In its first year, more than 1,000 volunteers have signed up to a scheme 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’ launched last September with the aim of creating a community of advisors who could be approached by anyone struggling with their mental health.
The idea is to make people who have already received mental health and suicide prevention training more visible to those who need help.
Hundreds receive training each year – for example through workplace schemes - but there used to be no way for a member of the public to identify who has been trained, and therefore who to approach for advice and support.
By wearing a distinctive orange button, these trained volunteers are easily recognisable to people having suicidal thoughts wherever they are, for example at work, in shops, pubs, cafes, libraries or just on the street.
The orange button signifies that the wearer knows how to listen, isn’t afraid to hear the word ‘suicide’, and will not judge them. Although they cannot offer counselling, they can signpost individuals to the right support services.
A year on, a total of 1,092 people have signed up to be an orange button wearer – and in that time they 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 rate of suicide among young women by making them realise they are not alone.
Sophie said: “I decided to become an Orange Button wearer so that people who are struggling would know I was a safe person to approach, that would listen without judgement and help with signposting to relevant support.
“It has been a positive experience and even if people don’t know what the orange badge is for they will often ask, so it often opens conversations and raises awareness that way.
“I have had several people approach me asking for help, all of whom I have been able to signpost.”
Sophie recalled one elderly man in particular who came into her shop 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 just listened. He was too overwhelmed at the time to take in any information, so we agreed he would come back and I would provide him with some in a few days, which he did. I signposted him to a local men’s mental health support group, a grief support group, and an alcohol misuse charity. A few months later he came back in to say thank you and I hardly recognised him! He had bright eyes and a smile on his face; he had accessed the right support, was alcohol free and in employment again!”
The Orange Button scheme is led by Cornwall Council and NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Integrated Care Board (ICB).
Statistics show the rate of suicide deaths in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly is consistently higher than the national average.
Paula Chappell, Public Health Practitioner and suicide prevention lead in Cornwall’s Public Health team, said:
“It’s great news that so many people have embraced the Orange Button scheme and we’re delighted with its success.
“Every single death represents an individual tragedy and a devastating bereavement for family and friends. The impact also extends into the wider community and to all services involved, with an estimated 135 people affected by each suicide. So anything that can help prevent this is hugely 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 died by suicide had contact with mental health services in the year before their death, highlighting the need for members of communities to learn active listening skills and know where to find signposting information to share.
“There is still a lot of stigma around suicide and mental health in general so schemes like Orange Button are vital to support people who might be suffering in silence in our communities.
“The more we can break down those barriers and empower people to speak openly and honestly about their feelings, the better for everyone.”
Tim Francis, Associate Director of Strategic Commissioning: Mental Health, Learning Disability and Autism at NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly ICB said:
“It’s truly fantastic to see just how many people are stepping forward to train, and then offer themselves up to support others who may be struggling or reaching out for a conversation.
“This is an example of an idea which has become a reality, and one which represents a tangible commitment to a community of support and compassion. Wouldn’t it be great to see the Orange Button worn in every village or town and organisation large or small across our counties of Cornwall the Isles of Scilly?”
For more information check out the Council’s Orange Button webpage.
If you are worried about your own or someone else’s mental health call the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly 24/7 NHS mental health response line on 0800 038 5300. It's free to access by anyone, any age, any time, day or night.
Visit the Council's mental health web pages for more information.