Ahead of mental health awareness week next week, Northern Irish social enterprise Fresh Minds Education celebrated the launch of Connections: Operation Link Life, a training session that aims to raise awareness of mental health and suicide prevention for veterans and their loved ones.
Joined by a range of mental health facilitators from across the country, the afternoon marked the beginning of the bespoke edition of the already established Connections Link Life course which has helped hundreds of people across the five years increase their awareness of mental health and suicide prevention.
As a result of the pandemic, there was a lack of suicide awareness and prevention training which inspired the team at Fresh Minds Education to take on the role and with the help of the Public Health Agency, they became the first company in the UK to bring facilitated suicide prevention training to 1500 people online.
Speaking at the event, CEO of Fresh Minds Education, Practitioner and Director of Connections Link Life Aine Wallace, described the importance of the veteran course in understading the complex topics of emotional health and suicide awareness.
She said: “It was important for me to create something that made space for people to gain information, have an opportunity to have a conversation about the elephant in the room, hear their own voices, be represented, learn skills and be informed with the knowledge of who and what local supports there are in our ever-evolving landscape of service.
“During the pandemic, Fresh Minds Education used that period to innovate our training programme by recording the stories of those experienced by suicide and embedding these stories safely into our programmes. Through film, digital media and online platforms we have demonstrated how even in the most difficult of circumstances we can bring local voice and local experience safely into the room and continue to help people and save lives.
“Developing this course is an important step in the right direction and a valuable piece of the tapestry of interventions that collectively will make life a little better for those of us suffering, in pain and living with a loss of hope.”
Based on the connect 4-ways model, the course empowers participants to act should they ever become concerned about a loved one or colleague and also encourages them to reach out and ask for help themselves.
The afternoon was also attended by BFBS radio presenter Rachel Cochrane, the Connections Link Life 2022 Champion and online facilitator who bravely opened up about her personal journey with mental health: “During my time with the company I have worked at the sharp end broadcasting from Afghanistan for many months working alongside those who fought for our freedom. I believe that we really do have a duty of care to our veterans and their families and I’m absolutely delighted that this course will be available to those who need it.
“Having spent 10 years on antidepressants, struggling with depression and PTSD, I know just how low things can go and how tough it can be for those who love you the most,” she said, adding: “Mental health is an epidemic which is why I’m so proud to champion this programme to make sure regardless of the month, everyday we protect our peace. Having those who recognise the signs and ask the questions others are too scared to ask will without a doubt save lives.”
Also speaking at the event was endurance runner, adventurer and mental health campaigner Sally Orange who spoke candidly about her firsthand experience with suicidal thoughts.
She said: “I rang up Samaritans to ask what was the best way to die. I returned to my parents house for six weeks where I didn’t shower, I didn’t eat. It was a horrific way to live.
“I gradually got better but unfortunately I lost my job as a reserve in the Army. I lost my self confidence and self belief but just two months later the Army Cadet Force asked if I would be their national ambassador, and that gave me a purpose. I would not have believed two years ago that I could be standing here today.”
To mark the lives of those lost from suicide, Her Majesty’s Representative for Antrim Lord Lieutenant David McGorkell and Mayor of Antrim & Newtownabbey Billy Webb were joined by attendees including Sally Orange and Dolores Savage who helped lay a wreath at The Antrim Cenotaph and participated in two minutes of silence led by Robert McCartney from Beyond The Battlefield.
Speaking after the remembrance ceremony, Her Majesty’s Representative for Antrim Lord Lieutenant David McGorkell said: “It’s so important that we do what we can to raise the awareness of the issues facing veterans and the support that is available to them.
“This course has been made specific to those in the veteran community by including veterans and families of veterans. It hopes to empower and inspire meaningful personal action that will help save lives, improve wellbeing, cultivate emotionally healthy practices and break the cycles of trauma. I’m sure it will bring great success to all those who wish to participate.”
Mayor of Antrim & Newtownabbey Billy Webb also took to the stage to congratulate the Fresh Minds Education team.
“There’s a lack of support so it’s good to see a programme like this and I look forward to hearing about the course that’s available” he said.
The event which was funded by Alderman Paul Michael, The Veteran Champion for Antrim and Newtownabbey and Antrim & Newtownabbey Council closed with live music from Antrim Children’s Choir who sang their version of Gary Barlow and the Military Wives powerful song, ‘Sing’.
The all-island charity, Inspire Wellbeing, have commissioned Fresh Minds Education to deliver this programme throughout Northern Ireland and are also supporting the delivery of the ‘train the trainers’ event which will take place next month.
Funding for the launch was sourced from The Antrim Veteran Champion and provided by Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council.
If you are in need of support for emotional distress or suicide please reach out. LifeLine is available 24hrs a day and is free from all phones on 0808 808 8000.
You can also visit Fresh Minds Education Website for additional help and support information go to freshmindseducation.com/connections-resources