Q&A with Andrew McMahon on his research to support carers of those who have attempted suicide

Posted 26th May 2022 in Research news

The 10th IASP Asia Pacific Conference, held on 3-5 May 2022 showcased the work of Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in the form of a Pecha Kucha event.

Pecha Kucha, which is Japanese for ‘chit chat’ is a 20x20 presentation format that displays 20 images with presenters speaking for 20 seconds to each one. A recording of the IASP APAC event is freely available to view on IASP’s Facebook page (Part 1, Part 2).

Everymind PhD student and Senior Project Officer, Andrew McMahon, helped coordinate the event and was awarded runner-up for his presentation, ‘Caring for those who care - exploring the experiences and needs of family and friends caring for a person who has attempted suicide’.

Mr McMahon provides his insights into the conference, his research and his role as an Early Career Researcher.

Question

Can you tell us about your research to better understand and support the needs of those who care for people who have attempted suicide?

Answer

Research tells us that a suicide attempt is a leading risk factor for going on to die by suicide, but that receiving support and care following a suicide attempt is a protective factor against a further suicide attempt. We also know that family and friends provide most of the support and care for a person who has attempted suicide, but often this caregiving role is assumed without formal discussion and agreement. Undertaking this multi-dimensional role can lead to physical and psychological strains, including experiencing mental ill-health and suicidal distress themselves.

My PhD is seeking to gain a greater understanding of the experiences of family and friends caring for a person who has attempted suicide. I am conducting a feasibility and acceptability study on a new online intervention specifically for family and friends caring for a person who has attempted suicide. I will also be undertaking interviews with family and friends caring for a person who has attempted suicide, asking them how they navigate through their lives following the suicide attempt. Importantly, I will take the time to ask these caregivers, “What happened to you?”

Question

Could you share the key insights from the conference that resonated with you, that may contribute to your area of expertise or ways of working?

Answer

First and foremost, I was overwhelmed by reconnecting with so many incredible human beings. Whilst we all adapted well to life via Zoom, the conference's sense of connection, empathy, and care was fantastic. Secondly, the themes of connection, empathy and humanity ran deep through many presentations I managed to catch at this incredible conference. I took away many ideas for incorporation into my research. It was also exciting to see the vital role of lived and living experience being recognised and incorporated into the conference.

As an ECR, I was excited to see several dedicated events for ECRs at the conference (ECR Workshop and Pecha Kucha events). The conference organisers were also able to incorporate ECR presentations throughout the sessions (rather than segregate them into their own session) and involved ECRs in co-chairing sessions, providing a valuable learning experience for these future research leaders. I thank the organisers for providing this experience.

For me, a standout learning was the Pecha Kucha event, which I was privileged to present at. Whilst nerve-wracking, learning to distil my key messages into 20 slides and only having 20 seconds per slide to communicate these messages was life-changing, even for this seasoned presenter. I know this will have a lasting impact on communicating my research going forward.

Ultimately, whilst physically exhausted, I came away from the conference, creatively re-energised and grateful.

Question

What are your top tips for self-care and managing ‘ECR life’?

Answer

It's not surprising, given my responses above, but maintaining connection, a real sense of connection, is probably my most important tip. I have heard from many fellow PhD students and ECRs that maintaining connections through COVID was difficult, and they often felt lonely. Taking and maintaining tangible steps towards connection must always be a priority.

My second tip is to be brave. I feel like an imposter saying this, as I often feel like the straw man in Wizard of Oz. However, the research we are all doing is important, it matters, and I, for one, feel privileged to hear the voices of lived experience and want to honour them. Often there is just so much to be done, and it can get overwhelming. So, I constantly must remind myself to put on my favourite superhero pose, be brave, lean in, and embrace the PhD/ECR journey.

Lastly, we were privileged at the ECR Workshop to hear from researchers with decades of experience balancing life, family and careers. We heard from these highly successful human beings that it is OK to fail. That it is OK to say no. That it is OK to take time out. These times do not define our careers. It’s what we take from these moments, how we act, knowing when to say yes, and, importantly, what we do with these learnings that will define us and our work. So, I am also actively carving out time for reflection as a strategy for managing ‘ECR life’.

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