Why is the new Greater Manchester mental health campaign important?

A brand new campaign launched to shine a light on the issue of self-harm in older people and our reporter Pauline shares her thoughts after being involved in the local focus group.

The campaign will carry the tagline in its posters and leaflets of “Don’t Brush it Under the Carpet” and other posters will reinforce the key message of asking for help and “A problem shared is a problem halved”.

Why are these messages so important? And who helped create and drive forward this important message?

Did you know that older people who self-harm are 67 times more likely to die by suicide than the general older population and three times greater than the relative risk of suicide among younger people who self-harm?

Only 12 per cent of older people over 65, who self harm, are referred for help about their self harming within 12 months of it being identified. Referrals are one third less likely for older people in the most deprived areas even though the incidence of self harm is higher in those areas.

One in seven people self harmed again within 12 months of the initial episode During the Covid pandemic there has been a massive increase in mental health issues with people who were not known to the mental health services before.

This coupled with the stark and frightening statistics on self harm for older people prompted four special women to start looking behind the headline numbers. They started with a very low key approach at a local level and found there were hardly any posters for older people to see and get guidance from about mental health issues.

What to do? How could they change the perception amongst older people and all people about this hidden issue – one which is hiding in plain sight?

These 4 special women are:

• Polly Kaiser, clinical consultant for older people with Pennine Care and Chair of the clinical reference group

• Adele Owen is the lead in suicide and bereavement with the Health and Social Care partnership

• Liz Jones is from MACC and the development worker with GMOPN

• Gillian Stainthorpe is chair of the Health and Social Care working group from GMOPN (Greater Manchester Older Peoples Network).

They put together a small working group to look at what they could do together. Polly provided clinical expertise for mental health issues, Adele sourced some funding and Gill was a co producer articulating the voice of older people.

Liz set up the focus groups of older people from GMOPN, ensuring the views of older people were represented. This was truly co-production in action. Polly and Adele with their hands on experience of mental health issues, self harm and suicide, and Gill as the older person with the contacts and common sense which added that extra twist. Polly came up with the idea of Tom the cartoonist using the ideas generated by the first focus group.

Liz ensured that the views of older people were represented in the focus groups. As a member of those focus groups I can say that the cartoons are a breath of fresh air on this issue. It is very novel and all of us in the focus groups liked the cartoons and simple language used to give the message.

The second phase of the programme was these four women working out these ideas with regular meetings on Zoom, as they became good friends and a team. They worked on the basic premise that there is no emphasis on the dangers of self harm to older people anywhere that was visible. And that the core message about it had to be in simple everyday language that ordinary people easily understand.

Myths about “Self harm” include:

• Only teenage girls self harm

• People who self harm don’t feel pain

• People who self harm only do it by cutting themselves

• Self harm isn’t treatable

Self harm covers three areas:

• Any act of self poisoning or self injury carried out by a person irrespective of motivation

• Indirect self harm: refusal to eat or drink, self neglect

• Self harm is a major risk for suicide Self harm has evolved as a way of coping with unbearable feelings engendered by painful life experiences.

Influencing factors and warning signs include: 

• Low education, financial issues and housing problems

• Social isolation and interpersonal problems

• Co morbid physical problems and pain

• Alcohol or other substance misuse

• Previous or current psychiatric diagnosis

• Age

• History of self harm Risk factors for older people for self harm and suicide

• Bereavement

• Loneliness

• Isolation

• Physical Health – pain

• Stigma and feeling a burden

These key findings and the cartoons were presented to the GMPON focus group for their thoughts and they rejected an alternative bland approach and went for the clear message of “Don’t Brush it Under the Carpet”.

Then the women presented the same approach to the British Psychological Society, with the goal of building the message with the health professionals and changing their attitudes. What can everybody take from this campaign and how can we as a society ensure that older people who self harm across Greater Manchester are given help?

There is a significant gap in mental health care for older people and attitudes need to change to identify self harm and the behaviour patterns of older people who could have mental health issues.

• Unseen ageism still exists – putting behaviour down to someone’s age is ageism

• An engagement with “talking therapists” has better success rates

• Carers – both paid and unpaid – need to be aware and familiarise themselves with the issue of self harm. They need to see it and NOT just think it is the result of someone getting older

• Healthcare professionals need to do more for older people.

• Attitudes have to change

The good news is that more older people recover with treatment than younger people, which is why this campaign is important.

We should all look at this issue that has been identified by Adele, Gill, Liz and Polly and support the “Don’t Brush it Under the Carpet” campaign across Greater Manchester.

Accessing support

  • Talk to someone

Tell a friend, family member or someone you trust how you are feeling.

  • Speak to your GP

Your GP can arrange for you to receive support from the right services. If you need support out of hours call NHS 111

  • Text Shout

If you prefer to talk to someone over text message, Shout offer confidential support 24/7. Text: SHOUT to 85258

  • Join an online community

Join Mind’s online community Side by Side, it’s an online space where you can listen, share and be heard. Visit sidebyside.mind.org.uk

  • Call the Samaritans on 116 123

Whatever you are going through, a Samaritan will face it with you. They are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


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