Don’t Brush it Under the Carpet – raising awareness around self-harm and older people 

Dont Brush it Under the Carpet teamRecent research from the University of Manchester found that people over 65 who self-harm are 145 times more likely to die by suicide than people of the same age who had not self-harmed. This research was a catalyst for NHS Greater Manchester Integrated Care to build on their existing suicide prevention campaign, Shining a Light on Suicide, to create ‘Don’t Brush it Under the Carpet’, with the aim of improving mental wellbeing and raising awareness of self-harm as an issue for older people in Greater Manchester.

There are, unknowingly, age blind assumptions and myths around self-harm and older people. The Don’t Brush it Under the Carpet campaign involves collaborative working between representatives from the award-winning Shining a Light on Suicide Campaign, GM Older People’s Network, GM Ageing Hub, health professionals, UoM researchers and focus groups of older residents led to the establishment of the Greater Manchester Older People’s Mental Health Clinical Reference Group. This group, which is NHS funded, have been asked to help the NHS board with understanding the needs of older people in crisis and what treatment and care they might need.

 The campaign is all about spreading awareness and support, encouraging residents who are struggling to reach out and get the help they need. It used posters themed around common sayings such as “a problem shared is a problem halved” to start a conversation about self-harm, encouraging people to seek support if needed. But it’s not just about reaching out to older residents themselves, the campaign also focused on raising awareness among younger Greater Manchester residents, as well as families, carers, and healthcare professionals. Self-harm is an issue that affects people of all ages, and the more people who understand the risks and warning signs, the better equipped we will all be to help those in need.

Don’t Brush it Under the Carpet were one of the many inspiring winners at our 2023 Making a Difference Awards.

See the team’s interview for Manchester Evening News at the Awards:

We asked UoM researcher and project member, Dr Alison Baird, a few questions about the project and what winning this Award means to her:

Tell us about how it felt to win a Making a Difference Award

I’m extremely proud that the ‘Don’t Brush it Under the Carpet’ campaign has been recognised by the University of Manchester for being an outstanding a local/civic engagement initiative. I hope that this will continue to promote the campaign and raise awareness of self-harm in older people, both in Greater Manchester and throughout the UK.

Is there anyone you would like to thank?

I’d like to say thank you to Adele Owen, Polly Kaiser and Gillian Stainthorpe for inviting me to be part of the campaign team. To Liz Jones and the GM Older People’s Network, GM Ageing Hub, my research team at NCISH and our CMHS colleagues at MaSH, including Nav Kapur whose research findings inspired the campaign. Lastly thank you to all the older residents of Greater Manchester who attended the focus groups and shared their experience and ideas and to Tom Bailey, the graphic minute taker who captured the conversations in an accessible way.

What advice would you give to people considering entering the Making a Difference Awards?

 If you feel that your research has made a difference, don’t hesitate to enter the awards. We can often underestimate the impact that our research has on society but entering the awards helped me to reflect on that and, ultimately, to feel very proud to be part of a winning campaign team.

So, what’s next?

One of the ways the campaign is starting to tackle these harmful assumptions is to focus on increasing awareness among the professionals who can challenge these myths. The incredible impact of the campaign has also been a catalyst for the Greater Manchester Older People’s Network. The valuable insights provided to the network will now be incorporated into NHS crisis procedures to help understand the needs of these older people. While the original campaign focused on Greater Manchester residents, its impact has resonated with other regions as well. The research, conducted at The University of Manchester, is shedding light on an issue that has been largely overlooked until now, and its reach will continue to lead as an example to other places.


Watch this short video to find out more about the campaign.