Simple step you can take to help people battling with mental health as NHS struggles

Posted on - 19th May, 2024 - 8:00am | Author - | Posted in - Charities, Chorley locations, Chorley News, Fulwood, Health, Preston News
Mary O'Gara. Pic: Sharon and Paul O'Gara
Mary O’Gara, a daughter from Fulwood who took her own life. Pic: Sharon and Paul O’Gara

High suicide rates in Lancashire are leaving experts afraid we ‘haven’t seen the peak of this yet’ – but a simple initiative from one charity can make a real difference.

Mental health and suicide affect more people than you may think, with Lancashire having the second highest suicide rate across the whole of the UK according to statistics from Lancashire Mind, a mental health charity based in Chorley.

Vikkey Chaffe, who works at the centre said Lancashire’s suicide rate statistics are ‘massively concerning’.

Read more: Penwortham woman sets up free mental health services in recognition of support she received

Around 75% of all calls came from private addresses in comparison to public calling points.

She said: “The government and authorities believe that the majority of suicides are from people who are unemployed or who live in high areas of deprivation, but actually it is really starting to flip.

“If you have got higher means, you have a higher living lifestyle and the cost of living crisis has really affected that.”

Lancashire Mind believe that prevention training can make a big difference.

Lancashire Mind is encouraging people to take suicide prevention training, with their initiative called the ‘Orange Button Scheme,’ which has already trained over 4,000 people.

Vikkey added: “The biggest concern for us is that it is still rising.

“Lockdown figures were higher, but we weren’t the second highest. Now, we’re the highest that we’ve ever been.

“I think that we’ve certainly not seen the peak of this yet.”

They received almost 2,000 calls in three months regarding people who had self-injured. 

“The pressures of work, the pressures of the cost of living crisis, just general pressures, are so much greater and they just keep getting more.

“We just don’t have the infrastructure within our NHS to support so many people.”

Vikkey explained that people are still waiting a long time to be seen by the NHS, with backlogs from the pandemic and waiting lists.

Raphael Ogbulu, Suicide Prevention Lead at Lancashire and South Cumbria NHS Foundation Trust said: “We have seen a slight decrease in the number of suspected cases of suicide over the past four to five years, which we think is because of improved mental health support and people being encouraged to talk more.

“Starting conversations is important but also is knowing where you can go if you feel yourself in a dark place, struggling to cope and thinking of self-harm.

“While any waiting times are regrettable, we are working with the ICB and other organisations on several fronts to address a number of consequences related to this from a suicide prevention perspective, such as promoting and facilitating safe discharges, the self-harm collaborative and the care people receive after a suicide attempt, while also improving on our data gathering to aid learning which will drive prevention.”

Lancashire Mind delivering suicide prevention training. Pic: Lancashire Mind
Lancashire Mind delivering suicide prevention training. Pic: Lancashire Mind

However, the ‘Orange Button Scheme’ provides people with the skills to ‘listen, support and signpost people in a crisis’ – a lifeline for many.

Esther Stanier was one of the first ‘Orange Button Holders’ in Lancashire, receiving her badge almost five years ago when the scheme was first rolled out.

“You’re able to listen and signpost people, you’re somebody who people know that they’re not going to be judged if they come to you and they’ve got a listening ear.

“I think that’s really important and kind of breaking any stigmas or worries about talking about it, that’s kind of what it means to me. 

“It’s being able to have that conversation with somebody without fear of judgement.”

Read more: Lancashire Mind receive donation of hampers to help those in need

Esther wears her orange button almost every day. She has also taken a two-day mental health first aid training and suicide first aid training, learning that talking is the most important thing.

Esther Stanier one of the first orange button holders. Pic: Blog Preston
Esther Stanier one of the first orange button holders. Pic: Blog Preston

“Just have a conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask people how they’re feeling and if you’re worried about somebody, don’t be afraid to ask if they’re having thoughts of suicide. 

“I think that’s one thing I really learnt on the training. A lot of people think that if you ask that question it’s going to give them the idea. 

“But it’s not, it might really open them up and think actually this is somebody that I can talk to.”

Those who struggle the most to open up are men particularly those under 40, according to Lancashire Mind, and the highest rate of suicides within any industry is construction – a male-dominated workplace. 

However, new statistics showed the population of females struggling with mental health issues is also rising.

Paul and Sharon O’Gara, a couple from Fulwood know the reality of this.

After Mary, a 27-year-old daughter, took her own life in 2020, Sharon and Paul made it their mission to save lives by raising awareness about suicide prevention and are encouraging more people to reach out through the ‘Mary O’Gara Foundation’. 

Mary O’Gara worked for the NHS, with her whole life ahead of her, described as ‘caring, considerate and compassionate.’ However, Mary struggled with depression, an illness which interfered in her life and ultimately took over.

Sharon, Mary’s mother, said: “You always think I mean, we’re probably guilty of this, you just think it’s never going to happen to you. So, why do I need to be bothered, why’s that going to affect me?

“Well, the answer is you never know. And that’s what we’re trying to say to people is, mental health or poor mental health, suicidal thoughts. They don’t discriminate. 

“Young, old, colour, religion, it doesn’t discriminate. Rich or poor or anything.”

Sharon and Paul O'Gara at a suicide awareness event. Pic: Sharon and Paul O'Gara
Sharon and Paul O’Gara at a suicide awareness event. Pic: Sharon and Paul O’Gara

Read more: World Suicide Prevention event running at Preston Bus Station

Not trained in suicide prevention before their experience, Sharon and Paul were unfamiliar with the warning signs, from small throwaway comments such as ‘people are better off without me,’ to giving away possessions. 

However, Mary had a cleaning out session before she took her own life, which on its own does not raise alarm bells, but alongside other signs, was a clear red flag that her parents did not realise until undertaking the training.

Paul said: “There are signs when somebody is thinking of ending their life that are very subtle. 

“That’s really important that we think that everybody, no matter who they are, everybody should have that life skill because one day could save somebody’s life.”

To find out more about the Mary O’Gara Foundation you can visit their website and for more information about the ‘Orange Button Scheme’ you can visit Lancashire Mind.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this story you can visit Lancashire Mind’s website, contact the Crisis Line on 0800 953 0110 or just text ‘HELLO’ to 07860 022846.

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