived. I arrived in the UK, with my two dogs, on the 7th of August 2015 and started work with Storm Skills Training on World Suicide Prevention Day the next month.

I haven’t looked back, my life here in the UK is lovely! When I’m not working, you’ll find me on my local common with my dogs, Derek and Doris, enjoying the view and nature. Or in my garden having a chat to the plants. I enjoy all things creative. More recently I have become a foster carer and am looking forward to this new life challenge and making a difference to the lives of young people.

I love the Storm Skills Training team, our consultants, and community and am always thinking about how to build and improve on the work we do, to have a positive impact on the world. I know that between us all we can make a real difference to people in distress. That’s what I am most excited about.

I believe passionately that Storm Skills Training helps to save lives. My vision for the future of Storm Skills Training, and our community, is to strive toward a more collaborative, empowering, and person-centred approach to self-harm and suicide prevention. A world where distress is met with compassion, everyone feels empowered to help and the support offered is tailored to the unique needs of people and their stories.

 

 

 

 

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Find support:

If you need help and support please reach out for it, here are some options:

Samaritans (UK)

Email: jo@samaritans.org

Phone: 116 123 (24 hours a day, 365 days a year)

Visit: samaritans.org

International Association for Suicide Prevention (International)

Visit: findahelpline.com/i/iasp