Monday (10 October) marks World Mental Health Day, an international campaign that aims to raise awareness, reduce stigma around mental health and encourage well informed action.
Following this year’s campaign theme of ‘make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority”, we spoke to UHSussex Nurse and Clinical Doctorate Fellow Gemma Clay, whose own experiences have seen her become a passionate champion for opening up conversations about suicide, mental health and wellbeing.
“I attempted suicide over 10 years ago, but I couldn’t have been so open about it close to that time,” Gemma said. “It isn’t something that people speak about but compared to a decade ago, the stigma and the discrimination around mental health is starting to slowly shift.”
When she joined St Richard’s Hospital in 2017, Gemma wanted to help to expand the range of resources about mental health and wellbeing for staff, and so she approached management about how she could make a difference.
Over the years Gemma has worked tirelessly to raise awareness, improve support services for staff, and encourage cultural change. She has worked closely with HR to produce informative leaflets, secure funding for managers to have mental health first aid training, and has used her experience as a Senior Sister, Matron and Clinical Lead Nurse, to help create a guide for managers.
Gemma said: “The phrase ‘it’s ok not to be ok’ is put around everywhere, but it’s not normal to struggle to get out of bed, to go to work, and to put on a uniform.
“The phrase is a statement that should be used to say it’s ok to talk about this now, it’s not going to be held against you, the stigma won’t be there, and you won’t be discriminated against.”
Gemma’s influence isn’t limited to UHSussex, she has also lent her expertise to NHS England, who are creating a toolkit on the prevention of suicide in the NHS workforce, and to a national charity, who want to enhance their support for staff who have lost a colleague to suicide.
She is also a stakeholder for several research groups at University of Surrey, including ‘care under pressure’ and ‘looking at unprofessional behaviours in acute care organisations and the impact on staff’.
Gemma shared her thoughts on the importance of nurses speaking up about suicide in a recent Nursing Times article and received a really positive response from nurses and the wider healthcare profession, commending her honesty and openness.
She said: “For a nursing journal to publish about suicide, suicidal experiences, and prevention is a very big thing, so I’m really pleased it has been widely read.
“I’ve been discriminated against a lot because of what I did, and I don’t want anyone else to go through that. Not being able to do the job you want and deserve can really break someone.”
Health and wellbeing resources
Our UHSussex staff health and wellbeing page has a range of resources for mental health and emotional wellbeing support, along with a leaders toolkit which includes advice and guides for managers to support their teams and individuals.
To continue to read about Gemma’s advocacy on mental health, follow her on Twitter @ClayGemma