Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Week

Choose Life campaign kick starts Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Awareness Week in the Western Isles

This year’s Suicide Prevention Week falls on the 10th –16th September, and for the first time, NHS Western Isles has combined both Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness week.

Last year, four people in the Western Isles took their own lives, leaving a lasting impact on families, friends and communities.

Choose Life is tackling this through its new ‘Read between the lines’ campaign, which calls on everyone to be alert to the warning signs of suicide in people close to them. The message is that if you’re worried about someone, such as a friend, family member or workmate, asking them directly about their feelings can help to save their life.

This campaign acknowledges that signs of suicide can be ambiguous, but encourages people to take all signs of distress seriously, even if the person seems to be living a normal life. It also aims to assure people that asking a person about what’s troubling them can make a positive difference.

Elaine MacKay, NHS Western Isles Choose Life Co-ordinator, said: “You tend to know when someone close to you isn’t quite themselves. So if you notice any changes in their behaviour that worry you – even if the signs come and go – ask them about it.

“You’ll find that talking can help a person get clarity about what it is that’s troubling them, and often gives a sense of perspective. Starting a conversation is half the battle. You don’t need to have an answer to their problems – just be there for them, try to listen carefully without judging, and show that you care.”

She added: “If it feels right, ask if they are thinking about suicide. It won’t put the thought in their head if it wasn’t there before, but it can be a big relief for them to be able to say, ‘yes, I am’ and acknowledge they need help.”

NHS Western Isles is hosting a range of events to mark Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Awareness Week in Lewis, including:

The launch of the new central Samaritans premises on Bayhead in Stornoway, which will be opened on Monday 10th September – World Suicide Prevention Day. NHS Western Isles contributed funds towards the new premises.

A talk given by Linda Nolan, in partnership with the Samaritans, will be held in the Town Hall on Monday 10th September at 7pm in which she will tell her story of surviving breast cancer and her own experience of feeling suicidal.

Film Screenings of “Hidden Gifts: The Story of Angus Macphee” and other mental health films on Tuesday 11th September in An Lanntair in Stornoway at 7pm.

A keynote conference in Lewis with both professional and personal stories of suicide.

As well as this, NHS Western Isles is working to specifically promote Mental Health Awareness. In Uist and Barra, people will be given an opportunity to attend workshops to help their understanding of what mental health is and what can be done to promote positive mental health, whilst also focusing on the stigma and discrimination which surrounds mental ill-health. Helping to increase the community’s awareness of mental health can make a difference, and save lives.

In partnership with Tagsa Uibhist Mental Health Outreach Service, Taigh Chearsabhagh and Comunn Eachdraidh Uibhist a Deas, the events in Uist have a connection to the life and work of Angus MacPhee, the Silent Weaver, who was originally from South Uist, which includes the following events:

· Presentation on ‘The life and work of Angus MacPhee’, followed by a poetry reading based on a collection entitled ‘The Grass’.

· Mental Health Workshop for P7 pupils from Iochdar, Daliburgh and Eriskay School, where they will also have the opportunity to visit the Angus MacPhee exhibition which is now permanently at Kildonan Museum.

· Screening of the ‘Hidden Gifts: The story of Angus MacPhee’ film which will be shown at Taigh Chearsabhagh, followed by a music night, on Friday 14th September to mark the close of the week.

During Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Awareness Week, workplaces in both Lewis and Uist will be signing the ‘see me’ pledge. ‘See me’ is Scotland’s national campaign to end the stigma and discrimination of mental ill-health. By signing the pledge, workplaces are making a public commitment to tackle the stigma experienced by people with mental health problems.

NHS Western Isles Healthy Working Lives Advisor, Norma Macleod, said: “Pledge signing is a public commitment to tackling the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental health problems and it is very encouraging to see workplaces within the Western Isles joining the rest of Scotland in taking this step.”