Suicide prevention expert set to speak to survivors of Grenfell tower tragedy

BY JULIA GREGORY
Local Democracy Reporter
yann@slpmedia.co.uk

The UK’s leading expert on suicide prevention is set to check on strategies to help residents and families caught up in the Grenfell tragedy.

Professor Louis Appleby will be visiting north Kensington this month to speak to community groups and residents.

He was asked to look at the services currently on offer and share his advice by Claire Murdoch, the chief executive of Central North West London NHS Foundation Trust, which is providing mental health support to the community at Saint Charles’ Hospital in north Kensington and elsewhere.

Prof Appleby, pictured, heads up the Mental Health and Safety Centre at Manchester University and is also the director of the National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Safety in Mental Health.

His research includes looking at links between middle-aged men and suicide.

There is already a suicide prevention strategy in place for Grenfell, but Prof Appleby’s brief will involve looking at its suitability.

He stressed that he was at an early stage of his research and must first understand where the service is at now before he can offer suggestions.

He said: “I don’t think the figures are the whole story. I think fear is part of the story and it’s a very legitimate thing to look at.

“What is important is the risk. Obviously there are people who are seriously traumatised and in an unimaginable way, that in itself can make you feel desperate and stressed.

“There is a risk when a traumatic event arises. On top of that is what people are feeling after their trauma.

In other words how they are supported, what their prospects are, do they sense it will get better. Do they feel a sense of recovery?

“Is the future looking like it will improve from what is obviously a desperately low point.”

The psychiatrist is hoping to meet as many people in the community as possible, but is also encouraging people to contact him directly.

He is particularly keen to hear from people who feel isolated or mistrustful and those who are hard to reach.

“The intention is to listen to what the community say. I have got to understand what their fears are about and to make sure people have the chance to comment and be listened to,” he said.

“There will be a lot of discussions with the aim of making the service stronger and better”.

He also made it clear that if people wanted to share concerns confidentially they could.

Time and again the Grenfell community have stressed the importance of trust after it was eroded following the tragedy.

Kensington and Chelsea council, which owned the tower and was criticised for its disaster response, has acknowledged it has its work cut out to rebuild trust in North Kensington.

Prof Appleby said: “Things like trust and loss of hope, these are things that influence people’s risk.

“What happened has a unique place and in some ways that’s why I want to help. If people are asking for help to deal with something so terrible you have an obligation to help.

“It’s about the conditions people live in, how they view their future and the support that they get when they are in difficulties – not just the NHS but support in a wider sense.

“What happened was a terrible incident. It seems to sum up a lot of things that have been wrong in the country broadly and in this community and how to respond to that. T

The difference between the people who are powerful and the powerless, the difference between the people who are refugees from other countries, the differences in housing.”

Prof Appleby plans to produce his report by the end of the year.

His visit follows a discussion at Kensington and Chelsea council’s adult social care and health scrutiny committee after residents told councillors “we need to talk about suicide” as they are concerned about the impact of the disaster and its aftermath.

As part of his research, he is also planning to speak to Grenfell coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox.

Last year Dr Wilcox said the NHS needed to: “oversee, co-ordinate and provide adequate mental health support for all those affected by their involvement in the incident, be they survivors, bereaved, local residents or other workers involved in the aftermath.”

In a stark warning she said “the potential impact of this disaster is very wide ranging.”

This summer, she quizzed the clinical director of the Grenfell Health and Well-being Service, Dr John Green, to see if he thought there was adequate funding.

He was giving evidence at the inquest of resident Amanda Beckles, who took her own life after finding it difficult to cope after she was diagnosed with PTSD following the disaster.

Referring to funding, Dr Wilcox said “I do not want deckchairs moved around the Titanic.”
Dr Green assured her there were sufficient funds.

Resident Jacqui Haynes said at he time she was concerned about harder to reach people who are not necessarily accessing services.

You can contact Dr Applebay via louis.appleby@manchester.ac.uk or via Twitter in the first instance @ProfLAppleby

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