In its first year, over 1,000 volunteers signed up for a program to support people in Cornwall who are having suicidal thoughts.
The news comes as the county prepares to mark World Mental Health Day on Monday, October 10.
The “Orange Button Community Scheme” was launched last September with the aim of creating a community of advisers who could be approached by anyone struggling with their mental health.
The idea is to make people who have already received training in mental health and suicide prevention more visible to those who need help.
Hundreds of people receive training each year – for example through workplace programs – but there was previously no way for a member of the public to identify who has been trained, and therefore whom to contact for get advice and support.
Wearing a distinctive orange button, these trained volunteers are easily recognized by people having suicidal thoughts wherever they are, for example at work, in shops, pubs, cafes, libraries or simply on the street .
The orange button means that the wearer knows how to listen, is not afraid to hear the word “suicide” and will not judge it. Although they cannot offer advice, they can direct individuals to the right support services.
A year later, a total of 1,092 people have signed up to wear the Orange Button – and in that time have helped dozens of people.
Sophie Alway, an Orange Button wearer from Falmouth, lost her daughter Georgia to suicide in 2020. She then set up the charity Georgia’s Voice which aims to reduce the suicide rate among young women by making them realize that they are not alone.
Sophie said: “I decided to become an Orange Button Carrier so people in difficulty would know that I was a safe person to approach, who would listen without judgment and help point to appropriate support.
“It’s been a positive experience and even though people don’t know what the orange badge is for, they often ask for it, so it often opens up conversations and raises awareness that way.
“I had several people approach me asking for help, and I was able to report them all.”
Sophie remembered one old man in particular who entered her store in a very bad way.
“He was drinking heavily and arrived in tears,” she said. “He had recently lost a loved one to suicide and I mostly listened. He was too overwhelmed at the time to take in information so we agreed he would come back and I would provide some to him in a few days , which he did. I referred him to a local men’s mental health support group, a bereavement support group, and an alcohol abuse charity. A few months later , he came back to say thank you and I barely recognized him! He had bright eyes and a smile on his face, he had access to the right support, was alcohol free and had a job again!”
The Orange Button program is run by Cornwall Council and the NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Integrated Care Board (ICB).
Statistics show that the suicide death rate in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is consistently higher than the national average.
Paula Chappell, Public Health Practitioner and Suicide Prevention Lead with the Cornwall Public Health Team, said:
“It’s great news that so many people have embraced the Orange Button program and we are delighted with its success.
“Each death represents an individual tragedy and a devastating loss for family and friends. The impact also extends to the wider community and all relevant services, with approximately 135 people affected by each suicide. So anything that can help prevent this is extremely important.
Cllr Dr Andy Virr, portfolio holder for adults and public health at Cornwall Council, added:
“In recent years, less than a third of people who die by suicide have had contact with mental health services in the year before their death, underscoring the need for community members to learn skills active listening skills and knowing where to find signage information to share.
“There is still a lot of stigma around suicide and mental health in general, so programs like Orange Button are essential to support people who may be suffering in silence in our communities.
“The more we can break down those barriers and empower people to talk openly and honestly about their feelings, the better for everyone.”
Tim Francis, Associate Director of Strategic Commissioning: Mental Health, Learning Disabilities and Autism at NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly ICB, said:
“It’s really fantastic to see how many people show up for training and then offer to support others who may be struggling or reach out to a conversation.
“It’s an example of an idea becoming reality that represents a tangible commitment to a supportive and caring community. Wouldn’t it be great to see the orange button worn in every village or town and organization, large or small, across our counties of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly? »
For more information, see the Council’s Orange Button webpage.
If you are worried about your own mental health or that of someone else, call the NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly 24/7 Mental Health Response Line on 0800 038 5300. It is free to access by anyone, any age, anytime, day or night.
Visit the Mental Health Council web pages for more information.