A grassroots recovery movement and an online mental health group are set to join forces under a new banner to support locals “on a new level”.
Recovery Dundee and Let’s Talk Tayside will come together to form Let’s Talk Recovery, helping those in recovery from addiction with a friendly and supportive social network.
RD co-founder Sharon Brand, LTT founder Ashley Bonini and personal trainer Mikie McCash hope to give those in the throes of recovery newfound physical and mental wellbeing – and a new network of friends.
Sharon co-founded Recovery Dundee in 2016 to give those dealing with addiction a source of hope to combat the associated mental health issues and loneliness that it can bring.
She later brought Mikie on board to provide free fitness sessions for those in recovery.
Ashley, meanwhile, founded Let’s Talk Tayside as an online group in which people could talk about their mental health openly, drawing on her experience as a student mental health nurse.
Since October last year, LTT’s membership has grown to more than 3,700 members.
Sharon said: “For the last seven months Mikie and I have been in touch with Ashley – we know mental and emotional health are very important so it made sense to come together.”
Ashley added: “It’s the missing link – and together we can try to help as many people as we can.”
The merger of the groups comes after the Dundee Drugs Commission published its report into local services in August.
That report, the result of 18 months of evidence gathering, interviews and both public and private meetings, found there was “a lack of mental health support for those who experience problems with drugs”.
As part of its recommendations, the Commission called on health chiefs to merge drug and mental health treatment, essentially treating them as one issue.
Let’s Talk Recovery’s aims are similar but the group is fiercely proud of its independence rooted in the communities that Sharon, Mikie and Ashley have built up.
Much of what the groups do on a day-to-day basis will not change – the “recovery cafe” nights at Beans and Berries will continue, as will Ashley’s organised group walks.
Sharon added: “We’ve got three years of working in the community and our own personal experience of recovery, of physical health, everything – we all have experience in what we’re working with.
“Coming together means strength in numbers and we can reach more people, and be taken more seriously.
“A community from which people can hear how they got off drugs or improved their mental health, that’s what recovery is about – that lived experience.
“You can’t have that if you are stuck in the system – it’s about feeling you can tackle it yourself.”
Mikie said: “Bringing all three of us together is one massive driving force. We all know what to do – we just need people to let us get on with it.
“We’ve tried it, tested it – what I do, what Sharon does, what Ashley does – but this will be on a level not done before.
“If people feel good, they can keep themselves on the right track – and our job is done.”
A young mum struggling with crippling depression has launched a campaign to spread love and kindness throughout the city.
Sophie McCutcheon, 23, from Lochee, plans to leave dozens of inspirational notes.
She began her project, called Love from a Stranger, last week and she will continue to leave random notes around the city on a weekly basis.
Sophie said: “Love from a Stranger is a project that is close to my heart and hopefully I’ll find some of my own happiness and hope from it.
“Every week I’ll be leaving handwritten notes with inspirational and kind messages on them around Dundee for people who need them the most, in the hope that they realise that they are not alone and there is more to our lives than the darkness.”
She added: “I often wish people were kinder to those surrounding them, especially children, whether they know them or not. I wish people were more supportive of one another, then perhaps we would be kinder to ourselves in adulthood.”
Sophie said she knows a lot of other people also struggle with their mental health and they don’t always feel like anyone understands what they’re going through.
She said “It’s for that reason I decided to introduce Love from a Stranger – it’s amazing how just a little note of kind words and encouragement can make a huge difference to someone’s life.”
Sophie said that among her messages were “be kind to yourself, you deserve it” and “never give up on yourself”.
“It would be great to find out if the note made a difference to someone’s day, life or mindset, and whether they kept it or passed it on to someone else.”
Sophie’s project began as a result of her own 10-year battle with depression and anxiety.
She recently began her blog The Devious Mind which she hopes will be her own place of sanctuary that could help others.
Sophie Parkinson was found dead at her home in Liff, near Dundee, in 2014 having taken her own life.
She had been seeking help from local mental health services from the age of seven.
Ruth Moss, mother of the High School of Dundee pupil, blames NHS Tayside for her death and is privately suing the health board in parallel to the inquiry.
A hearing was held at Dundee Sheriff Court today at which lawyers for the Crown, Mrs Moss, NHS Tayside and the High School of Dundee had been expected to agree dates in January for the inquiry to take place.
However, Sheriff Lorna Drummond was asked for more time to call expert witnesses and prepare joint minutes of agreement and matters of dispute so the inquiry proceeds at pace.
Sheriff Drummond chose to set a further preliminary hearing – the third so far – for January 16, and instructed parties to agree witnesses and a timeline of events for that date.
She told the lawyers present: “I want to make sure we get a firm grip of this inquiry.”
Following the hearing, Mrs Moss said: “It has been postponed, but it has been postponed for the right reasons. This absolutely needs to be done right.
“I would like to make sure that everyone has a chance to be heard. If that takes a little bit longer – it does seem like a very long wait – hopefully we will get the answers in the end and there will be some real changes from it as well.
“That’s my hope for the end of it. I have nothing else to say.”
The full inquiry is expected to take place in the spring, over the course of at least five days.
Tay Road Bridge bosses will look again at ways of adding suicide prevention measures to the crossing.
Councillor Stewart Hunter said he was prepared to once more raise concerns with fellow board members over people heading to the bridge in times of crisis.
The move is in response to criticism from mental health campaigner Phil Welsh, whose son Lee took his own life in 2017.
Mr Welsh had accused bridge bosses of putting money before lives, after Tay Road Bridge chairwoman Lynne Short claimed an engineers’ report showed the “cost and inconvenience” of installing barriers was too prohibitive.
Mr Hunter, who preceded Ms Short as chairman, then wrote a letter to the Tele saying that finance “has never been a consideration with regards to adding barriers”.
He said: “The issue is that the bridge cannot support the additional weight and therefore it would compromise the integrity of the structure.”
In a letter to Mr Hunter, Mr Welsh said: “I would like to be provided with the commissioned engineering report which states that barriers cannot be put in place as this may compromise the structural integrity of the bridge.
“I would appreciate that at the next board meeting there is a very specific discussion in regard to what provision can be put in place as a means to deter people in crisis presenting themselves on the wrong side of the walkway.
“A view from engineers will simply not suffice.
“The public is demanding a commissioned survey to determine if remedial work can be carried out to strengthen the bridge, which in turn would enable physical deterrents to be installed.”
Mr Hunter said: “I will raise the issues again at the next meeting of the Tay Bridge Board.”
Statistics released by the Government reveal an increase in the number of under 18s taking their own lives, fuelling calls for bold action.
Labour MSP Monica Lennon: “It is tragic and deeply worrying that so many children and young people have ended their lives in Scotland in recent years. Specialist youth mental health services are badly under-resourced.”
The NHS recently revealed 784 probable suicides in 2018 – a 15% rise compared to the previous years.
In the same twelve month period, suicides among those in the 15-24 age category soared by 50%.
However, these were one year figures and new data published this week drills down even further.
In 2014, ten under 18s completed suicide, but the total has steadily climbed and reached 26 in 2018 – a five year high.
The same information shows a near 25% rise between 2014 and 2018 in suicide among 18-24 year olds, from 59 to 75.
It comes after a Glasgow University study found that one in nine young people in Scotland have attempted suicide and one is six has self-harmed.
In June, it also emerged that the number of young people waiting more than a year for a specialist mental health service had more than trebled within 12 monthS.
Nearly 120 children and young people waited more than 53 weeks to be seen in the first three months of 2019.
Lennon added: “SNP Ministers have been warned repeatedly that vulnerable young people are falling through the cracks.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s government has made good commitments on mental health and suicide prevention; however, warm words are meaningless if education, youth services and the NHS are not getting enough investment.”
Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone said: “It’s absolutely distressing to see suicide among young people at its highest level in five years. Each of these deaths has had a devastating impact on others and the wider community.
“For all the rhetoric on this, we still haven’t shifted the conversation enough onto prevention. The figures on self-harm should act as a warning sign, and we clearly need more early interventions, which would also reduce the pressure on acute services too.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It’s heartbreaking when anyone takes their own life.
“We are working tirelessly with partners to improve mental health services for young people, including those who have considered suicide or been bereaved by it. It is an area that the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group is focusing on and we are working with COSLA to implement their recommendations.
“We are developing new community wellbeing support services, which will initially be for five to 25 year olds.“Actions to improve peer support in schools and teacher training are being worked on, along with 24/7 crisis support for children and young people and their families.“We are also investing in mental health support for students. That will see over 80 additional counsellors in further and higher education over next four years, with £20 million investment.”
A grieving dad who lost his son to suicide has accused Tay Road Bridge bosses of putting “cost and inconvenience” before lives.
Phil Welsh, whose son Lee took his own life in 2017, has called for suicide prevention measures on the bridge.
But he was told barriers could not be installed due to the huge expense and significant traffic disruption the work would cause.
Phil, who is also campaigning for a 24/7 refuge centre in Dundee, said: “Every other day there are reports of people being present on the bridge and we are all very clear what their intentions are.
“I got in touch with Councillor Lynne Short, chairwoman of the Tay Road Bridge Board, and received a response which left me very concerned.”
In an email to Phil, seen by the Tele, Ms Short said engineering consultants had been approached last year about the implications of installing barriers.
“It is estimated that full design costs would be in the order of £250,000, with actual construction costs in the order of £8 million,” Ms Short wrote.
“To strengthen and install the barriers would be hugely disruptive and take in the order of one year, with the bridge reduced to single-lane traffic for this time (six months per side).
“It should also be noted that while such work might deter someone intent on harming themselves, it would in no way guarantee that they would not be able to.”
Phil accused officials of putting money before human life.
He said: “It would appear changes could be put in place to prevent people climbing over on to the other side of the walkway, but cost and inconvenience appear to supersede crisis.
“The saving of a single life should supersede these factors.”
Speaking to the Tele, Ms Short said: “We take the welfare of every bridge user, especially those who are vulnerable or in crisis, extremely seriously. Every single suicide is a human tragedy.
“We are acutely aware the Tay Road Bridge has become a focal point for people in crisis.
“The bridge manager and his team are dedicated to supporting vulnerable people who present at the bridge, backed by investment in new cameras in 2017 and a thorough training programme for all staff.
“Although bridge availability has been affected on many occasions to allow staff and police to deal with incidents, actual suicides are rare.
“Bridge staff regularly attend suicide prevention meetings to discuss how we all might contribute to suicide reduction across the region, and act on any new initiatives that are applicable to the bridge.
“Any physical measures introduced to the bridge have to be effective and while these might deter someone intent on harming themselves, it would in no way guarantee they would not be able to.
“What is critical is that people who are having suicidal thoughts have someone or somwhere they can turn to when these thoughts become overwhelming so that they do not get to the point of acting on them.”
Superintendent Graeme Murdoch of Police Scotland told the Tele that in the three months to the end of September this year, officers responded to 60 reports of concern for people on the bridge.
Last year, the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board published a Q&A explaining why suicide prevention measures had not been installed, saying barriers were “not practical” due to the 52-year-old structure being unable to support the additional weight.
Suicide in Scotland is at a five-year high with three times more men than women taking their lives last year. Families from two former industrial towns, Motherwell and Wishaw, speak about losing brothers, sons and partners.
It was a blustery February afternoon when Yvonne Welsh shut the door of her Motherwell home. She had gone to run errands and had left one of her three sons, Lloyd, playing video games in his bedroom.
Having been away for no more than 40 minutes, Yvonne returned to an unusually quiet house. “I shouted up to Lloyd that I’d got a McDonald’s. I texted him. He didn’t reply. He always had his phone on him. I shouted on him. No reply.”
Moments later she discovered her son was dead.
The 22-year-old had taken his life in the family home but had given no warning and had left no note.
Lloyd’s parents and brothers try to remember the smiling young man who would play practical jokes, and not the boy who retreated into himself in the last year of his life.
Yvonne says she sometimes feels angry and guilty but mostly she feels sad that her son could not come to her. “Lloyd doesn’t know what he’s done to this family,” she says.
The death has had a profound impact on Jordan, Lloyd’s 26-year-old brother. He is a standout player for local amateur football team Motherwell Thistle, a club which has been scarred by suicide.
‘I know that he loved me’
In 2017, Thistle player John Fowler killed himself. It was the beginning of a number of suicides connected to the team. In August last year, the team’s goalkeeper Paul Gerard Aiton – or PG, as he was known – killed himself at home.
When the team lifted a trophy at the end of the season, they wore black armbands bearing his name. His family – including an infant daughter PG would never meet – watched from the stands.
Like Lloyd, PG gave no warning. His mother Catherine says she feels “angry, embarrassed and ashamed of him”, but she still loves him.
“I love him to bits, it’s unconditional. It’s so hard, knowing you’re never going to see him again – ever.”
When PG died, his partner Naomi was three months pregnant.
It was “brilliant” when Faith was born, says Naomi. She adds: “But at the same time when I was in the hospital I was thinking, ‘where is he?’.
“And his family, you could see that they were visibly upset because everybody’s thinking ‘he should be here’. It does make you question – especially when we used to talk about the future – it does make you question if it was all a lie, but, I know that it wasn’t. I know that he loved me and he would have never hurt me.”
Motherwell Thistle, like each of the families, is having to cope with the grief of suicide. Four young men who are linked to the club have killed themselves in the past two years.
Margaret McMillan, the club’s secretary, said she felt she had lost sons. With so much sadness surrounding the team, there have been times she has contemplated giving it up. “But I’ve got 18 other guys on this team that you can’t give up on. You’ve just got to keep going, and try and do your best, and that’s all we can do.”
Are you struggling to cope?
Call Samaritans free on 116 123 (UK and Ireland) or visit the Samaritans website to find details of the nearest branch. Samaritans is available round the clock, every day of the year. Mind has a confidential telephone helpline – 0300 123 339 (Monday-Friday, 9am-6pm).
In Wishaw, three miles east of Motherwell, there have been more deaths – Daryl O’Rourke (17); Stephen Mearns (19); Callum Dunne and his friend Murray (both 16) all killed themselves within a seven-week period in the spring of 2018.
Some of the boys were friends, others knew of each other and, like Lloyd and PG, none gave any warning.
They left behind families, friends and a community still asking why so many young lives were lost in this way and so close together.
“It felt as if there was one suicide after another,” said Shannon Brown, the sister of Callum.
On 23 May 2018, a front page of the Wishaw Press featured three black-and-white photographs of Murray, Callum and Stephen, with the headline “Why?”.
“Enough is enough,” it declared. “We need to talk about suicide.”
Motherwell and Wishaw sit in Scotland’s central belt, 20 miles east of Glasgow and 40 miles west of Edinburgh. They were towns built on a powerful industrial base of coal mines and steel works. All are gone.
Ravenscraig steel plant, on the border of the two towns, was once the busiest steel-maker in Western Europe employing more than 10,000 people. Now it’s one of the continent’s largest brownfield sites.
Lloyd’s brother Jordan plays home games for Motherwell Thistle at the new sporting complex near the site, which is named after Ravenscraig.
The area has been in economic decline and it wears the signs – shuttered shop fronts and pawn shops offering to buy gold.
BBC Suicides in Scotland
5,286Total number of deaths
73%Suicide deaths were male
47%Aged 35-54 when they died
73%Single, widowed or divorced
67%Employed at the time of death
Source: National Statistics
NHS research suggests suicide is three times more likely among those living in the most economically deprived areas than in the least deprived, and more likely to occur in areas which have experienced deindustrialisation.
Three quarters of people who kill themselves in the UK are men. In Scotland, which has the highest suicide rate in Britain, more than half of those who died in this way last year were under 45.
When Scotland recorded a five-year high of 784 suicides in 2018, one of the striking aspects of the data was the 50% rise in deaths of those aged under 24.
BBC Scotland’s Disclosure studied 845 death records of those under 50 in Motherwell and Wishaw over a 10-year period from 2008 to 2018. There were at least 72 suspected suicides.
The number of those aged 25 and under who killed themselves in these years remained low, with one or two a year. However, that number rose to seven last year, the year that Murray, Callum, Stephen and Daryl died.
‘I felt guilt that I couldn’t save my son’
Anne Rowan’s son Christopher killed himself in 2011. After struggling to come to terms with his death for a number of years, she founded a charity in his name, Chris’s House.
Occupying an old bank building at the foot of Main Street, it is a crisis centre offering 24-hour direct support and counselling to those at risk or bereaved by suicide, the first of its kind in Scotland.
According to Anne, it is a vital service for those in need in the area, helping hundreds of people since being established in 2015. And it’s getting busier. “In one month, we had 948 counselling hours,” she said.
“Through Christopher dying, I felt such a failure, really overwhelming guilt that I couldn’t save my son. I just knew that there had to be something to bridge the gap from people just getting a prescription and having a [NHS] waiting time. I just knew there had to be something immediate.”
The “whole aim” of Chris’s House is to stop people dying from suicide, something Anne says is “everyone’s business”. “You know you’re halfway there when they’ve come through the door,” said Anne.
“I don’t envisage that we will obliterate or eradicate it. It would be nice if we could minimise it to the point where the NHS can deal with the suicide rate on their own, that we didn’t need the charities, but I don’t think we’ll ever see that.”
Few of these young men were in touch with mental health services prior to their deaths. Getting this cohort to come forward and ask for help remains a major challenge. If services don’t know someone is in crisis, how can they help them?
The issue of suicide has seeped into the local consciousness – the press coverage, the charity football matches and the online tributes.
Locals share messages on social media about mental health and the Wishaw Press campaign continues.
Dr Alastair Cook, a consultant psychiatrist for NHS Lanarkshire, believes it is important to recognise that suicide is “an extremely rare event”.
“But it generates a huge amount of fear within the community around what might be happening with our young people.”
He thinks the ability of social media to influence the way communities respond to suicide means there is much more awareness around young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
And for Dr Cook that awareness is a “double-edged sword”. “I think awareness is actually a good thing, provided awareness doesn’t then generate fear. And it’s how we help people to understand that, I think is really important.”
Motherwell FC has become the first Scottish Premiership club to display suicide prevention messaging on its shirts – such is its proximity to the issue. It has made social media videos featuring its first team and partnered with the local council to promote awareness among fans who include those most likely to kill themselves – men in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
According to the Fir Park club’s chief executive, Alan Burrows, at least 24 of its supporters have taken their lives in the last two years. Lloyd Welsh, a diehard fan, was one of them.
“We have examples of the football club where we have managed to stop something tragic happening. The problems that you have, we can get you help. We can speak to people, we can put you through to the right people. And that’s the message that we’re trying to drive as a football club.”
Football is woven through this story. Many of the young men who’ve died not only played the sport, but football was seemingly a central pillar of their identity. But has something grown up around the culture of football and the way that it’s consumed that’s perhaps detrimental to young men’s mental health?
Match days consist of watching the game, but also often of excessive drinking, drug taking and smartphone gambling either side of it, all of which can be key drivers of mental ill-health.
Burrows, though, sees the sport as a positive. “I see football as the way that people can come and forget their problems, have that release. Have time with their friends and family, to talk to people if they need help.”
In May this year, hundreds of people walked through the night along the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow in memory of friends and loved ones they had lost to suicide. The annual Walk of Hope event also raised funds for Chris’s House. Jordan Welsh was among those who walked until the sun rose, as was Naomi Foster Aiton.
All the participants were invited to light candles for their loved ones, and many lined up to throw yellow roses from a bridge into the river, the petals floating across the black glassy surface in the first light of that misty morning.
This is not a story about those who have gone. Instead, this is a story about those who are left behind and how they have chosen to try to come to terms with their loved one’s deaths.
Catherine wants to stop other boys being lost to suicide. And she has a message to those who find themselves in crisis: “Step back, take five minutes, think about what you’re doing to the people who love you.
“Think about what you’re doing to your mum. Do you want your mum to be like me? Even if you don’t feel as if you love yourself, somebody does.
A dad who lost his son to suicide has insisted more must be done to help those in crisis.
Phil Welsh, whose son Lee took his own life, has been campaigning for a 24/7 refuge centre for the past two years.
But as of yet, there is still no facility in place in Dundee – something Phil insists can’t go on.
People are suffering from mental health issues across the city on a daily basis, with Police Scotland stats revealing the force has dealt with dozens of incidents where people have contemplated taking their own life in the past three months.
There have been 60 incidents on the Tay Road Bridge alone over that period and Phil said more must be done to help those in need.
He said: “It’s very concerning that so many people get so desperate they find themselves contemplating suicide.
“We should be providing somewhere for people to turn to when they feel suicidal, so they don’t end up in that situation.
“Something needs to change so people having a mental health crisis can have immediate access to support.”
According to Superintendent Graeme Murdoch, based in Dundee, there are still too many people who think taking their own life is their only option.
When an incident is called in at the Tay Road Bridge, a full emergency operation is launched with police, the ambulance service, the Broughty Ferry lifeboats and the coastguard all called upon to assist.
He said: “The numbers are too high.
“In my opinion if one person goes to the bridge when they are desperate and feeling suicidal that is too high.
“Half of the 60 calls led to some form of police intervention because they were giving serious cause for concern. Nine of those people were on the wrong side of the barrier and three had to be rescued from the water.”
Supt Murdoch said that the police were usually the frontline when dealing with someone in this level of crisis.
To give the police negotiators the space and peace to talk to the person in difficulty they are often forced to close the bridge.
But Supt Murdoch shared the harsh reality of the issues dealt with by police dealing with the incidents – with some heckling police as well as those in need during tailbacks.
He said: “We have officers trained for this and they find themselves negotiating with the person in difficulty.
“Our priority is to save a life and if that means the bridge is closed then it will be.
“Officers often can’t approach the person too closely and with the traffic noise added to the weather on the bridge it can just be too noisy.
“Sadly and unbelievably we have also had instances of passers-by shouting to the person just to jump.”
She said: “We should be picking up on early signs and using interventions such as anxiety and depression management.
“Exercise and music therapy could be used more.
“Not every one needs medication for mental health.
“First of all we should be trying to use our own skills to de-escalate these feeling or thoughts, or having a nurse or support worker going through different coping strategies and promoting person-centred empowerment to give people hope.”
Five years on and no closer to diagnosis
Leanne, 37, from Menzieshill contemplated taking her own life but, through support from services and those around her, she managed to come out the other side.
At her lowest, it proved to be a conversation with a colleague which was the intervention she needed.
But Leanne, a civil servant, has admitted to being no further forward in getting the help she needs to get better.
She said: “I have been going back and forward to the doctor and to mental health centres in Dundee for the past five years.
“I’m still no nearer to having an official diagnosis of my condition.
“Four different professionals have given my possible condition from being bipolar to having ADHD or a borderline personality disorder.
“However, two weeks ago I left the doctor no further forward and I was definitely having suicidal thoughts.
“I felt suicidal, however I ended up speaking to my boss who was fantastic.
“If he hadn’t been there for me I could well have ended up on the bridge in a desperate bid to try to get the help I know I need.”
An NHS spokeswoman said: “Each suicide is a tragedy and the impact on those left behind lasts a lifetime.
“Anyone can become suicidal; the reasons can be different and very complex and it is not always due to mental illness.
“If people are feeling suicidal, the best thing to do is talk and tell someone how they are feeling. Speak to someone you can trust or call a helpline.
“If you’re worried that someone else is suicidal, ask them – asking someone directly about their feelings can help them.”
A Menu for Change has produced a report which contains heart-breaking stories of poverty
A major new report on the causes of food insecurity in Scotland has found that inadequate and insecure incomes are key triggers in causing people to turn to emergency food aid.
A Menu for Change’s report Found Wanting is the result of sustained engagement with people facing food insecurity in Scotland and is the first research of its kind. It identifies key failings in the system, with opportunities to prevent food insecurity being missed.
The report reveals the deep physical, psychological and social impacts on individuals and families of food insecurity and, critically, identifies the various shocks to people’s income which can cause them to become unable to afford food, as well as other essentials.
A Menu for Change – an innovative partnership between the Poverty Alliance, the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, Oxfam Scotland and Nourish – says the findings can help ensure better support to help stop people from reaching crisis.
While the researchers found that people who are food insecure find great support from informal networks, as well as from housing, education and health providers, they are keen to emphasise the need for system change so that people benefit from early intervention and therefore do not reach crisis point.
The report highlights the importance of a wide range of services in preventing food insecurity and is released ahead of a major meeting of stakeholders in Glasgow today (Wednesday), where it will be presented to the Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, Aileen Campbell MSP.
John Dickie, A Menu for Change board member, said: “The deeply personal stories captured in this report are as a heart-breaking as they are avoidable and bring into sharp focus how we must do so much more to protect people from the income crises which fuel food insecurity and hunger.
“The social security system is failing even as a safety net to support people who experience a shock to their income, meaning that insecure employment or changes to personal circumstances, like a bereavement, too often push people into needing emergency food aid.
“Low wages, combined with zero hours contracts and long delays in accessing key benefits, are tightening the grip of poverty and stopping people from building up their resilience to day-to-day shocks.
“The mental and physical tolls of going hungry are often extreme, and further dent people’s resilience to the challenges of inadequate and insecure incomes. “
The report makes a number of recommendations for the UK and Scottish Governments, local authorities, public bodies and employers, including: restoring the value of key benefits and then uprating them in line with inflation, removing the five-week wait for Universal Credit (UC), and abolishing both the benefit cap and two-child limit.
It also wants to see the National Living Wage increased to the Real Living Wage, better support for people who develop mental and physical ill-health to remain in work, as well as a ban on exploitative zero-hours contracts, and compliance with agreed minimum standards of employment amongst employers and recruitment agencies.
Emergency help from the Scottish Welfare Fund (SWF) provided valued cash support to just over half the interviewees when facing income crisis, but the report also highlights the need for additional investment and learning from best practice to strengthen the Fund as an effective safety net.
Overall, the report emphasises the need to improve incomes to stop people from reaching the crisis point where the need to turn to emergency support.
Insecurity is fuelling poverty
Researchers tracked individuals from Dundee, East Ayrshire and Fife, the three local authorities where the project runs, over the course of a year. Participants stressed the importance of being treated with dignity. The findings show that delays in receiving UC payments, insecure income from zero-hours contracts and shift work, combined with personal crisis, like bereavements, all caused participants to turn to foodbanks.
• One woman, a lone parent with two disabled sons, told how she lost her Personal Independence Payment, her son’s Disability Living Allowance was downgraded, and her Carer’s Allowance withdrawn. Her son then attempted suicide, before her PIP was reinstated and she received a higher rate of DLA. She told researchers: ‘I’ve felt suicidal more times than I’ve had hot dinners and that’s no joke’.
• Another woman described going seven weeks without receiving shifts via her zero hours contract cleaning job, then left her job and faced a seven week wait for her UC payment. She fell into rent arrears and, despite securing a 16 hour a week job at a petrol station, had to take out a UC loan to pay for new glasses to do her job, and was forced to use taxis to get home from late shifts, which meant she could not afford to eat.
• A man who lives alone with his 18-year-old son said he felt ‘punished’ for being in temporary employment. He described being pushed from a six-month job to a two-week job and a three-month job, during which period he got a UC cheque for one pence, and went on to face a nine-week wait for a UC payment, and relied on a SWF award. He said: “I just wish I could get
a full-time job, you know, where it was permanent rather than temp. It’s all just temporary jobs at the moment so it’s not my fault that this happened. It’s contract ending. I’ve no’ been sacked, I’ve no’ walked oot the job or anything… but I’m being punished.”
Michael Alexander hears how a Dundee mental health project is using World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 as the launch pad for new films about hope.
Daniella James has never wanted to commit suicide – but there have been times when she simply wished she wasn’t alive.
Born in Aberdeen and brought up in the Borders, the 25-year-old Stirling University international politics graduate, who now works in HR and payroll for Edinburgh City Council, suffered a nervous breakdown last year and had no choice other than to move back home with her mum – a woman with her own history of depression.
However, as Daniella speaks out to help raise awareness of mental health issues around this year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, she says she wishes she’d spoken to someone about her problems sooner instead of being “isolated to the point of despair” and reaching crisis point.
“There’s not an event in my life I can put my mental health issues down to,” she said in an interview with The Courier.
“It was probably just the pressure of writing my dissertation in my last year at university, possibly not looking after myself.
“I kind of suppressed those feelings during that year because I had too much to do and didn’t even think about it or even want to acknowledge the fact that things were going on. I put on a brave face.
“It was probably after I graduated and the transition from being a student and being part of an institution and then being chucked out into the world and being on your own and not really knowing what to do – that is probably when I said ‘oh, wait a minute’… By that time I was in a crisis.”
Happier and healthier than before, Daniella says she is now more into “self-help” than using mental health services. She came off medication after deciding it “wasn’t for me” and thinks the “blow out” of her nervous breakdown has helped her stay positive.
But another way she is helping to give hope to others is through her support of a ground-breaking mental health film and national roadshow that launched in Dundee.
As previously reported by The Courier, the project, titled Foolish Optimism, focused on the harsh realities of three mental health sufferers and explored mental health triggers, stigma, seeking help and coping mechanisms.
Initiated by young people, and aiming to carry a message of hope, the project was brought to life by Dundee Hilltown-based arts, education and social care charity Front Lounge, who attracted funding from the Year of Young People National Lottery Fund and Life Changes Trust.
Daniella was part of the original working group that went on a residential before the film was shown to anyone and came up with a plan for touring workshops across Scotland. The aim was to “change the conversation” around mental health and build trust about speaking out.
Now, in a bid to explore the positive steps young people can take to feel better and manage their conditions more effectively, Daniella features in a follow-up film being released on Monday September 9 – the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day – the first of six new films in the run up to World Mental Health Day on October 10.
Entitled ‘Things to Live For’, the film captures Daniella and her friend Andrew Compston having an everyday chat about their strategies to ‘keep going’ and the opportunities to stay positive in everyday life.
“I think the axis now for Foolish Optimism is looking for something to move forward with looking at hope,” said Daniella.
“The first part of Foolish Optimism – the first film – was really honestly quite bleak. “That was a good conversation starter and gave people a little zap to talk about things. “This kind of thing now is about actually trying to help yourself, your friends, your family – just anything that’s going to give us anything to hold on to.”
Daniella said her film was “literally just a video podcast”.
She said: “Me and my friend in a coffee shop just talking about our mental health, but in a fairly light-hearted manner. We still talk about things that are fairly heavy but nothing in comparison to the first Foolish Optimism film. It actually seems to be more of a positive conversation – it’s not a talking heads film, put it that way.”
Daniella said the main message she wanted to come from the latest film is “how do you have a conversation with your friends and family about something so tragic without it causing hysteria”?
“Sometimes you just need to vocalise things that are happening in your mind,” she said. “There needs to be a kind of understanding that you feel a certain way when 8/10 of your pals probably feel that way too. That doesn’t mean people need locked up in a psychiatric ward or given medication!”
The other area where Daniella thinks society has a lot of work still to do is with regards preventative mental health.
“Everything that happens now is just reactive,” she said. “We are waiting until people get to the point where they are having a personal crisis and reacting to that.
“I’m not sure in the point of that because it’s already done or you’ve gotten to the point where you are ready to kill yourself.
“If there was a greater understanding of why people might feel that way in the first place and where pressures in life are coming from, a lot of these issues could be avoided.”
Dundee man Marc Ferguson will feature on a later film to be released on September 23.
The 30-year-old information technology professional is the voice of ‘Hope in Action’ which also gives practical tips on how to be hopeful, aimed at those who struggle to envisage life changing or improving.
A negative experience in a former workplace led him into what he describes as a ‘downward spiral’ in both his mental health and general self-care and, although he is in a better place, he remains ‘in recovery’.
Viewing himself as a ‘methodical’ thinker and a ‘problem solver’, Marc believes that taking a practical, and not just emotional approach, can make a huge difference to those struggling with mental health, and has created a framework around three main themes: Firstly, identify what you are hopeful for, then feel, reflect and react and, finally, pay it forward.
Marc said: “I decided to build my film around hope and how to introduce or reclaim it into your thought process.
“The first stage is identifying what your dreams and goals are, and setting incremental goals so you can gradually work towards them. What do you want to achieve? Where do you want to be?
“The middle stage is about reacting to and reflecting on failure, an inevitable part of goal setting!
“Acknowledging how you feel when you hit a low point is crucial because repressing these emotions can create a whole load of new problems.
“It’s then about reacting, turning hope into action, not just an emotion, taking the step that’s required to try and reach that goal, however small that step is. After all, nothing will change if you don’t take action.
“The last stage is about refining your outlook based on changing circumstances and learning lessons from previous failures. You can then use these experiences to help others in your community and social circles – hope is contagious and you can really help your friends and others you come into contact with by sharing your experiences.
“In my opinion and from my experience, if everyone could take these steps, mental health wouldn’t have reached the crisis point that it has reached today.”
The films have been made by Nathan Inatimi, supported by Jack Stewart, Shona Inatimi and Andrew Brough all part of The Aperture Project, also a Front Lounge initiative with support from Sonia Napolitano, Elixabele Riley, Rhian Malcolm and Ailsa Purdie.
*For more information, and to watch the first and future films, go to https://www.foolishoptimism.org
For support in dealing with mental health issues visit https://www.mindfulnessscotland.org.uk/ , https://www.samaritans.org/ or https://habitica.com/static/home