A mental health charity is calling on South Tynesiders to reach out to friends and family who may be struggling to cope with the Christmas festivities.
Tyneside and Northumberland Mind says its research has found helping others has proved to be beneficial for our own mental health and wellbeing with acts of kindness helping to reduce stress.
Kathy McKenna, A Life Worth Living (ALWL) Suicide Prevention Co-ordinator, said: “Christmas time can be a fantastic time to reach out to people. We don’t need an excuse to open a door, smile and wish someone well. If only we could convey this message of kindness beyond the 12 days.”
Training programme A Life Worth Living has been created to help those at the heart of the community to develop skills, knowledge and confidence to reach out to people they fear are struggling with life and may be considering suicide.
To date the programme, run by Washington Mind and delivered across Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead, has trained more than 2,000 people from over 320 different businesses, services and organisations - including taxi drivers, debt advisors, hairdressers, community police officers and young peoples support staff.
Kathy said: “ALWL trains people to reach out and ask someone if they are struggling and if they are having thoughts of ending their life.
“Sometimes people say things which might help you recognise they are struggling to cope including making leading statements, such as ‘It’s like the whole world is against me’ or negative statements about themselves such as no one loves me’, or ‘I’m a waste of space’, People sometimes say these things in the hope you will pick up on them and ask what they mean, so that they can talk about it. Suicides peak in spring. We have time to reach out and make a difference.”
At the end of the course, those taking part will have be able to identify some of the signs and symptoms associated with emotional distress; understand risk factors which can increase the possibility of suicidal behaviours; be able to support a suicidal person by applying the LIFE model and be more confident when talking to a person who is having suicidal thoughts.
Kathy added: “The majority of suicides take place within the home and by people who have never been in contact with mental health services. Suicide is not a mental health issue it is a crisis situation that can occur when we reach tipping point.
“Talking can help point us in the direction of further help and support when we may be feeling that our situation is one that we cannot find a way out of. We need to see reaching out for help as a sign of strength and not one of weakness.
“Suicide takes lives and destroys lives. Suicides can be prevented.”
The course, supported by Sunderland and South Tyneside public health departments, aims to help bust myths around suicide to give people a greater understanding of what can drive a person to see taking their own life as the only option. As well as what people can do to encourage them to see there are other options.
One person who took part in the course, said: “For a long time, suicide had always left me confused. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t understand or get my head round why someone would choose to kill themselves and at times I just thought it was just selfish and a coward’s way out from dealing with their problems.
“Everyone has problems they struggle with but they don’t go round taking their own lives. And they were my honest thoughts.
“But after doing the course, it made me realise the pain and anguish suffered by those who have reached that point runs much deeper than that and for them they genuinely believe people would be better off without them.
“That hurts, as the reality is so far from the reality they are living in.
“The course really opened my mind around suicide and around how sometimes people just need to reach out to them and for people not turn their back on them.
“Some of the things touched upon in the course made a lot of sense, people who are suffering are not selfish, they don’t want to feel the way they do, and every day they are battling an internal pain.
“It really does help you to understand more around the thoughts of a person who is thinking about suicide and what you can do to help show them that there is another way.
“I think the most important thing I came away from the course with, was that suicide is a permanent solution to what could be a temporary feeling of pain - and that by showing that you care and taking the time to really listen, that it can be prevented.”
For more information on ALWL visit www.alifeworthliving.org.uk
New research by mental health charity Mind revels one on six people in the region is unable to cope at Christmas.
And the impact of the pressures caused by the festive season will lead to one in 20 people considering taking their own life rising to more than one in five of those with mental health problems.
With Christmas soon upon us and the heightened stresses and pressures surrounding this time of year, Mind says this could be the time when people, in particular those suffering from a mental health issues, need support more than ever.
Stephen Buckley, head of information for Mind said: “Although for many people in the region, Christmas is something to look forward to, it can also bring with it additional pressures such as financial strains, feeling that everything has to be perfect and loneliness.
“This can be particularly difficult for the one in four people who experience a mental health problem, especially if they feel unable to ask for help. Mind can’t make Christmas perfect but we can ensure everyone has the support they need, whether through our infoline or online resources such as our guides for coping with stress and our Elefriends online peer support community.”
Eleanor Tasker, 21, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety a year and a half ago and finds the festive season an especially hard time of year.
She said: “My depression has been really bad because I have got myself into debt and I don’t want to admit to my friends as I find it embarrassing.
“I also compare the presents I buy with the ones people get for me. I always feel they are not as good. When I am at my sister and her family’s, I feel like they are the perfect, settled-down family and I am the disappointment.
“I get excited about Christmas, but also quite stressed. There is always lots of family who I have not seen since I was thin. My weight gain makes it difficult for me to have a reunion with people who have not seen me for a while.
“I think social media is good, for example the use of hashtags – as you can find support through people who are going through similar problems. It’s important people with mental health problems can get support over Christmas, which is why Mind’s Elefriends is a good service.
People who are concerned for a friend are being urged not to shy away from having the conversation regarding their mental health and how they are feeling, as it could potentially prevent them from sinking further into the thoughts which are beginning to consume their life and may even save their life.
Head of Communications at the Samaritans Lynsey Callard said: “Christmas comes with so many pressures, it’s really important to reach out to someone who is struggling to cope.
“Asking how they are is one the most important things you can do. Ask them if everything is alright and let them know you are there for them if they need someone to talk to.
“They may shrug you off or say everything is fine, but ask them again later. By being there for someone, being present for them and spending time with them is really important.”
Our series of articles in the days leading up to Christmas, which statistically is a tough time for those who have found themselves struggling to cope with life.
Each day, with the help of Tyneside and Northumberland Mind, we will be focusing on a different topic about mental health and wellbeing as well as inviting you to carry out a small act of kindness.
The campaign aims to encourage people to reach out to others and – for those who are struggling – show that there can be light at the end of the tunnel.
Today the charity is calling on people to think about someone you know, a friend, a colleague, a loved one, who may be having a difficult time. Reach out and let them know they are not alone. Send a text, a card or make a call and let them know they are loved and that you care.
Call: 275 8940
Drop in: Dora Dixon House, 29 Beach Road, South Shields.
Call: 116 123
Hopeline for young people struggling with suicidal thoughts: 08000 684 141
or Text: 07786209697