Peckham-based Dr Luke Sullivan has played an important role in the movement that has resulted in raised awareness of male mental health. He is also part of an NHS team specialising in delivering and designing psychological interventions that prevent suicide.

A Peckham resident for over a decade, Luke set up The Couch in Bussey Building; offering private therapy to people looking for help with psychological problems or support during difficult times, and a space to learn more about themselves. We speak to Luke about the current strain on the NHS, developments in male mental health, and the positive energy in the world of suicide prevention.

How does The Couch work?

We have a small team of clinical psychologists who offer evidence based psychological therapies. We work using a variety of models and approaches including CBT, mindfulness, psychodynamic, systemic and counselling.

What makes Bussey Building the right place for your practice?

I’ve lived in the area since 2004 and Peckham is my home. I remember when I first came to the area and went for an afternoon beer at Inside 72 on Lordship Lane (it’s long gone now). I thought to myself, “this is where I’m going to spend the rest of my life”. Super cheesy, but true! Initially, I lived in East Dulwich but I’ve lived in Peckham now for over a decade.

I spent three years looking for the right location to offer private therapy. Having gone through the various options, I made the decision that I needed to find a place that I could put my stamp on. I wanted a location with an edge, something different to the sterile clinical spaces of the NHS or the pretence of Harley Street.

I wanted the room itself to be a place of tranquillity that instantly smoothed the edges when you walked into the room. A feeling of peace, comfort and safety. The room needed a lot of work when I got it and I renovated it with my dad. He’s a handy guy and I’ve learnt a lot from him. Together we created a lovely space, people really love it!

Our room sits amongst artists and other creatives which I love because I’ve always viewed therapy as an art form. I paint pictures and weave tapestries of people’s lives through connecting with stories and the underlying emotions. I help people to create new meaning and purpose which helps people to a better place.

How does it differ to your work with the NHS?

In the NHS, I work three days a week for the Lambeth Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team (HTT). The HTT is the NHS service that works with people in crisis who are actively thinking of ending their lives or have made recent attempts at suicide. I specialise in delivering and designing psychological interventions that prevent suicide.

I work as part of a large team where we see people up to two/three times a day, whereas in my private practice I’m a sole practitioner. Anyone can find themselves in crisis so we see people from all backgrounds with all types of problems. This can include people with complex mental health problems or people who are just having a terrible time.

My main focus in the NHS is supporting the team in delivering more informed psychological interventions and helping towards the shared task of keeping people alive. There is less of a focus on on- to-one, face-to-face interventions which is the main focus in private practice. I’m also part of a wider clinical psychology community and we lead on the delivery and organisation of psychological therapies in the NHS. We also support the development of the next generation of psychologists and carry out research and service development.

There are great strains on NHS services, staff, service users and carers due to the mismatch between funding and need. It’s not going to get any easier either, as there is a silent dismantling of the NHS and a push towards privatisation. The NHS is filled with political disruption and tampering. It’s worth a lot of money to the Big Pharma and large corporations, so there are dark forces at work to dismantle it bit by bit.

You are at the heart of the Male Mental Health discussion. Have you always been involved with this?

The psychological wellbeing of men became a specialist interest for me in 2004. I was asked by South London and Maudsley NHS Trust to do a scoping study into Men’s Mental Health in Southwark. Basically, I found nothing which focused on the male experience, which was unfathomable given that men have taken their own lives at 3-4 times the rate of women for as long as records have existed.

As a researcher and clinician I found this fascinating and concerning and I haven’t let go since. It’s become a real passion for me professionally and personally. As a man myself I have had to ask many questions of myself and found great personal growth along the way. I have also been blessed with working with really passionate and dedicated people. There is a lot of postive energy in the world of suicide prevention.

This year saw the publication of my first book – The Palgrave Handbook of Male Psychology and Mental Health, of which I am an editor and author. It’s the first book of it’s kind and a real landmark for me as it brings to a close a long period of hard work. I also have the opportunity now to spend more time taking Men’s Minds Matter forward.

Tell us about Men’s Minds Matter.

Men’s Minds Matter is a not-for-profit community interest company dedicated to the prevention of suicide. Initially we started out raising awareness of suicide and male suicide as very few people know how big an issue it is. We managed to be a big part of this movement. Awareness has grown and people are now mobilising around the issue.

As awareness increased and larger organisations became involved our reach lessened. I made the decision to redefine our purpose and have been working hard over the past couple of years to move Men’s Minds Matter in a new direction. We’re currently redesigning our website. We’d like it to be the go to place for self help and guidance for how to manage (psychologically) during difficult times. I’m using a psychological model I’ve developed from my work with the HTT to shape our content.

We’re also close to being able to offer free therapy to men living in Southwark who are in crisis, do not have identifiable mental illnesses but are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Data would show this is a particular at risk group who might be excluded from traditional mental health services.

I’m drawing on our strengths and making use of the resources available to me through my profession to offer this. The service is essentially delivered on a voluntary basis but more importantly the model is sustainable at its most basic with minimal funding required.

However, the more backing we have the more we can do. I believe we have a really strong offer and the right foundation to help make Southwark the first zero suicide borough. We’ll be looking to raise money through grants, supporters and funders over the coming year.

The Couch: Website, Contact, Facebook

Men’s Minds Matter: Website, Instagram, Facebook, Contact