The Reflective Room
As a mental health professional, my first experience of receiving the devastating news that a patient/service user (not the most humanistic of terms) had taken their own life brought the very nature of the job into perspective. This job is rewarding – lives are saved every day – but the most challenging when someone cannot be saved.
Naturally, you begin to question your professional ability and judge the limitations of your profession. You are required to process and grieve within a minute of receiving the news, because in the next minute you are delivering therapy to a service user who is having the same thoughts of taking their own life. It can have an overwhelming impact. When learning the details, it feels as though only you know why, what, where and how. It can be haunting.
Confiding in family and friends does not always help, despite their best efforts. Through reflective practice sessions, I began to process the fact that we had a level of responsibility to the person and somehow, for whatever reason, the intervention was not enough to save them. Whilst reflective practice is helpful, that one conversation is often not enough. With an alarming increase in suicide rates, not every practitioner will have the opportunity to engage in a reflective practice session immediately after an incident.
A unique study showed that only 17.7 per cent of mental health professionals were offered formal support following service user suicide (Murphy et al., 2019). Both clinical supervision and reflective practice, in this instance, involve short intervention where professionals are encouraged to process trauma that have arisen in clinical practice, helping to reduce distress (Mendes, 2015). However, this is largely inaccessible to staff (Awenat et al., 2017).
One of the most valued support for mental health professionals following a service user’s death is informal peer support (Murphy et al., 2019). The Reflective Room is a discussion forum that keeps the conversation going, providing anonymous peer support. It is a safe space where mental health professionals can share their own experiences of losing to suicide an individual they have worked closely with. The Reflective Room encourages professionals to reflect on the long lasting impact service user suicides has both personally and professionally. Professionals can share something that others may identify with, providing the space to grieve.
You can access the forum here: https://thereflectiveroom.forumotion.com/ Please be mindful not to use names or identifiable information of those who have lost their lives to suicide.
Camden and Islington NHS trust
Awenat, Y., Peters, S., Shaw-Nunez, E. et al. (2017). Staff experiences and perceptions of working with in-patients who are suicidal: Qualitative analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 211(2),103-108.
Mendes, A. (2015). Coping with patient suicide and psychological debrief for nurses. British Journal of Nursing, 24(14), 745.
Murphy, P.T., Clogher, L., van Laar, A. et al. (2019). The impact of service user’s suicide on mental health professionals. The Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 19, 1-11.
Sources of information
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS). SOBS’ aim is to provide a safe confidential environment in which bereaved people can share their experiences and feelings. Contact: 0844 561 6855 www.uk-sobs.org.uk
For anyone who is struggling to cope, who needs someone to listen without judgement or pressure, you can contact Samaritans on: 08457 90 90 90, Email [email protected].
You can also call into one of the 201 branches nationwide for face-to-face support. Log onto www.samaritans.org to find your local branch and further information.
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