On 10th September, I had the pleasure of being part of a co-designed photography exhibition to mark World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD). The idea for the event came from our ‘Patient and Public Involvement’ (PPI) group, also known as Mental Health 4 Mutual Support. Together with my fellow researchers (Leah Quinlivan and Sarah Steeg), we met with the group to discuss their thoughts about whether we should hold an event to mark WSPD. The group were full of great ideas, and one thing that came through quite strongly was the idea of doing something that allowed them to share their experience with others. They came up with the idea of focusing on ‘hope’ and using photographs to show what hope means to them. This quickly led to a whole theme around hope, in which members suggested we have a ‘Tree of hope’ so that visitors to the event could share their thoughts about hope. And in keeping with the nature-based theme, they suggested we give away packets of flower seeds as ‘#SeedsOfHope’ so people could take them away to plant at home.
Fast forward two months later and I am carrying easels across to Manchester Town Hall, setting up a whole event on the idea of ‘Hope’. We were lucky that we got a fair bit of local media coverage and the city council were really supportive in promoting the exhibition to their Councillors, council staff and members of the general public. The best part for me was seeing group members who attended the event approach visitors and start a discussion about WSPD, their experiences and the different ways they have been able to find hope. Working with them to put this together has been one of the highlights of my time in suicide research.
Using photography to illustrate hope is something that speaks to a project I’m currently working on with fellow netECR member Emma Nielsen, and Professor Ellen Townsend at the University of Nottingham.
Some people find it easier to express themselves using creative methods like photography, drawing, sculpting, painting. People have told us how using more visual ways to express themselves can help to give others a window into their worlds, thoughts, feelings and experience. That’s why we started the See What I’m Saying? Project, which asks people to submit creative, visual pieces to explore any of the following:
- ‘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…’
One thing I’ve learnt through speaking to people about their experiences of suicide and self-harm is that we should never just focus on one single approach and expect that to work for everyone. People need the option to express themselves in whatever way works for them, and one person’s view of what coping or recovery looks like may be very different to someone else’s.
When I’ve reflected on ‘what hope means to me’ in the context of suicide prevention, it’s people with personal experience who selflessly use their experiences to try and make things better for others in the future. Not only is it our moral duty to involve them in our research, but in doing so we can develop projects that are more aligned with what matters to those experiencing self-harm and suicide. Surely that can only be a good thing!?!
Donna 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).