The Big Brew campaign created by Mersey Care

As Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 highlights the importance of speaking out about mental illness, NHS England looks at the Big Brew campaign created by Mersey Care to encourage people to take time out to talk one another as part of its zero-suicide strategy.

The power of a cuppa to bring people together has been harnessed in the Big Brew campaign to fight stigma and help reduce suicide.

Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust worked with patients and partners to develop ideas to get people to talk about their feelings and, in doing so, reduce the risk of suicide – the leading cause of death for men under 50 in England and Wales.

As the first mental health trust to publicly commit to a zero-suicide policy for patients, its research showed that early intervention is key in preventing someone attempting suicide.

The campaign, costing the trust £15,000 for the initial two years, simply encourages people to have a cuppa, or a ‘Big Brew’, with a friend, colleague or relative and take time to ask how the other person is coping.

Head of communications and marketing Steve Murphy said: “As a mental health trust, challenging stigma is at the core of everything we do. People who use our services shouldn’t be second class, they shouldn’t be facing stigma.

“Big Brew came out of two things, that message about stigma, and secondly about early intervention, particularly around our aim for zero suicides in people in our care.

“From our point of view, there’s no better form of early intervention than talking to someone you have concerns about, and that’s what services users were telling us, particularly when it’s non-clinical and not patronising.

“One of the things that research tells us is that you have got to ask some quite searching questions and the main question is ‘are you thinking about hurting yourself, are you having thoughts about suicide?’

“That’s a difficult thing to do. It’s a very personal question but it’s a vital question because getting someone to speak about suicidal thoughts can have a great impact in reducing them wanting to act upon them. Having a chat over a cup of tea or coffee is a really simple but effective way to do that.”

The Big Brew is supported by resources to help people worried about someone to ask relevant questions, as well as for people who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts and want to ask for help but don’t know how.

Originating in the North West, it has galvanised the support of regional as well as national leaders and public figures as well as other organisations to get the message out.

This support includes a partnership with Autism Together, as part of Liverpool’s bid to become the UK’s first autism-friendly city in the UK. The charity will use the formula developed by Big Brew to raise issues about autism, while at the same time Big Brew can support those with autism and their families and carers.

The campaign launched in 2015, on January 18 – so-called Blue Monday which was rebranded locally as Brew Monday. It runs year-round, led by social media, and is refreshed annually to keep it current.

Supporters are asked to show their backing with a ‘#brewfie’ – a selfie with their favourite mug or cup – posted on the Big Brew’s social media sites. Almost 600 people posted photos after the initial launch.

Supporting activities include a national survey, commissioned from YouGov to determine views about mental health.

The Big Brew brand is used throughout the trust which runs staff and service user training about suicide and how to start conversations about mental health.

“We want people to be more aware about suicide and we’re starting with our own staff,” Mr Murphy said.  “There are national campaigns, like Time to Change, and while Big Brew reinforces what that is doing, it takes a different tack and, I think, makes it more personal.

“It came from co-production and we’ve seen a great response and had great support.”

Through social media, the Big Brew message has reached nearly 150,000 people, while also gaining national newspaper, television and radio coverage. Feedback through reference groups is positive, but formal evaluation will assess its impact on the zero-suicide strategy.

Big Brew ambassador Angela Samata was recently nominated for a Bafta for her documentary Life after Suicide, which saw her interview others bereaved by suicide.

The 44-year-old, the former Chair of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), had been with her partner for 13 years when he took his life at their home in Birkenhead in October 2003. He was 32.

“Some of the most important conversations I’ve ever had in my life have started over a cup of tea, and that’s why I support Big Brew,” she said.

“I ran the Liverpool support group for Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide for seven years and the first thing we did when someone came in was to put the kettle on. It’s a signal that you’re making time for someone, that you’ll listen.

“Making space for those conversations is so important. It’s through those conversations that we start to challenge stigma and break isolation by finding time to talk, and listen; simple acts that are incredibly powerful. ”

Tim Kendall, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Mental Health, said: “Liverpool’s Big Brew challenges everyone to make a simple act of kindness and turn into what could easily be the most important act of someone’s life – to save it.

“Campaigns such as this and Mental Health Awareness Week really help to challenge the stigma around mental health that can stop someone getting the urgent help or support they need to carry on.”