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The End!

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide*

11th June 2019

My last blog, on my last day in New Zealand!

I can’t believe it’s also the last day of my six-week Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship, researching Suicide Prevention here and in Australia too. It has gone so quickly.

I must admit, this last week in Christchurch has been the toughest. I have been a little homesick, not helped by many WIFI problems, so struggling to contact home. Christchurch is also in the throes of winter and still recovering from the earthquakes eight years ago, whilst reeling from the very recent terrorist attacks in March of this year.

However, I have met some fantastic organisations and individuals doing amazing things for suicide prevention and young people.

I first met with Laila Cooper, CEO, and Sandi Malcolm, Service Manager, from Christchurch Primary Health Organisation (PHO). The PHO funds GP’s. So, people pay to see the doctor in New Zealand, but it’s a copayment, and the PHO funds practices to provide subsidised services and other health services. Interestingly, the I learned that people living in Christchurch, particularly those who were young children during the earthquakes eight years ago, are showing a decline in their mental health. This presents as high levels of anxiety and trauma related symptoms. People have also been re-traumatised by the terrorist attacks in March 2019, which rocked the nation. The PHO heavily praised the work of ‘298 Youth Health Centre’ headed by Susan Bagshaw, that I will talk about later, and they feel that Christchurch really came together as a community in the wake of the traumatic events of recent years, especially after the terrorist attack.

(L-R) Laila Cooper – CEO, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH, and Sandi Malcolm – Service Manager

The next day I met with Pegasus Health Care, David Cairns, Suicide Prevention Co-Ordinator, John Robinson, Suicide Prevention and Postvention Co-Ordinator & Gythlian Loveday. Pegasus Health supports many aspects of health and wellbeing in Canterbury and has created a network of organisations who work collectively on a number of issues. They provide services and support to general practices and community-based health providers to deliver quality health care to patients and they are committed to improving health outcomes of the people in their communities. David has worked in this field for ten years and was clear that there are high rates of suicide in Christchurch, but no higher than other parts of New Zealand, and there has not been an increase in suicide rates due to the earthquakes or terrorist attacks. Gythlian made a great point about how isolating and traumatising this line of work can be, with little support, and people can be dismissive of those in the field. Which is why having a network of like-minded individuals can really help. This made me reflect on NW Counselling Hub, Lincoln, UK, where the self-employed counsellors in the Hub all support each other, and how the Hub can bring other organisations into that supportive space in the future!

Recently honoured Dame Susan Bagshaw invited me to a research meeting with a room full of passionate and motivated people. They clapped as we entered the meeting, which I thought was because we were late, but luckily it was to celebrate Susan’s Dame-hood! Glad it’s not just me who’s late to meetings! Ha!

Susan then took me to 298 Youth Health Hub that supports 10 to 24 year olds, in their new facility that they moved to this week. They have been forced to move 5 times since the earthquakes, which has been a sad normality for the businesses and people of Christchurch.

This Youth Health Hub is similar to Headspace centres in Australia, but it felt more homely, with lots of friendly faces around. Young people had clearly influenced the design and feel of the Hub and it has a range of in-house Doctors, nurses, counsellors, and youth workers to support clients.

Susan is an amazing, down to earth and welcoming lady who clearly loves what she does. While we were there everyone wanted her attention and she was signing things whilst attending to a patient too! This reminded me of being the CEO at NWCH! But Susan took it all in her stride and with a smile on her face.

Dame Susan Bagshaw – CEO of 298 Youth Health Centre

Lastly, I met with Michael Hempseed author of Being a True Hero – Understanding and preventing suicide in your community.

Michael has made big strides in supporting communities to tackle suicide prevention. He trains people and provides advice about how best to support people. He is an avid ambassador for suicide prevention and has a wealth of knowledge. We had a long chat about the impacts of sleep deprivation on mental health and suicide ideation, which I found very interesting. I urge everyone to read his book and check out his website for more details.

So, during my last few days here in New Zealand, I have spent time in the amazing library in Christchurch Cathedral Centre – Tūranga. It’s spread over four floors and is just spectacular. I’ve spent many hours working in the quiet room. Think I’ll be visiting our local library in Lincoln a lot more when I’m back, because I got loads of work done, even this blog!

So that’s it! Tomorrow I fly back to London. I have learnt so much, met so many wonderful people and have lots of ideas to make a difference to Lincolnshire and beyond.

I’m so grateful to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for this fabulous opportunity and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. Now to write that report… and launch it at the NWCH Suicide Prevention Conference, 10th September, 2019, have you got your ticket yet?

Over and out!

NW x

First week in New Zealand

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide*

7th June 2019

My first week in New Zealand has flown by! I met two organisations in Auckland, both doing fabulous work, before flying on to Christchurch for the final week of my Winston Churchill Memorial Trust research fellowship into Suicide Prevention. What a truly fascinating time I’ve had learning so much about the work they do in this field in Australia and New Zealand. My head is packed with ideas and fresh approaches to discuss in the UK.

In Auckland, I began my week with a visit to The Mental Health Foundation where I met Virginia Brooks, the suicide bereavement service co-ordinator, and Ellen Norman, the manager for Maori Development.

The room that we met in had a very interesting picture with poignant message; Ellen tells the story:

“So, this picture is around suicide. It’s an old Chief who went out fishing for his family. He went out and never came back, so was presumed drowned. His wife sat on that hill, waiting and waiting and waiting for him to come back. She waited until the day she died. So, thinking about it from their context, it was a form of suicide. She yearned so much for her loved one who didn’t return, and her heart was so broken, that she passed away too.”

(L-R) Ellen Norman – Manager for Maori Development, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH, Virginia Brooks – Suicide Bereavement Service Co-Ordinator

Ellen continued:

“There’s all kinds of things that we see as different from today’s thinking around suicide. We’ve had those kinds of stories throughout New Zealand, where death arose through yearning of lost loved ones, rather than anything else”.

This particularly apt in the Maori community. Both Ellen and Virginia educated me on Maori beliefs, their strong sense of family and being part of a collective, a community.

The resources that The Mental Health Foundation provide to the people of New Zealand are simply amazing. They have consulted people of all ages to garner their help in designing resources that engage and help people in a meaningful way. I feel we can learn a lot from this, and I plan to engage with people in the UK, to consult them on their ideas of what they believe would work best to engage and help people in a meaningful way, so that NWCH CIC can build and disseminate similar resources.

Later that week in Auckland, I met Genevieve Mora, Co-Founder of Voices of Hope.

She explained:

The idea behind Voices of Hope (VOH), is to promote mental well-being empowerment and recovery. Both Jazz Thornton and I [Co-founders of VOH] have lived experience with mental health, so we wanted to create a platform where we could share people’s stories in an open, honest and real format. We want to trying to get rid of both the stigma and shame that’s attached to mental ill health. I think the difference between the work we do and a lot of other people’s work is that we focus on hope! That’s a big thing for us. We focus on those of us who have overcome difficult mental ill health experiences, because we want others to visit our website and say, ‘oh my gosh, they are all like me, where I was or where I am right now, and they’re now well, so I can be too’. We’re all about inspiring people to keep on fighting!”.

Genevieve Mora – Co-Founder of Voices of Hope and her gorgeous dog Abby

Jazz and Genevieve are both 24 years old and they have hugely inspired me with what they have achieved in just two years. Neither takes a wage and both give their time tirelessly to help others survive their own mental health struggles. They provide videos and lots of support on social media to help break-down the stigma around mental health. Voices of Hope exists to enable people with lived experience of mental ill health to help those who are currently struggling, which reminds me of Roses in the Ocean as discussed in my very first blog from Brisbane, Australia.

So, my time in Auckland came to an end and my research in Christchurch has now begun. I scheduled meetings with five organisations in seven days, all with varying perspectives on Suicide Prevention. For now, I’ll wish you ‘G’day people’, as I’m about to go to my third of the five meetings. Watch this space for my last blog from this incredibly inspirational research trip, thanks to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship programme.

My last week in Sydney!

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide*

29th May 2019

My last week in Sydney flew by! I met with five organisations (one via Skype) and attended an event In Parliament, no less! Here’s a summary of my week.

I started with a visit to a mental health organisation, the Blackdog Institute (BI), where I gave a presentation to the team about myself, NWCounselling Hub (NWCH), The Winston Churchill Fellowship and my research findings so far about suicide prevention initiatives in Australia. This led to a host of insightful questions from the entire BI team. Thereafter, I interviewed Fiona Shand, senior research fellow at the Blackdog Institute. She is also Director of the Lifespan Suicide Prevention Project, a large, multi-level suicide prevention model. The BI frames itself as a translational Medical Research Institute, i.e., they are first and foremost about research, particularly the translational end of the spectrum, but they also provide clinical services, education and community activities.

I found Fiona’s description of the Lifespan model very interesting. She explained that the team researched existing evidence-based interventions in suicide prevention before developing a framework that includes universal intervention. In other words, the model considers things that affect the whole population, through to selective and indicated intervention for the more at risk end of the spectrum – delivered via community health initiatives, education, and front line media. This makes it a multi-sector, multi strategy model of suicide prevention. In total, the model identified nine interventions to be trialled. The current trial is in four regions, with two years implementation per region; the aim is to get all nine interventions implemented to some degree. The model will then use colonial and hospital data to try to identify changes in suicide attempts across each of the four regions. I am really looking forward to hearing about the outcomes of this huge research project.

Next, I visited ReachOut Australia, where I was welcomed by Dr Kerrie Buhagiar, Director of Service Delivery, and Mariesa Nicholas, Director of Research. ReachOut’s mission is to help young people be happy and well, using technology to empower young people to make the most of their mental health and well-being. I found this organisation so inspiring, particularly their views on empowering young people to make their own decisions around their life and mental health. Understandably, young people love ReachOut Australia because they are an integral part of it! They work tirelessly to incorporate young people’s views and feedback directly into their work. I was particularly interested in their programme to support parents, which incorporates a one-to-one coaching programme. They have found parents care and worry about their teenagers, but don’t know how best to support them. Ultimately, the parents programme benefits both parents and young people tremendously. This is something I definitely want NWCH to look into more when I return to the UK.

(L-R) Mariesa Nicholas – Director of Research, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH and Dr Kerrie Buhagiar – Director of Service Delivery,

I then visited another Headspeace centre – this time in Hurstville, where I met the Operations Manager for Miranda and Hurstville. This is the third Headspace centre I have visited and although they are all so different, they all provide a range of services to support young people within one building. Headspace has grown tremendously since its incorporation in 2007, with over 100 sites across six Australian states and three territories. The Headspace centres operate slightly differently dependent upon which organisation funds them, but all provide tremendous holistic support for young people.

On Thursday, I Skyped Michelle Lamblin, Project Manager of the Suicide Prevention Research Unit at Orygen, Melbourne. Orygen, is a National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health and the world’s leading research and knowledge translation organisation, focusing on mental ill-health in young people. Orygen delivers cutting-edge research, policy development, innovative clinical services, and evidence-based training and education to ensure continuous improvements in the treatment and care for young people experiencing mental ill-health. Michelle and I really hit it off and put the world to rights on our Skype call! I couldn’t believe their growth in such a short time; from three members of staff to 50 in the last three years, thanks to investment from funding bodies and government funding. Like ReachOut Australia, Orygen also involved young people in the design of their new building; again a great example of youth participation. I was also impressed that their suicide prevention model is a community-based approach, where everyone is accountable. Training is provided in communities, and schools have programmes to support young people. This is excellent forward thinking and cutting-edge research from Orygen!

The last organisation I met with was Batyr, where I presented in person to the team and via Zoom (similar to Skype) to other members around Australia. I gave the same presentation as I had to the Blackdog Institute and again, it sparked great questions and debate. What struck me was the relaxed, young, hip vibe in Batyr’s office, where everyone was so warm and welcoming; I joked that it was like a Google office! Its so obvious to me why young people want to be involved with Batyr. After my presentation, I met with Sarah Scales, Speaker Development Co-Ordinator and Nicholas Brown, General Manager; both were very accommodating and inspiring people.

(L-R) Nicholas Brown – General Manager, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH and Sarah Scales – Speaker Development Co-Ordinator

I really loved Batyr’s focus on giving a voice to young people with lived experience. The speaker programme allows young people to go into schools and share their experience of suicide and mental health. What a fabulous and invaluable initiative. We know that the first person a young person will turn to when in crisis is another young person. Hence, it’s so much more powerful for young people in schools to hear the lived experience of another young person; what did and did not help them when in crisis or struggling. All young speakers are aged 18 years and older. They attend workshops, training, and one-to-one sessions with Sarah before going to speak in schools, accompanied by a Batyr staff member for support.

On Friday evening, I attended an event called, ‘Children of Harvey Milk: How LGBTQ Politicians Changed the World Community Forum’, an event organised in conjunction with Twenty10, who I mentioned in a previous blog.

The Children of Harvey Milk is an exciting new book by Andrew Reynolds that traces the history of global breakthroughs for the LGBTQ communities over the past two decades, featuring interviews with high profile LGBTQ political candidates and activists from around the world. The launch featured a free political forum with local and international LGBTQ politicians and activists, hosted by Julie McCrossin. Speakers included Alex Greenwich MP, Penny Sharpe MLC, Senator Janet Rice, Senator Louise Pratt and Trent Zimmerman MP, along with international guests Louisa Wall MP (NZ), Peter Tatchell (global LGBTQ activist), Sarah McBride (leading trans political voice in the US). What an amazing line up of incredible people making a difference for the LGBT+ community around the world. I found the panel discussion incredibly interesting, including the fact that sadly, the LGBT+ community have a higher rate of suicide than the heterosexual population. I think organisations like Twenty10 are doing fabulous work to help with this, but so much more is needed nationwide and globally.

The struggle continues to break down stigmas around community groups and mental health in general, and NWCH aims to be at the forefront of this struggle.

Signing off now, since I have just arrived in New Zealand where it’s eleven hours ahead of the UK (as opposed to nine in Sydney). Looking forward to learning more this week and sharing it with you all.

My first week in Sydney!

*Emotional trigger warning – content involves suicide*

19th May 2019

My research as a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellow here in Australia continues to inspire me! I have visited 4 organisations in the past week in Sydney, all doing fantastic work for suicide prevention and support across Australia. I’m hearing about so many initiatives and good-practice that we could apply in the UK, funds permitted.

Earlier this week, I spent the day with Lifeline Australia at their office in central Sydney. They are a helpline that has operated for nearly 60 years, with the tagline, ‘Australia free of Suicide’. Since they have offices across Australia, my meetings with 5 staff members were held in person and via Skype. I learned that more people contact Lifeline than any other helpline, with over one million people per year calling for a phone chat, and some for an online chat. They already offer SMS services, but are currently looking into increasing their digital offering with more online chat and email services. Rachel Bowes, Acting Executive Director for Operations, hosted me for the day and introduced me to the rest of the very friendly team, who are all passionate about making a difference to suicide prevention in Australia. One area I was really impressed with was their research into Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help reach out to people online who express suicidal ideation or intention. I am looking forward to seeing that research and what they put in place to connect with help-seekers. Read more about them here.

(L-R) Richard Brimble – National Manager, Naomi Watkins – CEO NWCH, Rachel Bowes – Acting Executive Director for Operations

Later in the week, I visited Australian’s foremost suicide prevention organisation, aptly named, Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA). I was welcomed by Alan Woodward, a SPA advisor for all thing’s mental health and suicide prevention. NWCH have just become a member of SPA and I will attend their 4-day Suicide Prevention conference in Melbourne in July 2019, where they have invited me to showcase a poster presentation of my research findings. More than 100 organisations of are SPA members, comprised of organisations of all sizes, plus individual and associate members. SPA has 10 office-based staff in Sydney, yet despite being a small NGO (non-government organisation), it represents members across Australia and supports them in their work. See their work here.

(L-R) Naomi Watkins – NWCH, Alan Woodward – SPA

I also visited another Headspace centre in Camperdown where Dr Blake Hamilton, the Clinical Services Manager, hosted me. This centre is closely linked to The University of Sydney through the brain and mind research centre. This centre in Camperdown sees around 1200-1500 young people between the ages of 12 to 25 years, for about 5000 occasions of service. This centre’s headspace early intervention team, funded by the Primary Health Network (PHN), supports more complex cases and provides an early intervention in psychosis service. Other organisations also work out of this centre, including Relationships Australia who running a family therapy clinic one day a week, and Wesley Mission that provides support for young people who are either homeless or at risk of being homeless. They also have University researchers in this office and employment services specifically aimed at young people. In total, more than 45 people work out of this centre providing excellent holistic support and care to young people. Inspiring! You can read more here.

At the end of the week, I was invited to Twenty10’s LGBTQIA+ event ‘Well Played’. Twenty10 is a New South Wales based not-for-profit organisation that supports LGBTIQA+ young people. Their new campaign ‘Well Played’ highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion in sport and physical activity and the positive impact it has on young people’s health and wellbeing. The campaign was launched on the night by Kate Jenkins – Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Australian Human Rights Commission, and it comprised of a film screening and a live panel discussion. It was both incredibly moving and exciting to see such forward thinking here in Australia. Watch the film here (please share this far and wide) and read more about the organisation here.

Kate Jenkins – Sex Discrimination Commissioner – Australian Human Rights Commission

I have a jam-packed week ahead for my last week in Sydney, seeing another 5 organisations and I’m invited to another event in Parliament House! Watch this space for more updates!

Naomi plans the trip of a lifetime!

Successful Lincoln counsellor Naomi Watkins is over the moon after scooping a highly prestigious research award!

Naomi, who is Chief Executive of the phenomenally busy NWCH (Naomi Watkins Counselling Hub) is thrilled to be among 150 privileged people across the UK honoured to receive a Churchill Fellowship.

And she is going to use her grant, from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, to visit Australia and New Zealand to carry out a six-weeks research project into suicide prevention.

Churchill Fellowships offer UK citizens a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel the world and research cutting-edge global solutions to important topical issues and explore innovative ideas and best practice in a practical subject of their choice.  The average grant is £6,000.

The Fellowships address contemporary issues, develop knowledge leaders and offer transformative opportunities to outstanding individuals.

“I am excited to be one of just 150 people to receive one of this year’s Fellowships. They attract a lot of competition.  I was one of 1,800 applicants, out of which just 250 people were interviewed before the final 150 were chosen,” said Naomi.

“I am planning to travel in May and my grant will cover my flights, accommodation and other essentials.

“I am keen to use my trip to carry out important research into suicide prevention, specifically for children and younger adults in the four-to-30 years old age group.  At NWCH we counsel people of all ages, but would like to run special projects designed to help troubled children in this category. I shall be researching ways of spotting signs of a person’s ideation or intention of ending their life by suicide.

“Many people think suicide mainly affects older adults, but there has been a rise in the number of younger people driven to end their own lives by suicide for various reasons. Suicide is the leading cause of death for 5-19yrs old (England ONS, 2018).

“This is a tragedy and, as counsellors, we are determined to do all we can to prevent this from happening,” said Naomi.

“I am looking forward to sharing my research findings with my colleagues at NWCH, where we have a team of 19 counsellors, six support staff and two therapy dogs.”

Naomi added that NWCH, which recorded 803 referrals for help since it started out in 2017 – and currently 500 appointments on its books every week – believes her research findings will also help to inform the Community Interest Company’s Suicide Prevention Conference, which is taking place at The Showroom in Lincoln on September 10 – World Suicide Day.