You can make a difference

There is currently lots of media attention surrounding mental health issues in our society. I have been to a number of mental health conferences and events this year to find out about current thinking and what people are doing within this area of growing concern for all of us; in our personal lives, in our young people’s lives and within our working lives.

One conference in particular stood out;  The Cover Magazine Mental Health Forum event back in March of this year.

This, their first conference with the theme of mental health, kicked off with the ‘Stranger on the bridge’ story.  We heard about how Jonny Benjamin was helped by a complete stranger, Neil Laybourn, who had the compassion and kindness to stop and talk to him whilst he sat on the bridge contemplating suicide.

This Samaritan act stopped Jonny from taking his life that day. 

It started with a simple, single line:  ‘why are you sitting there?’ I found this story moving and inspirational.

Later in the conference, Katharine Moxham gave a presentation on suicide. Rather than providing lots of infographics and data to raise awareness of why we need to provide more support for people who are struggling with their mental health, to the point of taking their own life, she took a different approach.

She talked personally.

She talked about people in her life both directly and indirectly who had taken their own lives.  Every example she gave resonated.  For me, it was the mum who went out to a parent’s evening one day with one child, only to return to find her other child who had stayed at home had taken their life.  As a mum of three children, this was heartbreaking and resonated with me as one of the greatest fears I have: The loss of my child.

Katharine also brought our attention to the work that the Zero Suicide Alliance are doing to support people who are having mental health difficulties and who have thoughts of ending their lives.   The Alliance importantly points out

‘Using the word suicide does not put the idea in someone’s head, it does not make it more likely to happen; and that ‘the feelings that drive suicide are most often temporary’.

They provide a free training programme for everyone to access and I urge to you take a look and learn.  If you have mental health champions in your organisation, share it with them. If you are on linked in or twitter, share it.

I want to end this piece with an insight from another conference.  This time, a conference on behaviour change and digital health run by the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change.  One of the presenters talked about work that they were doing on suicide prevention on the railways and how to help someone who may be thinking about taking their life.

In their short film, we see a woman commenting ‘…Can’t believe this weather…’ in a variety of settings in her life; at a school fete, on a beach getting ice cream and on the football sidelines.  All very normal interactions and day to day chit chat. Easy conversation.  The final scene is her noticing a man on a train platform.  She senses that something isn’t right.  Like Neil, she goes up to him and starts a conversation, one we know she has had a million times before and is easy to say: ‘I can’t believe this weather’.  The message of the campaign is: ‘Small talk saves lives’.  It is a powerful message.

I leave you with this thought:

Don’t be frightened about talking about suicide.  Don’t be worried about going up to someone and starting a conversation. Your actions could just help save a life.


Julie Denning