Monday 28 September 2015

NAMI Maine Walk 2015

I walk for.. No more stigma..
Understanding for all!..

On Sunday September 27, Fran joined hundreds of others at Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, South Portland, Maine, for the 13th annual NAMI Maine Walk.

All were there to support the National Alliance on Mental Illness and to participate in Maine’s largest mental health celebration.

It was a moving occasion for Fran, who walked with friends as Team Gum on My Shoe. As she wrote afterwards:

My heart swells with appreciation and affection for all those who walked today.. Tears staining my face and giggles spilling over.. The joy of exhaustion for energy very well spent.. Continue walking in life only to love..

The event was covered for WCSH6 television. Watch the report and see if you can spot Fran!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Marty set off for an equivalent walk through Rickerby Park, Carlisle, in the north-west of England.

We invite you to visit our Team Gum on My Shoe page to leave a message of support, and if possible a donation. Every little helps. Thank you.

You can see more photos from both our walks on our Facebook page.


Sunday 20 September 2015

QPR Gatekeeper Training

Following on from my blogs on the excellent Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshops, I’d like to share my experience of the QPR Gatekeeper course, which I successfully completed online last week.

What is QPR?

QPR Gatekeeper training (the acronym stands for Question, Persuade, Refer) is one of several suicide prevention training programs developed by the QPR Institute.

There is a good summary of the program on their website. The course covers:

  • How to Question, Persuade and Refer someone who may be suicidal
  • How to get help for yourself or learn more about preventing suicide
  • The common causes of suicidal behavior
  • The warning signs of suicide
  • How to get help for someone in crisis

The course costs $29.95 (approx £12.85) on the QPR website but it is offered for free by some organisations including Hope for Life.

Who is it for?

A Gatekeeper is someone in a position to recognize a crisis and the warning signs that someone may be contemplating suicide. According to the website, Gatekeepers include parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, ministers, doctors, nurses, office supervisors ... pretty much any of us, in fact.

Our mission is to save lives and reduce suicidal behaviors by providing innovative, practical and proven suicide prevention training. We believe that quality education empowers all people, regardless of their background, to make a positive difference in the life of someone they know.

What is it like?

This is a self-paced online course which will take around an hour to complete (you can stop the course and come back to it later). There is a multi-choice test at the end (pass mark 80%). You can review the course modules and retake the exam as many times as necessary.

There is a printable certificate on successful completion, downloadable resources and a free downloadable book, Suicide: The Forever Decision by Paul G. Quinnett (this book also can be downloaded for free from the QPR store page).

Having previously taken the two day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) workshops, I found QPR a valuable refresher and it would be a useful introduction to the subject.

Like ASIST, QPR focuses on recognising that someone may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, and engaging positively with them. Both ASIST and QPR place significant emphasis on confirming whether, in fact, the person is thinking of taking their life, if necessary by asking the question plainly. QPR is clear that it teaches how to recognise and confirm the presence of suicidal thinking, but not how to assess the severity of that risk. Once suicidal thinking has been confirmed (the Question part) the emphasis is on persuading the person to seek help, and referring them on for professional support.

It is hard to put a price on information that could potentially save lives, but I do feel the cost of the course on the QPR website ($29.95, approx £12.85) is high for a short online course and could dissuade people from taking it. For me, the esuicideTALK course by LivingWorks ($20, approx £12.88) offers more for less (but note that some organisations offer the QPR Gatekeeper course for free, including Hope for Life).


Related programs

The Institue offers a range of specialised courses including:

  • Suicide Triage Training
  • Suicide Risk Assessment and Management Training
  • QPR Training Targeting Alcohol, Drugs, and Suicide
  • Online Counseling and Suicide Intervention Specialist
  • Counseling Suicidal People: A Therapy of Hope
  • Suicide Risk Assessment Competency Certification Exam
  • Ethics and Suicide

Useful links

  • QPR Institute website:
  • Background information: available as a PDF download, QPR Gatekeeper Training for Suicide Prevention: The Model, Theory and Research by Paul Quinnett offers background information on the QPR program, and suicide prevention in general.


Sunday 13 September 2015

For Ever Amber: Pictures at an Exhibition

Those who live their lives to the full have no need of immortality.
Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen

Yesterday I visited the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne, and discovered For Ever Amber, an exhibition of documentary photography, mostly black and white and primarily of the North East in the 70s and 80s.

“Opening up an extraordinary documentary narrative, this exhibition is the first major account of the AmberSide Collection started by a group of like-minded students at Regent Street Polytechnic in London in 1968. With a resolve to collect documents of working class culture, Amber Collective moved to the North East of England the following year in 1969 and in 1977 opened Side Gallery where it remains today.”

The collection of photographs and videos affected me deeply. The following is excerpted from my chat conversation with Fran afterwards.

Wonderful exhibition of photography. Local documentary photos. Gritty, real. Real life.. Real people.. Hopelessness.. Poverty.. Unemployment.. Dirt.. It’s depressing.. But also there is hope there.. That life goes on no matter what.. Not an easy exhibition for me. There is nowhere to hide. It is human. Humanity doing what it does.

What do you feel? Mad glad sad afraid?

Ignorant. Naive. Inadequate. Privileged. But also that I am these days a little less of those things. That it’s up to me if I want to change. It is in my power to do so.

Your experience of this might make a good blog.

Transform yourself and you transform others.. ~fjh
Awareness is already a change.. ~fjh
When one awakens one can’t go back.. ~fjh
Transform yourself and others transform.. ~fjh
Perception is reality.. ~fjh

Hey you’re pretty good at this! Yes, a blog could be a good idea. What I did get was a strong sense of how these many photographers were each telling their own small story. Together they were showing a much greater truth than any of them could have done alone. Echoes of what we are doing with Gum on My Shoe and the many many others telling their stories. Every one is a pebble tossed in the stream.


I was also thinking back to what we were talking about the other day. How some people build walls (physical and figurative) to keep them and their family safe, keep the big bad world at bay. I did it differently. I spent most of my life turning a blind eye to the big bad world. Both eyes. The challenge for me is to open my eyes, and not to build walls.

With compassion for all..

Yes. It’s natural to want to protect those closest to us. That’s not a bad impulse. But it can lead to “us/them” thinking. Demonisation. Fear. Walls. Asylums. Stigma. The photos mostly showed the working class, the dispossessed. Those who the establishment would demonise.

People are afraid of losing stuff and family and health and life.. They sadly think they are in control.. However the universe is, not them. Love like that is not a free true love.. It’s grabby and possessive..

They are not the enemy though. To imagine they are is just erecting more walls.

Maybe not.. Maybe they are living the lives they were meant to.. Maybe they are put here to be teachers so we can grow..

I’m ill at ease with the idea that things happen to us with a purpose, eg to teach us lessons. Seems to me “shit happens”, and we can choose to see and use it in different ways. We are free to see it as something to learn from. We are equally free to not learn.

It is not our job to open other people’s eyes.. Only our own..


For Ever Amber is on at the Laing Gallery until Saturday 19 September 2015.


Saturday 12 September 2015

Be the Best Yourself You Can Be

Thoughts on World Suicide Prevention Day.

I feel it is important to say that being there for someone who lives with suicidal thoughts and feelings isn’t all about talking them down from a bridge or asking how many pills they took, what they were and how long ago.

In a crisis, intervention, situation, yes. But for many people suicidal thoughts and feelings are an occasional or an ongoing reality and if we care for them we can support with the hope and intention of helping them keep from ever getting to the bridge parapet or downing the pills.

If you don't know how to approach your friend or colleague or family member, give it a go anyway. If you don’t know what to say, say something, from a place of care and heart, not from a place of judgement or anger. Ask how you can help. Or just be quiet and be there.

Most of all, be yourself. The best yourself you can be. Because in that moment, your needs are not the issue. Your friend, your colleague, your family member, the person you just met, deserves nothing less.


If you are interested in learning how to be there for someone living with mental health issues or feeling suicidal, check my experiences of the excellent Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills (ASIST) workshops.


Thursday 10 September 2015

A day of kittens

What a day. A day of kittens. Of kitten therapy. And I got to take a part. I have a fish. I love my fish. He even lets me pet him. But he is not a kitten. I hiked down to Congress Square Park. They had five kittens in a playroom. Five people at a time. Five minutes. Kittens bring you into the moment. They let you wake up to who you are. One who wants to play. And you get lost. Or found. This was my day.

You can watch my interview and find out more about kitty therapy on the Portland Press Herald page.



Monday 7 September 2015

An Interview with Diane Atwood

We recently had the pleasure to meet freelance health writer Diane Atwood when she interviewed us for her award-winning blog Catching Health.

The interview itself was a delight, and a perfect example of how Fran and I make our transatlantic friendship work. As Diane writes:

When they first started communicating, they chatted on Facebook or sent each other emails and, after deciding that phone calls were too expensive, they started Skyping.

That’s how I interviewed Marty. Fran and I sat in her living room and talked to Marty in his living room via Skype.

You can read the full interview — which includes details of the sponsored walk we are doing in support of the National Alliance on Mental Illness — on Diane’s own Catching Health blog, as well as her column for Bangor Daily News and on WCSH6. We have received some fantastic feedback already, including this from Cheryl Ramsay, Walk Coordinator for NAMI Maine:

Marty and Fran are making big waves. And they are huge supporters of the NAMI Maine Walk. I have never met either one of them — Marty lives in the UK and Fran lives in Portland — but we are all Facebook friends. They are best buds who have an unbelievable story of friendship, resiliency and what it means to have someone in your life who says “I hear you and I am here for you”. So great that Diane Atwood of “Catching Health” is bringing local attention to this dynamic duo.

Thank you Cheryl, and everyone who has liked, retweeted, commented and messaged us. Your support and encouragement are what keeps us going. And a special thank you to you, Diane, for wanting to share our story.

You can find Diane on her website, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Her blog is carried by Bangor Daily News, one of Maine’s leading newspapers, and she also has a column in Maine Women and My Generation magazines. Diane appears regularly on the WCSH6 Morning Report.

UPDATE: October 27, 2015

Our interview also appears in the November/December 2015 issue of My Generation magazine (Current Publications LLC, Maine).