SPA Symposium 2021 Day 4 Highlights

Posted 23rd April 2021 by Gabrielle Dunlevy in SPA Symposium 2021

Professor Siobhan O'Neill of Ulster University gave the keynote address on the final day of the SPA Symposium, speaking about suicidal behaviour through a trauma informed lens, and the factors that compound trauma.

Professor O’Neill, who is Interim Mental Health Champion Northern Ireland, presented research on the high prevalence of mental illness and trauma in Northern Ireland after decades of conflict.

Professor O’Neill highlighted the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on the younger generations of Northern Ireland, with some of her research in younger people showing suicide ideation, planning and attempts were nearly eight times higher in those with ACEs.

She highlighted the need for specialised services to support those in Northern Ireland living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to their experience as victims and survivors of the Troubles.

Professor O’Neill also spoke about suicidal behaviour through a trauma informed lens, and factors in Northern Ireland society that compound trauma.

“If we are looking to change suicidal behaviour, then addressing inequality is one of the most import things we can do,” she said.

The address concluded with three key messages: the need for trauma informed practice, the need to treat mental illness, and to teach metacognition. 

Providing the best support and care to vulnerable population groups

One of the key discussion points from the afternoon panel session was the need to actively listen to the lived experience of those belonging to vulnerable population groups when providing support to these groups.

Joining the panel was Professor Katherine Boydell (Black Dog Institute), Mandy Gibson (Australian Institute For Suicide Research And Prevention), Dr Kylie King (Monash University), Professor Siobhan O'Neill (Ulster University), Dr Debbie Scott (Monash University and Turning Point), and Josh Wiseman (Batyr).

Members of the panel spoke of the need to consider what factors actually make population groups ‘vulnerable’ to suicide. Using the terminology ‘vulnerable’ to describe a whole range of factors could impact on our ability to develop targeted approaches for particular factors that contribute to vulnerability to suicide.

The panel also discussed how for some population groups, sharing lived experience through words alone might not necessarily capture the whole experience. In this case, other storytelling methods could be deployed, such as the use of the arts to capture people’s stories and emotions.

The keynote and panel discussion wrapped-up an illuminating annual symposium, which helped to advance discussions on best practice suicide prevention research and services.