On World Suicide Prevention Day, Leeds was home to a range of activity as many in the city played their part raising the profile of suicide prevention, mental health stigma and the range of work delivered by organisations across the city to reduce suicide. One event was at St Georges Centre in the heart of Leeds.
At the launch of new grants to fund local third sector community initiatives aimed at men with high risk of suicide, Leeds City Council Chief Executive and mental health champion Tom Riordan picked up on the loneliness agenda in a broad ranging speech. He highlighted the many groups and organisations around the city working to help people with mental health challenges. Mentioning the example of footballer Gary Speed, as an example of someone who seemed to have it all, but was still beset by feelings which he couldn’t put up with, he pointed out that poor mental health and suicide could impact on all parts of society.
He also looked at mental health in the context of leadership and made it clear that he believes demonstrating kindness is really important in an environment where too often a macho culture and social media world of antagonistic and polarised online comment are prevalent.
The council’s other senior mental health champion and executive member responsible for adults and health is Cllr Rebecca Charlwood. She explained how her background – having both worked in mental health, experience of poor mental health and having lost friends through suicide – has underpinned her commitment to the importance of this work for the city.
Leeds has a good record of putting in place suicide prevention work, reflecting the hard work of many people and organisations. At the launch it was good to hear from two people delivering support in the communities evidence shows are most at risk and Damien Dawtrey explained how the Orion Partnership had worked with men at risk, working in the communities and places they live, rather than expecting people to come to them. He also introduced Derek Green, a survivor of a suicide attempt, who explained his experiences, which had led him to leave his work and self-harm. “My brain told me I don’t want to be here anymore,” he said. “I walked out into the road and walked in front of a bus. I was saved by a little old lady who actually dragged me onto the bus I had tried to walk in front of and told me to get help. She saved me.” Derek is a strong advocate for mental health support and suicide prevention – a man making a difference for others in the city informed by his own experience.
As others shared experiences, it was really clear that suicide and depression can be seen in many places and at many times, and no community or social group has a monopoly on them. Equally, as Public Health expert Catherine Ward pointed out, detailed
research into suicide in Leeds had provided clear evidence of factors that increase the risk of suicide. In Leeds we know that middle aged men are at much higher risk of suicide, with four out of five dying being men – a ratio greater than the national figure. As elsewhere, deprived communities are also at risk and a third of those dying because of suicide in Leeds being unemployed.
This is the reason the funding announced today is focussing on areas and communities where the risk of suicide is highest. With other support available for work in other communities, the aim is to try to make a difference where it
will be felt most. It is investment of resources where the problems are worst, with the aim to spread good practice, positive examples and sharing knowledge across the city and beyond.
As the Yorkshire Evening Post pointed out in their editorial praising the grants: “Of course this money won’t stop every tragedy, but if it prevents just one parent, husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend from having to come to terms with the loss of a precious soul, then it will be money well spent.”
The national mood is changing and mental health and suicide are less and less riven by stigma. We can all play our part, look after our mates and make a difference. The funding for these grants can help make a difference too – so if you think there is something they could help to fund, check out the information on Leeds Community Foundation’s website: https://www.leedscf.org.uk/leeds-mens-suicide-prevention-fund/
More information about the Leeds suicide audit and other advice is at: http://bit.ly/LeedsSuicide
Advice and support is available from a range of organisations, including the MindMate website for young people: www.mindmate.org.uk ; the MindWell website for adults: www.mindwell-leeds.org.uk and Leeds’ Survivor-Led Crisis Service charity: http://www.lslcs.org.uk
Details of how suicide is considered in the Director of Public Health’s most recent annual report are available here: https://www.leeds.gov.uk/residents/health-and-social-care/keeping-well-and-healthy/director-of-public-health-annual-report