THOUSANDS of teenagers are receiving specialist help from a local charity to try and stop more young lives being lost to suicide.
For years, the North East has had one of the highest suicide rates in Britain, while nationally, around five young people on average take their own lives every day.
However, suicide awareness workshops are now being offered to around 4,000 Middlesbrough College students to try and “break the cycle”.
Students have discussed the myths and stigmas around suicide at the group sessions, which also feature real stories of locals who tragically took their own lives.
The workshops have been staged by the Stockton-based Headlight Project, which offers education and training alongside counselling and therapy for those bereaved by suicide.
The charity was launched by Catherine Devereux, after her husband and Teesside businessman Russ took his own life in 2018. Claire Cantwell, counsellor and education lead at the Headlight Project said the aim of the workshops was to ensure as many families as possible never go through that same ordeal.
“Suicide claims too many lives in the North East,” said Claire.
“That has to change, and we hope our workshop will really help, as talking openly about suicide will end the taboo around it and hopefully save lives.”
According to Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, around 200 teenagers take their own lives each year.
Worryingly, a British Journal of Psychiatry figures paper that year found seven per cent of British children had attempted suicide by the age of 17.
Amid a significant surge in the number of young lives being lost to suicide, Catherine contacted one of her husband’s old friends Ben Robinson, the college’s new deputy principal and chief executive, to see what could be done to raise awareness around the help and support available to youngsters.
The college then invited the Headlight Project to provide 40 workshops throughout the autumn term. These involve a presentation around the charity’s services alongside eye-catching statistics and case studies highlighting just how serious the problem is locally.
Students have also been given guidance on how to spot signs that someone may be struggling with suicidal thoughts along with signposting to show them where they can get help.
And perhaps most importantly, the teenagers were invited to ask questions and talk openly about what Claire admits can often be an “elephant in the room” – suicide and mental health.
However, the response from both the college and the pupils was “phenomenal”.
“Everyone at Middlesbrough College recognised the need to do something, and there was such a forward-thinking attitude which shows just how serious and committed they are to helping end this problem,” added Claire.
“And the pupils have really been engaged with the sessions, asking brave questions and showing real compassion.
“Ideally we would now like to roll these workshops out to young people across the Tees Valley, as they have given everybody hope that we can improve the outlook around suicide in the North East.”
Andrea McLoughlin, part of the Tees Suicide Prevention Taskforce, echoed the importance of such conversations, and praised the charity and college for encouraging young people to be more open.
She said: “Encouraging conversations around suicide continues to be one of the most important tools in reducing deaths by suicide. In Teesside we follow many nationally observed trends for age, gender etc and while we have seen a steady, slow reduction in deaths by suicide in the region there is still a great deal of work to be done.
“The work being done in Middlesbrough College by Headlight is enabling the young people of Teesside to reach out, have these conversations, have the confidence to seek help if needed and to develop the skills necessary to support their family, friends and peers.”
Emma Betiku Mental Health Lead and Deputy Designated Safeguarding Lead at Middlesbrough College added: “Suicide and mental health is a challenging subject to address, but it is important to raise awareness and educate young people, to normalise difficult emotions and to reach out for support when needed.
“The suicide prevention work we have done with The Headlight Project at Middlesbrough College has positively impacted our students, as they are now more aware about what to do and where to go for support.
“Being able to remove the stigma and create safe spaces for young people will help to lead to a better understanding of mental health issues and prevention of suicide.
“Thank you to The Headlight Project for their support and work which is helping raise awareness and protecting the well-being of our students and community.”