Lived Experience

See What I’m Saying? Using creative methods to open up conversations around self-harm, suicide and ‘recovery’

By Emma Nielsen and Donna Littlewood

They say that a picture speaks a thousand words. While a thousand is arguably a point of debate, it is certainly true that images can be a powerful means of conveying ideas, sharing experiences and opening up conversations. This can be particularly important when words are hard to find – and often words can be hard to find – whether that is in day-to-day conversations, when discussing bigger issues, or delicate times where people are feeling vulnerable or perhaps considering difficult thoughts, feelings and experiences.

For some, talking about self-harm and suicide may be something that feels comfortable or achievable to do. For others, however, talking about self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings can be particularly challenging. Recovery can also be something that is difficult to put into words. When words are hard to find, sometimes we find a different way to show how we feel; pictures can be the closest we come to seeing the world through someone else’s eyes and can be a way of exploring feelings and experiences that may be difficult to verbally articulate. That is why we are asking the question, can you capture and express your thoughts and feelings by creating something visual?
This World Suicide Prevention Day we are asking people to contribute by using their creativity to tell us something about how they feel, and/or about self-harm, suicide, and recovery.

The See What I’m Saying? Project

There is a lack of understanding about how those with lived experience view ‘recovery’. This severely limits our ability to ensure that research is capturing outcomes that matter to those directly affected. This project aims to be a ‘first step’ in addressing this knowledge gap.

The See What I’m Saying? project asks people to submit creative, visual pieces explore the following prompts:

  • ‘recovery is..’
  • ‘coping is…’
  • ‘Things, places or people that keep me well’
  • ‘Things, places or people that help keep me safe’
  • ‘happiness is…’
  • ‘[insert emotion here] is…’

It is hoped that by asking people to provide visual responses we can capture diverse content (e.g., objects and environments, literal and symbolic content) and differing points of view. The freedom of the project offers people the opportunity to express what is most important to them, to the extent that feels comfortable to them. These images will be curated into an online library which aims to open up conversations about what recovery means to different people and what helps to keep people safe and well.

The See What I’m Saying? project is led by researchers at the University of Nottingham and the University of Manchester and working with a steering group of people with lived experience of self-harm and/or suicidal thoughts and experiences.

Project website: https://seewhatimsayingproject.weebly.com/

Contribute to the project:

The project is supported by Jonathan’s Voice. Jonathan’s Voice (@jonathans_voice) was founded in late 2017 in memory of Jonathan McCartney who tragically took his own life. The charity works with organisations and individuals to promote mental well being in the workplace and beyond.


Emma Nielsen (@EmmaLNielsen) is a PhD student in the Self-Harm Research Group (SHRG), University of Nottingham (emma.nielsen@nottingham.ac.uk) and an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Mental Health.


Photo DLDonna Littlewood (@donnalittlewood) has a PhD in psychology and is a Research Associate at the NIHR Greater Manchester Patient Safety Translational Research Centre, University of Manchester (donna.littlewood@manchester.ac.uk).

*Featuring photo by

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