Moving debate as Conference backs suicide awareness training for stewards

Rosalind Ronan
Rosalind Ronan

Conference backed a call to train stewards in suicide awareness after possibly the most emotive debate of conference so far. An emotional and highly charged discussion took place, with some excellent speakers who shared both personal and professional experiences.

The Northhamptonshire Health Workers’ motion followed on from the eventual appointment of a government minister tasked with reducing suicide rates nationally.

It pointed out that UNISON stewards pride ourselves on being ahead of the curve on training and mental health is no exception.

The speakers highlighted that suicide is everyone’s business, affecting people regardless of class, age, gender or family situation.

In the last year 6,213 people nationally died as a result of suicide, with the highest suicide rate among males aged 45-49 (Samaritans? Suicide Statistics Report, 2018). Speakers on the substantive motion and the amendment gave heartfelt support and personal testimonials.

After a passionate debate, the NEC amendment which called for wider mental health training rather than specific suicide awareness training was lost but every steward, representative, and visitor present could not help but be touched by the discussion.

First time NDC speaker, Rosalind Ronan of Dundee City Branch backed the call to include suicide awareness training for all stewards as part of their initial training.

She said, “In Dundee City, around a dozen of us have already completed this training and it’s very enlightening and definitely gives lots of room for discussion,” said Rosalind, adding that learning about effective signposting in your individual areas and proper training in Suicide Awareness would give all activists the confidence to help deal with members who are feeling suicidal.

“Suicide Awareness training does not mean you are in anyway expect to be counsellors or psychologists,” she added. “It just gives you the confidence to be able to speak to your member and sign post them to the appropriate services.

“Every one of us has a responsibility to help one another, whether it’s another member, work colleague, or a neighbour.

“We would then be confident enough to challenge employers who might not be meeting the requirements regarding individuals who are experiencing suicidal thoughts.”

Brenda Massie
Brenda Massie

She drew a direct correlation between austerity and poor mental health and told delegates that if we want to improve things for our members we need to work together to end the cuts agenda.

Dundee has seen a vast increase in suicides in the past year with the numbers quadrupling since 2013. This is why Rosalind feels even more strongly that there is a need to reach out and make people aware. “We will not allow our members to face this alone,” she warned.

Brenda Massie, Aberdeen City branch called for the training to be widened out to mental health issues, rather than just suicide awareness.

Brenda highlighted the good work done in the Aberdeen City branch.

“Our branch has already taken the step of organising a mental health first aid course which a number of stewards have attended.”

She urged, “By having a better understanding of the bigger issue, this can help us prevent people considering ending their life”.

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