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Charity to offer more help in Inverness as suicide rates rise

By Iain Ramage


SHOCKING suicide statistics for the Highlands – which indicate a person takes their own life every 10 days – have prompted the creation of an emergency centre for potential victims.

The Mikeysline charity, established in the wake of a 23-year-old Inverness man’s suicide two years ago, will operate the facility six-days-a-week from December 4.

The Hive, at 19 Academy Street, will offer a unique and wide-ranging service with the support of NHS Highland.

A specialist nurse will be on hand. Experienced counsellors will offer their expertise. And a café will provide hot beverages for troubled souls with the courage to seek help.

The facility has been driven by the passionate response to the death of Michael Williamson with his uncle Ron spearheading the project. Michael’s close friend Stephen Reid will manage the call-in centre.

Of the 32 known suicides in the Highlands so far this year, only a third of the casualties were known by relatives or mental health services to have been a suicide risk.

"That’s the tragedy," said Mr Williamson, who believes men, in particular, are simply unable to discuss personal problems.

"What Mikeysline has done in the past two years, with the help of the Inverness Courier and the Highland News, is to air the problem.

"We’ve got young men in town now feeling more at ease to talk about their illness. They’re able to talk to their families, their schools and their colleagues.

"With that publicity and use of social media we’re getting people to ‘own’ their illness. It’s no longer restricted to furtive, long distance phone calls in the middle of the night."

Nationally, suicide rates have decreased slightly while the Inverness toll has increased. There appears no consistent pattern to the tragedies.

Mr Williamson, a retired nightclub owner, classifies each as "individual" and crossing social boundaries. Most of the victims had jobs and families.

The new service is being modelled on others south of the border – where he says there has been a 31 per cent reduction in the number of people suffering depression attending A&E units, and a 16 per cent cut in the number of arrests of people with depression.

"If nothing else, if we can reduce the pressure on the NHS at A&E level then we can stop people who’ve got a serious illness getting locked up because there are no other facilities for them at the weekends," Mr Williamson said.

The Hive will offer a "four-tier system" where the most urgent clients can be seen by a triage nurse, on loan to the charity for six months. She has direct access to home support and the New Craigs psychiatric hospital in Inverness.

There will be out-of-hours counselling and support on a variety of issues including debt. Mikeysline volunteers will listen and try to solve people’s problems.

The café will offer a start point, where folk can have a sit down and chat.

Mr Williamson offered his gratitude to NHS Highland’s Michael Perera – the general manager of mental health, learning disability and drug and alcohol recovery services – and to associate medical director Boyd Peters, for their guidance.

Dr Peters said: "To reduce suicide rates there needs to be greater public awareness of the services available.

"We should all be more aware of those around us, who might be low in spirits and check how they’re feeling.

"Mental health issues are often hidden and unspoken but the right conversation with someone you know may open the way to them getting help."

Mr Williamson feels there is insufficient sharing of relevant information between agencies and charities in the field.

"What I want the Hive to be is a hub for all those agencies," he said.

Inverness Central councillor Richard Laird, who recently spoke openly about his own issues with depression, hailed the new venture.

"At the moment, there is inadequate support for folk with mental illness who are in crisis," he said.

"From what I’ve heard of Mikeysline’s new service, this should help bridge that gap, offering support for people on the edge. Very few folk have a mental health crisis Monday-Friday, nine-to-five. So if this helps with that, all the better."

Mikeysline has so far depended on a single mobile phone for its callers.

The new Hive drop-in centre will be open 6pm-10pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and from noon-10pm at weekends – to anyone over 17.

It will be costly to finance in a fiercely competitive economic climate for charities. The annual budget, including £14,000 lease, is expected to be about £90,000. It has had £10,000 from the Inverness Common Good Fund and other support from several businesses.

Mikeysline has two fundraising events coming up – a ball at the Drumossie Hotel on November 24 with meal tickets priced at £60 (via Mikeysline website or by calling 07375 075 128) and a 10am-2pm Christmas craft fair on December 16 at the Spectrum Centre in Inverness.

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