CHARITIES, specialists and politicians are encouraging more St Helens to speak up and get support before they reach crisis point, as the country marks Mental Health Awareness Week.

Last year, figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed that St Helens had the highest rate of suicide in England and Wales, underlining the challenges the borough's people have with illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

A significant amount of work has gone over the past 12 months to tackle the crisis, with businesses, schools, bereavement groups, colleges and St Helens Council encouraging people to seek advice and talk about their well being.

But the tragic stories of people dying by suicide continued to be heard in the areas coroner's court. Organisations this week urged people to reach out and not suffer in silence.

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Teardrops Helping the Homeless, which supports rough sleepers, often come into contact with people facing crisis.

Co-founder Shauni Ward, said: "For us as a charity, the most important thing is for people to know where they can get the right help.

"Mental Health Awareness Week is very important and positive because it highlights to people that there is a route to help if you ask for it. It is OK to ask.

"Speaking about Mental health especially in St Helens, is often seen as taboo, but it shouldn't be. Taboo means we see it as a problem and if you see it as a problem, then someone else will too and not talk if they need to.

"We come together when something bad happens, well something bad is happening when people can't speak isn't it?

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"So we need to change that and come together now."

Chrysalis Centre for Change, a women's mental health charity on Peter Street echoed this view.

Their spokesperson said: "As an established women's mental health charity we still hear women talk about the huge amount of shame and stigma they feel is attached to having mental health problems, and whilst people feel ashamed, they won't reach out, and so they feel isolated and suffer in silence.

"By raising awareness, people can see that there is strength and courage in reaching out and asking for help and absolutely no shame in admitting you are suffering.

"We can only support those who ask us for that help so let's get the word out there and let people know they aren't alone because mental health impacts all of us and together we are stronger."

MP for St Helens North Conor McGinn said awareness week marked a good opportunity to recognise the work being done by many organisations in St Helens borough to promote mental health and well-being.

He said: "We have significant challenges locally like worryingly high rates of suicide, and our mental health services and providers – both public and voluntary sector – need proper funding and support to address them.

“It’s OK not to be OK. And it’s important that if you aren’t, you talk to someone – like a colleague at work, a teacher at school, a loved one at home, a carer, a doctor or by getting in touch with one of the many organisations there to help.

"We all need to look after our own mental health, and look out for each other’s mental well-being.”

Marie Rimmer, MP for St Helens South and Whiston added: “Mental Health Awareness Week is incredibly important and I’m glad that as a country we are finally starting to take mental health seriously.

"I want to emphasise the fantastic work of local mental health charities and I would encourage anyone who is concerned about their mental health or is looking to explore mental health further to reach out.

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"The key for any mental health issue is to talk to someone about it, whether it be a charity, your GP, a friend or your family.”

St Helens based Suicide Intervention Expert Andrea Newton, agrees, but adds that the problem goes beyond a week of awareness and that it is everyone's responsibility to help each other.

She said: "Mental Health Awareness Week is a great initiative for raising awareness – it's a first step.

"It's a bit like a firework display - attracts attention, fun while it lasts, has high impact, noisy and pulls a crowd but the real work we need is action following that.

"So many initiatives that encourage people to reach out if they are struggling are great, but actually as a society we need to learn to reach in.

"Sadly recent statistics show that the national rate of suicide has increased again this last year - when people are overwhelmed and

feeling hopeless, worthless and like a burden to others, reaching out is a challenge in itself.

"After awareness we need to educate, inform, take action to help people see that you don't have to be a mental health expert or trained counsellor to help someone in crisis.

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"We need to be able to better spot the signs and symptoms and offer practical, results focused ways of developing coping strategies and safety plans.

"Nobody is immune.

"I'm happy to help any employer in the borough who is ready to take action against suicide."

Andrea is offering a free webinar this Friday, May 17 at 11am as part of Mental Health Awareness Week that is free for anyone to attend.