In 1995 my beloved niece/sister Julie took a massive overdose and almost died, but thanks to an NHS liver transplant was saved and lived for another 12 years before she passed away in 2008 from complications caused by her initial suicide attempt. My brother-in-law took his life in 1996 and my dear cousin in the US lost her son to suicide in 2017 but they are not my stories to tell. My own mental health has suffered over the years and I have experienced several mental health crises and in 2014 took an overdose and thankfully survived to be able to be with you and share my experiences today.
My professional background is 20+ years as a graphic designer and after an acrimonious job ending and subsequent breakdown in Autumn 2017, I un-shelved an idea I’d had previously to self-publish a magazine aimed at mental health wellbeing and raised the money via crowdfunding. Mindarium Magazine went to print and launched in May 2018 and I distributed almost 1000 copies in my local area (Rhondda Cynon Taf). During that time, I began attending local mental health forums and in March 2018, I was invited to a Samaritans information event. I had also applied to become a Service User Representative for the Local Health Board’s Together 4 Mental Health forums.
I’ve been drawn to suicide prevention from my own experiences, and have learned more about this since I became an Awareness Volunteer for South Wales Valleys Branch of Samaritans in April 2018. I joined their Education Team delivering their DEAL and Self Harm modules, never imagining that I could stand in front of any crowd and speak let alone scary teenagers in a comp! I would also go out to community events and locations handing out leaflets and raising their profile locally and national events such as Pride and the Eisteddfod. When the Working with Compassion toolkit was launched I became involved with outreach and delivering sessions to companies and organisations including the RCTCBC Train the Trainer events with over 300 employees over 10 sessions and I then also became a fully trained emotional support (listening) volunteer in 2020. During and post covid I became more active online and delivered many sessions via teams or zoom.
As a Service User Rep I joined in the then Cwm Taf Suicide and Self Harm forum in Spring 2018 where I have been an active member. I participated in a large stakeholder event prior to the health board merging with Morgannwg and attended and contributed to the forum on a regular basis. I have also served on the Third Sector forum, Co-occuring, Psychological Therapies, Children & Young Persons' and the National (Welsh) Forums. During this time I have contributed to some really great projects including a new Dignity Pledge, Project 34 Stakeholder event, engagement and production of the Welsh Ambulance’s Mental Health Support Leaflets, which I’m told is being used pan Wales.
My experiences from these projects, coupled with the high statistics of suicide by predominantly young men gave me an idea for an unbranded leaflet that I wanted to design and deliver into lifestyle led environments such as tattooists, barbers, gyms, garages and bars where young men went and was able to secure a £1k ICF grant (via Interlink RCT) in December 2019 to produce this. I conducted extensive research, employed a popular local artist to create a ‘relatable’ set of imagery and had finished the bilingual design ready to go to print just before the Covid-19 lockdown. Due to the leaflet distribution being on hold because of of the Covid restrictions, in May 2020 I created an online version of the See Say Signpost leaflet along with service user led video montage found here: www.seesaysignpost.info within the website I created.
During engagement for this project I noticed an issue that kept cropping up about alcohol and cocaine (cocaethylene) with suicide/sudden death and in April (2020) so I put together a survey aimed at finding out more. There were over 820 responses from sharing via my social media pages and an overwhelming commonality between the National Statistics and these findings, which I have since shared with many key organisations and forums in South Wales and the Welsh Assembly Cross Party Group for Suicide. The see say signpost leaflet (inspired by the Zero Suicide Alliance) has since been printed and distributed as planned and I was delighted when Mind CTM rolled out their suicide prevention training to accompany this - true co-production within our community.
I am now the official project coordinator of the Co-alc Alliance that I set up in 2021, initially as a task group, but now with it's own working plan to break down the barriers in creating awareness around recreational cocaine and alcohol use and it's links to suicide. I have full and current DBS certification, with level 2 Safeguarding and level 2 Train the Trainer as well as Mental Health First Aid and ASIST accreditation and a fully trained Samaritans emotional support volunteer.