Veteran Suicide: understand-identify-prevent

March 26, 2024

Did you join us for our recent One Is Too Many webinar, which took place on 20 March?

We were pleased to help launch the findings from an innovative research project undertaken by The Baton and Northumbria University, which worked with bereaved military families to better understand future support and prevention of Veteran suicide.

The project was awarded £299,000 from the One Is Too Many programme, which saw nine projects receive funding to help reduce suicide risk among vulnerable Veterans.

Focusing on Veteran suicide

The Baton’s project, Veteran Suicide: Understand-Identify-Prevent engaged with bereaved families to co-produce a model of safety to support work in this area. Professor Matt Kiernan, Director Northern Hub for Veteran and Military Families’ Research, Northumbria University explained their approach.

“Any time we want to improve services or look at how we can improve services, we’ve got to be open to acknowledge where we have deficiencies and where problems lie. It’s only from that, that we can start to move forward.

“So, working with the families, with the in-depth interviews, what we were able to do was to focus on a very specific point in time (…) the period of time leading up to death and then the death itself.

“Because this is what we can’t get away from. What we’ve studied here is death by suicide (…) we’ve got to listen to people. We’ve got to talk to people. We’ve then got to analyse what they’re saying.”

Engaging bereaved families in co-production

We heard from Derek Farrell MBE, Professor in Trauma Psychology and Veterans Affairs. Professor Farrell  talked about the importance of the co-production element of this research and capturing the narratives of the surviving loved ones.

“The value of using co-production events is, it’s a form of qualitative research that brings together multiple people, who were involved and invested in the issue that you’re wanting to look at; and so, it provides a platform where you can allow those voices and those narratives to be expressed.

“But, but more importantly, it’s an opportunity [for] knowledge exchange, to share that level of expertise because one of the big advantages of incorporating surviving families within this process is not just the content of what surviving families were actually saying. It’s about the depth of that – it’s about the power of the emotion of that. It’s about the echoes of the profound grief and the legacy impact.”

Providing an opportunity for self-reflection

The team conducted four co-production events and found that each event built on the findings and experience of the previous one, and eventually into an intervention strategy. Dr Paul Watson, Assistant Professor in Children and Young People’s Nursing and Public Health Nursing, talked about the toolkit which grew from the research, which they are now hoping to share with stakeholders to be able to assess their own provision and improve their services.

Dr Watson explained: “The toolkit is built from a framework which has the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant and it works in line with the NHS suicide and self-harm framework and the NHS social prescribing framework.

“From the co-production events and subsequently from the families’ narratives prior to the study, what we’re looking at is the sector embedding across itself and looking at self-reflection, but also self-governance. What we know from historic serious case reviews and the narratives of these stories from the families and from the clinicians as well, is everybody goes out to do the right thing, but sometimes we need support to do that.

“If we’re looking at the stakeholders which are front facing, and service users and their families, there needs to be more self-regulation and self-governance; and that’s where this toolkit really comes to fruition.”

He added: “75% of this [vulnerable Veteran] cohort were identified as being in care or having received care. But what was lacking was that connection (…) so we are looking at identification, connection and positive engagement in terms of service providers – what does good look like? And how can we [gain] access to people who are traumatised and, through the notion of their diagnosis, might not have the ability or the voice to reach out.”

Listening to the narrative

Finally, Dr Emma Senior, Assistant Professor in Adult Nursing and Public Health Nursing, spoke about the next phase of the research – rolling out the toolkit and delivering workshops with stakeholders to really embed understanding of the narrative of bereaved families.

She said: “One of the important things that we hopefully have captured is the understanding of listening to the narrative but also inquiring into that narrative. What is being said? Why is it being said? And I think this encapsulates that. The principles of this study are about identifying, but also understanding, which comes from listening and inquiring to prevent further deaths.”

We also offered attendees the chance to put their questions to our speakers, which raised some interesting insights.

In the longer term, we hope that the learning that has come through the participation of those with lived experience which has helped develop these tools, will help to shape longer term improvements including developing greater understanding of mental health, suicide and suicide bereavement.

Find out more

The full webinar recording is available to watch in our Knowledge Network.

You can also read the report, One is too Many: A Conceptual Framework for Safety Planning within Service Delivery for Veterans and their Families on our website, here.

There is lots of information about the One Is Too Many programme available across our website including the programme evaluation report.