This blog post discusses what is going on behind the scenes of a co-produced project (conducted in the UK) exploring how people experience being assessed for risk of suicide by their General Practitioners (GPs). Phil and three other volunteers are working alongside Sophia to develop the project and create a series of blogs to document the process. Here they discuss who they are, some of what they are doing and why they are doing it.
Let’s start with myself. I’m 35 years old and a recovering alcoholic with a long-standing problem with multiple mental health issues. I’m an Expert Citizen and have been for around 4 & ½ years. Expert Citizens were originally a volunteer group made up of people with lived experience of poverty, homelessness, addiction and criminal activity. We are now a Community Interest Company and have expanded our parameters to add domestic abuse and anybody who has supported someone through some of these issues. We specialise in peer research and evaluation and we also have members sitting on many boards and speaking at many events.
I have volunteered my time to help with this research project exploring people’s experiences of suicide risk assessments which I believe to be a very important cause. I believe these risk assessments should always be done in a trauma/psychologically informed way and this is not always the case. As I have already stated I have had a not so great life which has led me to have a lot of lived experience in a lot of areas, including of suicide risk assessment and suicide attempts. I have seen risk assessments done in all manner of ways. Some good, some not so good and some downright terrible examples that led me to be feeling more likely to make an attempt on my life than I was before I’d sat down.
I have attempted suicide on no less than 8 occasions and I do still have the thoughts but I’m lucky enough to be a part of an organisation who care and who help people, myself included, so I’m not in a position where I’d ever act on these thoughts. This being said, I still have to endure suicide risk assessments on a regular basis. I know the procedure may not change for me, but I am hopeful that during the process of this research we can highlight the good practice already going on in the area and spread that good practice to the areas who are not doing this so well. In an ideal world all assessments would be done by somebody well-trained, who can help to alleviate any problems or issues that could be brought up as part of the process of being assess for risk of suicide as well as be able to signpost the individual to somewhere best suited to help. This brings up another area of interest for me which is information sharing. Whilst there is help available and plenty of places to attend which offer services that could support people, for small amounts or no money, the information about these services is not readily available. It seems to be a case of you only know about certain services once you come across them and I’d like to find a way that more people can access information about where to go and who to see for help.
So to summarise, I would like in future for all assessments to be done in a more caring way and for everyone to have access to information regarding specialised services and even just places where you can attend and find a way of doing some self-help. My hope for this research is that it will help people experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings to be supported early in their experience and signposted to a place where they can get the help they need and that would hopefully lead to a drop in the suicide numbers. GPs appointments offer the perfect opportunity for these things.
I’m 31 years old and I’m a PhD student with the Centre for Health and Development at Staffordshire University. I have never attempted suicide, but I have thought about it many, many times. I have an ongoing relationship with depression which has been both a thorn in my side and a blessing in disguise; because it had brought me to where I am now. And I love where I am now. Involving members of the public in my research was always a non-negotiable aspect of my work. The perspective of people who have life experience is valuable to gaining understanding and to enable the research to be useful to those who are going through this life experience.
Public involvement will be golden thread that weaves throughout my PhD but there is one project that is especially important to me – a co-produced qualitative project interviewing people about their experiences of being assessed for risk of suicide by their GP. A public involvement team, made up of co-researcher volunteers from Expert Citizens, will be involved in every element of this project; design, data collection, analysis and dissemination, from beginning to end. The team has regular meetings every two weeks. So far, we have discussed study design, participant materials and workshops to facilitate the analysis and co-researcher personal development.
The question ‘What’s in it for us?’ was raised at our very first meeting and ideas were discussed around the table. As a self-funded PhD student, I have no financial resources to pay the co-researchers so through prolonged discussion we arrived at the idea of a skills exchange between the university researcher and the co-researchers.
In exchange for their input into the project, the co-researchers will benefit from developing skills that they can use for their own personal goals. The co-researchers requested workshops to help them to improve their computer skills; following extensive discussion about what kinds of things they wanted to learn about I recruited a volunteer from the university to design two workshops tailored to their requirements. Phil and I are also co-creating a workshop about trauma-informed interviewing techniques which will be delivered before data collection begins. It is very important to the co-researchers that all contact with participants take a trauma-informed approach, so this workshop is crucial to share knowledge. Further to these workshops, all the activities the co-researchers are engaged in are being documented to produce a portfolio at the end of the project which co-researchers can refer to in the future for job and university applications. Co-researchers also wanted me to be able to provide references for them for these applications if they thought I would be well placed to act as a reference for a particular application.
My hopes for this journey are that we produce good quality research that contributes the patient voice to the conversation about suicide prevention in primary care, and that we provide a catalogue of outputs relating to participatory research methods that include the perspectives and opinions of the co-researchers. Keep an eye out for our future blogs about the project as it develops.