Thursday 10 October 2019

World Mental Health Day 2019

Organised by the World Foundation for Mental Health and observed each year on October 10, World Mental Health Day (WMHD) is an opportunity to raise awareness of mental health issues and to mobilize efforts in support of mental health. This year’s theme is suicide prevention.

According to WHO [World Health Organisation], more than 800,000 people die by suicide each year, making it the principal cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-nine years old. It is often believed that it is only adults who exhibit suicidal behaviors, but it should be made known that many children and young people engage in this kind of behavior as a result of violence, sexual abuse, bullying and cyberbullying.

— WFMH President Dr Alberto Trimboli

The WHO brings these statistics home with their campaign 40 seconds of action which reminds us that “Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide.” Read that again. What can we do to help?

To begin with we can follow the official WMHD account on Facebook (@WMHDAY1) and Twitter (@WMHDay). We can follow what people and organisations are doing around the world to mark the occasion on the following social media hashtags and use them ourselves to share relevant content.

  • #WMHD
  • #WorldMentalHealthDay
  • #40seconds

But we need to do more than that. Preventing suicide isn’t a job for professionals alone. It is down to each of us to foster an environment in our private and work lives in which people feel able to talk about what is going on for them and to ask for help without being judged.

It can be scary to reach out to someone who is having a hard time, whether we believe they might be feeling suicidal or not, but if it is scary imagine how much worse it is for the person in need. We can all make a difference and that difference can be literally life-saving. There are some great resources out there which I recommend if you’d like to know more and help contribute to a safer and more compassionate world. Courses I’ve taken myself include the following.


Workshop Training

The power of simply being there for someone cannot be overestimated. I recently attended an event at George Street Social in Newcastle, an alcohol-free bar and café run by the Road to Recovery Trust which offers hope and support to people in recovery from addiction problems. The event Stranger on the Bridge and Other Stories of Friendship and Support presented the personal accounts of people directly affected by suicide, including Jonny Benjamin MBE. Many of us will recall the story of how a passing stranger stopped Jonny from taking his life in 2008:

The Stranger on the Bridge, which was made into a book and a documentary film, tells the story of how, having been recently diagnosed with Schizoaffective Disorder, Jonny stood on London’s Waterloo Bridge and prepared to take his own life. That was until a stranger walking across the bridge talked Jonny down from the edge.

Jonny was immediately taken to hospital and didn’t see the stranger again, but, with the support of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, he launched the #FindMike campaign, to track the stranger down. The campaign reached over 300 million people worldwide and eventually led to Neil Laybourn — the man who saved Jonny’s life.

Hearing Jonny talk about what happened on the bridge was intensely moving. He spoke of Neil holding space, of his being engaged and “invested.” Above all it was Neil’s positivity and lack of judgement that made the difference, as well as him telling Jonny there was no need to be embarrassed. This stranger’s acceptance, compassion, and simple humanity saved Jonny’s life.

Another speaker was Matthew Smith from the If U Care Share Foundation who spoke movingly about his older brother Daniel who took his life at the age of nineteen and the impact Daniel’s death has had on him to this day. The devastating experience led Daniel’s family to found If U Care Share.

Our aim is to prevent anyone feeling the pain we felt as a family when we lost Daniel. We truly believe that talking can save lives.

— Shirley Smith, If U Care Share founder and Daniel’s mother

I know from personal experience how vital it can be that we feel able to ask for help if we need it, and be present for others. By doing so we contribute to a culture in which we are encouraged to share when we need to, and supported when we do. In the words of a quotation commonly attributed to Mohandas Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

If you are concerned about your own situation or that of friends, family, or colleagues, our resources page lists a range of resources, crisis and support lines.


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