HOPEWalk in Ipswich to raise awareness of suicide risk among the young
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Breaking the taboo of talking about suicide among young people is the first step towards saving lives, say campaigners. As October 10’s World Mental Health Day approaches, Sheena Grant reports on awareness-raising walks taking place in East Anglia and hears how mental ill health affected one teenager.
It’s a subject no-one likes to talk about and that, say campaigners, is part of the problem.
Suicide is the biggest killer of young people under 35 in the UK.
In 2015, 1,659 young people took their own lives and every year thousands more attempt or contemplate suicide, self harm or suffer alone, afraid or unaware of how to seek help.
For young suicide prevention charity Papyrus the first step to change is breaking the silence.
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Its annual HOPEWalk takes place this October with events across the country to shatter the stigma and “start a conversation” about suicide.
On October 11 the University of Suffolk will be staging its own HOPEWalk in Ipswich. Emma Bond, a professor of socio-technical research at the university, is one of the organisers and wants as many people as possible to take part to raise awareness and funds for Papyrus, whose message is that with appropriate support and education young suicides can be prevented.
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Earlier this year Prof Bond organised a Hidden Harms conference at the university after learning how many teachers lack training to cope with and respond to the increasing numbers of young people experiencing mental ill health.
“Mental health is a growing problem and teachers and parents are not being given training to respond,” she says. “Papyrus was one of the organisations that did workshops at the conference. After that, they did two days training around supporting young people who were feeling suicidal. We’ve been working with Papyrus for a while as a university. Young people’s mental health and raising awareness of where students can get help is really important to us.”
For Prof Bond, an expert in online safeguarding, it’s also an area where the professional and personal overlap.
Her own teenage daughter has struggled with mental ill health and depression, something that, with her daughter’s permission, she spoke movingly about at that Hidden Harms conference.
“I didn’t know where to go to for help as my daughter battled with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal idolisation for over two-and-a-half years,” says Prof Bond. “As most parents do, I blamed myself. Why had I not been able to prevent this from happening and why couldn’t I make it better? I struggled to cope with the reality of what my beautiful, bright, intelligent daughter was capable of doing to herself. I didn’t know who I could talk to and felt I would be judged as a ‘bad mother’ if I spoke about it.”
The problems were compounded by a lack of support services, caused - or at least made worse - by austerity cuts.
“After eight months of waiting, six weeks of counselling was all she was entitled to and in the end she was told to see her GP for more anti-depressants,” says Prof Bond. “I felt helpless watching her deteriorate and becoming more withdrawn from the real world but spending more time on ‘anti-social’ media and pro-harm websites.
“It was around this time that the crisis really began. I remember holding my daughter in my arms at two o’clock in the morning as she sobbed uncontrollably, saying she didn’t want to live any longer. I felt frightened and completely useless. We got through that night, mostly locked in each other’s embrace, each equally terrified to let go. It was the turning point for both of us.”
Prof Bond sought advice from a professional colleague and her daughter is now recovering, having had intensive private therapy and support from a mental health nurse.
“One of the bravest things my daughter had to learn to do was to talk and reach out,” she says. “That is especially difficult when stigmatisation and prejudice is so ingrained. There is also a dearth of NHS services and so many cutbacks. I was lucky that I was able to afford private therapy and (find) an excellent therapist. This is not an option for many.
“We need to be proactive. We know that by talking about it we can save people’s lives.”
? The two-mile Ipswich HOPEWalk - in conjunction with Farlingaye High School, Suffolk Mind and young people’s health project 4YP - is open to all and takes place on October 11 from the Waterfront Building, IP4 1QJ, at 1.30pm. Walkers are asked to wear purple. Donations - £5 for a standard ticket and £1 for a student - will be collected on the day. Visit www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/university-of-suffolk-hopewalk-2017-tickets-37731225110 for more. Proceeds will help extend Papyrus’s national helpline hours and train more ‘suicide first-aiders’.
There is also a HOPEWalk in Norfolk, organised by Cherrelle Blake, whose father took his own life. Walkers will meet in front of Pier Arcade (on the Green) at Hunstanton at 10am on Saturday, October 14. The six-mile route will pass through Old Hunstanton, Holme-next-the-Sea and finish in Thornham, where refreshments will be available. Supporters can donate to Papyrus at www.justgiving.com/Cherrelle-Blake2. Cherrelle says anyone who is unable to walk but wants to show their support can meet the walkers at Thornham Deli from approximately 12.30-1pm.
A recent YouGov survey for Papyrus found one in 10 teaching professionals say a student shares suicidal thoughts with them once a term or more but only half would feel confident that they could offer adequate support.
And just days ago, it was reported a government-funded study of more than 10,000 young people found a quarter of girls and nearly one in 10 boys experienced signs of depression by the age of 14.
At Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge staff are working hard to develop strategies to support students’ mental health and a group of its sixth formers will join the Ipswich HOPEWalk on October 11. The school, which lost a sixth form student, Rebecca De Roeper, to mental ill health almost a year ago, has also staged its own events to raise awareness of the issue.
Teacher Penny Tyndale-Hardy, who is involved in sixth form support, said: “Mental ill health seems to be a growing problem nationally, not just among young people. The walk is a great idea to raise money and to get people talking.”
Papyrus has launched a new suicide prevention guide for teachers and school staff, which can be downloaded for free (www.papyrus-uk.org).