Conversation, collaboration and inspiration at the One Is Too Many: Suicide Prevention conference

October 16, 2023

Our One Is Too Many: Suicide Prevention conference on 11 October 2023 proved to be an insightful day of conversation, collaboration and inspiration for those who joined us both in person, and online.

The impact conference brought together representatives from government, NHS, the charity sector and MOD to consider the positive influence of the One Is Too Many programme. We heard gripping personal accounts from Veterans who have struggled with mental health and had opportunities to explore in detail the excellent work taking place in support of suicide prevention.

A message from the Minister

Anna Wright, Chief Executive of the Trust, opened the event, welcoming delegates and sharing a message from Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Rt Hon. Johnny Mercer MP who was unable to attend on the day.

“Every suicide is a tragedy. It is a tragedy for those who feel that they have no other option, and a tragedy for the friends and family affected by it. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that our veteran community has access to the support they require, and the Office for Veterans Affairs will be working with colleagues across government to ensure that this is the case.

“Every suicide is a tragedy. It is a tragedy for those who feel that they have no other option, and a tragedy for the friends and family affected by it. I am absolutely committed to ensuring that our veteran community has access to the support they require, and the Office for Veterans Affairs will be working with colleagues across government to ensure that this is the case.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Rt Hon. Johnny Mercer MP

The One is Too Many programme has been hugely important. I hope that today provides an opportunity to explore the impact that the projects have had on veterans at risk of suicide, and I look forward to using the lessons learned to inform our policy making going forward.”

Personal reflections

We heard inspirational personal reflections on mental health from Veterans Sally Orange MBE and Rob Shenton.

Former British Army Major, Sally, reflected on her own challenges with severe depression and chronic anxiety. Now a multi-record-breaking adventure athlete and mental health campaigner, Sally is the only person to complete a marathon on every continent dressed as different pieces of fruit. Sally spoke about how she turned her passion for running into purpose. Sally’s bright costumes have become a great conversation starter, getting people talking about mental health. Sally said: “So often people will say I’ve had a problem or I know someone who’s had a problem […] you never know what’s going on beneath the surface of other people.”

We also heard from Rob Shenton who served in the military for 25 years until he was medically discharged with depression and PTSD in 2016. Rob took on the challenge of running in some of the toughest foot races in the world and has used what he learned from running in extremes to help him cope with his depression. For Rob, a key challenge was feeling like a failure, no matter what he achieved or how successful he has been. Rob spoke about how he still struggles with his mental health, but he has a strong belief in the power of running for mental fitness. Since leaving the military he has received support from Help For Heroes and has been involved in the promotion of their Read Between the Lines suicide awareness training campaign.

Creating lasting impact and saving lives

Helen Helliwell, Chair of the Trust and Director of Armed Forces People Policy at the MOD, provided a snapshot of the One is Too Many programme and its impact. Helen reminded us that it’s not just about the two-year programme, it’s about what we’ve learned from it and what we can take from that learning: “The experience and dedication in this room is incredibly powerful and we’ve got an opportunity to make a real difference collectively.”

Professor Alan Finnegan shared the findings of the University of Chester’s independent One Is Too Many evaluation report. Their evaluation found that the programme has made a positive difference, improved mental health and wellbeing and had life-saving implications. One is Too Many has not only provided support to the 600 Veterans who participated, it has also provided a wealth of learning which can be replicated more widely.

Professor Finnegan said: “There’s now compelling evidence in relation to the Trust’s Veterans Places, Pathways and People programme, that giving people options, the opportunity to access different things is important.”

You can read the full evaluation report here.

Getting the policy right

Colonel Clare Waterworth MBE, Head of Armed Forces Welfare Support Policy at the MOD, reminded us that time in the Forces is just one step in the pathway of someone’s life. Clare discussed the Armed Forces Suicide Prevention Strategy and Action Plan and said:

“We recognise that we must care for people for all the time we have them in the Armed Forces, help them to deal with what has gone before, what happens during their time and prepare them for life as a Veteran.” Clare continued: “Suicide prevention in the Armed Forces is everyone’s business … it’s a spectrum of support that people need to recognise and adhere to.”

Tom Verney, Head of Health at The Office for Veterans’ Affairs (OVA) joined us to provide an overview of the OVA’s work in mental health. Tom spoke about how the One is Too Many programme is a really cross cutting piece of work which ties in with OVA’s policy work.

On suicide prevention, Tom acknowledged that particular cohorts within the Veteran population may need more attention and that they will focus on this with future work. While the OVA are pleased with the progress made in Veteran health services, they appreciate there is still more to do. Tom said: ‘Programmes like One is Too Many and days like this are essential in informing where we in policy should focus our efforts.”

Families need a voice

Dr Paul Watson, The Baton, spoke about the importance of working with families to better understand the journey to suicide. The Trust awarded a grant to the Baton, who worked with the Northern Hub, Northumbria University. The research completed by the team at the Northern Hub looked at understanding the journey to suicide through a narrative enquiry which took a whole family approach and also involved practitioners and stakeholders. Paul reminded us that “the prevention of suicide is bigger than just the families, it’s the stakeholders who have face to face contact, who write policy, who write law.”

One of the leading factors identified was family exclusion, families did not have a voice. Paul explained: “Families see everything. They see a lot more than they let on […] families need to be part of the assessment process because if they’re not we are missing a lot of information. They need a voice. “

The research was used to develop a toolkit for practitioners which they hope will help reduce suicide in the military community.

Showcasing the projects

Attendees also heard inspiring presentations from One is Too Many grant holders: The Royal Marines Charity (RMA), Adferiad Recovery, Help For Heroes, Inspire wellbeing, SSAFA and the Samaritans, Forces Employment Charity and NHS Lothian.  Each project shared updates on the valuable work they are doing to tackle the challenging issue of veteran suicide, as well as what they have learned and what happens next.

You can read more about the projects in our One is Too Many useful guide.

The afternoon provided an opportunity for a lively panel discussion featuring a Q&A session covering a wide range of topics. These included: questions about the accreditation of Armed Forces specific suicide awareness training courses; what support services exist for non-Veterans and how these may differ; and discussions around how best practice from the One is Too Many programme can be implemented across the sector.

We also heard closing plenary from Dr Jonathan Leach OBE – NHS England Associate Medical Director for Armed Forces and Veterans Health. While most Veterans are fine, we need to recognise that some require significant support and that asking for help can be difficult. Dr Leach spoke about how mental health support is very complex and often involves many different organisations. Dr Leach also stressed the importance of the Armed Forces Covenant, which is part of the NHS Constitution and states that the Armed Forces Community should receive the same standard of, and access to, healthcare as any other UK citizen.

An opportunity for conversation and connection

The Trust would like to thank everyone who was involved in our conference. It was very encouraging to hear about the fantastic work taking place in this area, and to look at what more needs to happen in future.

Anna Wright, Chief Executive of the Trust, said: “I hope that you feel heartened that to hear that this innovative programme has created important learning which has led, and can in the future lead, to better informed support. We were honoured to be joined by a wealth of excellent speakers and I wish to convey my thanks to them for contributing to our first impact conference”.

We hope the event also provided an opportunity for those working in this area to come together, fostering collaboration and sharing valuable experience.  

Find out more

You can find more information on One is Too Many on our dedicated programme page.

You can also read more about our One Is Too Many projects here.

You can watch the livestream recording from this event here.