West Belfast Mental Health Center on suicide prevention services available to the community

Seeing the turnaround of people coming through the Belfast doors of West Wellbeing, in terms of mental health and wellbeing, is what drives Desy Jones (57) to keep doing what he does as director of care services.

West Wellbeing is a community mental health center,” says Desy. “We are primarily a suicide prevention charity, but the role we are trying to promote is early intervention, early prevention. We have a number of clients who have come forward in a suicide crisis, but we try to get as many people as possible before we even get to that.

“My role here is to oversee all care services we provide, constantly updating and staying current with our policies and protocols, working hand-in-hand with our Care Team Leader to provide and maintain the level of service we provide to the public.”

The organization started operations just seven months ago in the Colin area of ​​west Belfast, providing support services to reduce the suicide rate and help improve mental health and wellbeing in the community.

It provides a safe space where people can benefit from counseling and friendship services, as well as a range of tailor-made training programmes. At its heart are co-founders Desy Jones and Gerard Mallon, and care team leader Karen Fegan.

“We opened on November 8 of last year, and there was myself, Gerard and Karen, and a counsellor,” says Desy.

“We now have 32 advisers and eight friends. The position we’re in now, since we opened our doors — we’re two and a half years, three years ahead in services, but two and a half years, three years behind in finances to sustain services — and it turns out to be quite difficult.

“Befriending is different from counselling. It is aimed at people who are not ready for advice, or those who have had advice before, or people with certain mental health conditions or conditions, which means it is not ideal to place them in council. So they just came over and talked to a friend.

“We would have a number of families who have just lost someone to suicide, so they’re not in that free space to go to counseling and it’s not ideal for them, but they’re still in shock and traumatized and all the rest. They would come to a friend and unload their feelings of the here and now, rather than doing that digging or digging into their issues, it’s for later.

“Because suicide is unlike any other death in my opinion, having worked with many people who have lost people to suicide – there are a lot of feelings that come with suicide deaths that don’t really come with other death, one of them being the fact there is a lot of anger, and a lot of grief and emotions going up and down everywhere because of this, ‘why, why, why?’

“The mixed feelings of anger and love and all that stuff takes a while to settle in. I know the World Health Organization is now saying there’s no evidence to suggest you can’t put people on board immediately, but I’ve always found in my experience that putting them on board directly is just a waste of time I would say [wait] a minimum of six months and even more if possible.

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Karen Fegan, Desy Jones and Gerard Mallon at work at West Wellbeing

Karen Fegan, Desy Jones and Gerard Mallon at work at West Wellbeing

In addition to counseling and friendship, West Wellbeing’s offerings include child counseling through art therapy, addiction counselling, advocacy, alternative therapies and more.

“We provide substance abuse counseling and counseling that addresses all needs, eg grief, anxiety, depression,” Desy says.

“Our friends would advocate for people, they would speak on their behalf, represent them in various forms.

“We also have Job Assist here too. We have people who may be very distant from employment and we are trying to slowly but surely reintegrate them into the way of working and involve them again in society.

“We also have ties to food banks, heating, fuel and all those sorts of things. If someone comes in and they’re suicidal, we can do a full service and take as much of their anguish away as possible.

Desy says West Wellbeing’s work is vital because of the need for local suicide prevention and mental health services.

“The area where we have based this center is extremely underserved in mental health services – from the bottom of the Lower Falls near the city center, all the way up here,” he explains.

“Our customers come from North, South, East and West Belfast, Glengormley, Lisburn, Downpatrick and beyond. The schools of the two communities and the general practitioners send us people.

“At first I was worried that our location might put some people off, but I’m happy to say that’s not the case.

The Director of Care Services says there are a variety of reasons why a young person might have suicidal thoughts or intentions.

“Everyone is different and there’s a wide range of reasons,” Desy says.

“If I had to identify one for young people, if I had to identify it, it would probably be from a trauma from the past.

“Something terrible happened to them when they were younger and it wasn’t addressed at the time, so it now only shows up in their late teens or early twenties. .

“They don’t realize there are other options, they don’t know there is help out there, they don’t know how to get help, they don’t know where to turn. and they think they’re alone with it.”

Desy says there are small signs that parents and guardians could watch out for that could indicate there may be something wrong with their child or teen:

“I think sometimes it can be quite simple, it’s a change in their behavior.

“A change in what they like to do — all of a sudden they don’t like doing it anymore. They began to withdraw or isolate themselves. It could be a change in eating habits.

“If you see any difference in your child, probe him and ask him what is going on. A lot of kids don’t like talking to their parents, so I would just say, “If you don’t want to talk to me, we’ll take you to a place where you can talk to someone, and it’s private and safe, and we will try to sort things out there”.

Desy has seen firsthand the difference West Wellbeing has made in many lives, and he says what he loves most about the job is witnessing “the turnaround in people who walk through the door; the recovery of their mental health and well-being, and the difference it makes for their families.

“You see them when they arrive and they’re really depressed, and they just don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

“The next few hours are going to be dark for them. And they turn around over the weeks and months, and they continue to have a quality of life that everyone should be entitled to.

Desy adds: “We are very happy with the organisation, the way it has progressed and started.

“I have a superb care team leader in Karen, and the team we’ve been fortunate enough to build here, is overwhelmingly supportive and we all work really well together.

“It’s been a joy, it’s been hard work and we can’t wait to do more.”

‘Our philosophy is precocious

intervention’

Karen Fegan (34) works tirelessly to ensure no one is left on a waiting list to access potentially life-saving services at West Wellbeing.

The team needs additional space in the center and is raising funds to add another floor to their unit, which will be equipped with a purpose-built children’s art therapy room and several counseling rooms. .

“It is urgent to go up [in size] because our services are in demand and we don’t want to turn anyone away,” says Karen.

“Our philosophy is early intervention – get them in, get them sorted right away. The minute we start to struggle in terms of space.

“We are in dire need, we are bustling here, especially with our youth group and our early childhood services. We do not have a waiting list for over 16s, but we are now starting to have a waiting list for our under 16s.

“We do a lot of fundraising on our social media. We would be very grateful as we know times are tough for everyone and we know every family is struggling with rising prices, but we would appreciate if anyone could make a small donation. Every gesture counts. »

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A seating area at West Wellbeing


A seating area at West Wellbeing

A seating area at West Wellbeing

Karen says the extra space will allow the team to help more people and continue to make a difference.

“A lot of our young kids walk through the door with their parent or guardian, and they hide behind the adult, they’re really shy and anxious, and at rock bottom,” Karen says.

“We have a lot of kids who come here who have lost their parents to drug addiction or suicide, and when they’ve been here for a few weeks you see the turnaround in them. They draw pictures for you, hug you and tell you all about their sessions.

“You see the difference in them – being a mum myself is what tugs at my heartstrings.”

For more information about West Wellbeing visit www.westbelfastforum.com or call 028 9062 4373