ann john

My Story

 It feels like we can make a difference, every bit as important in a very different way as my days in direct clinical care...

"I’ve often wondered how my career path from qualifying as a doctor through being a GP and then doing public health brought me to suicide prevention research. It wasn’t planned. There’s no doubt that certain patients I saw over the years, almost imprinted in my memory, in distress whether it was immediately obvious or revealed, played a huge part. There is a desire to make a difference. However, in medicine, there are huge opportunities to make a difference in people’s lives across many specialities."

"There’s a theory in suicide prevention research to explain why people engage in suicidal behaviour which includes the concept of thwarted belongingness- not feeling accepted. I wonder if the experience of growing up in North London as the child of immigrants, of the otherness of the sitting between two worlds and not quite belonging in either gave me a small insight and a real acceptance of those feelings in others and an appetite to defend and advocate for the vulnerable."

"The research we do on my team uses data science, evidence synthesis and qualitative interviews to understand suicidal behaviour. But it is the translation of that research into policy and practice that drives us- be that developing guidance for all schools in Wales on self-harm, advising on TV storylines like Coronation Street, or drafting strategy documents. Being an academic allows for the freedom of independent scientific advice and the development of deep knowledge of an area. It’s a gift of a career."

"There are concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to curb it’s spread may impact on suicide rates. But suicide is not inevitable, and we don’t know yet if suicide rates will rise. We do need to take comprehensive action to mitigate those risks early. Through, for example, financial safety nets and frontline services- addressing social isolation, disruption to mental health care, potential increases in exposure to domestic violence and socio-economic shocks. In a rapid response, a group of suicide prevention researchers from around the world formed the International COVID-19 Suicide Prevention Research Collaboration to inform this- I sit on the steering group. And in Swansea the SAIL Databank starting modelling almost real-time health and mortality data to support public health responses, working closely with Welsh Government. My team are looking at mental health data. It feels like we can make a difference, every bit as important in a very different way as my days in direct clinical care. So, while I appear to have moved a long way from my days in hospitals and general practice to research, not so much really, at its core."

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Urgent government action needed