A local 18-year-old whose friend died through suicide in 2015 has donated all birthday money to a national mental health and suicide prevention charity.
Alex West from Golborne turned 18 in August and after losing a friend to suicide almost three years ago, Alex was inspired to ask friends and family for donations to PAPYRUS – a suicide prevention charity helping young people across the country.
An online fundraiser was set up over Alex’s birthday lasting three weeks and had a target of £150. By the time the fundraiser ended, Alex had raised more than £350 by simply asking those closest to donate instead of giving gifts.
Speaking about the decision to fundraise, Alex said: “It was something I was interested in doing and I’ve known about PAPYRUS for a while as it’s a charity close to my family and friends, so it seemed right to donate to them.
“The pressures on young people around exams, friendships and fitting in can have an impact on their mental health and that’s something I wanted to raise awareness about too.”
Since losing a friend to suicide, Alex has been passionate about making a difference and encouraging people to talk.
Alex continued: “My friend was 16 when he took his own life and it really affected our school. In some ways it brought a lot of people closer because before, we wouldn’t really talk about mental health.
“Our school brought in a bereavement counsellor and were really supportive throughout the process.
“It is so important that people who are struggling know there is help out there. It might seem scary at first but even just chatting to a friend or family member could really help.
“The fundraising definitely made me feel good because I know the money will be put to good use.”
Alex’s story links with Wigan Council’s ongoing mental health campaign, #TogetherWeCan, which highlights different triggers and circumstances that are difficult times for people.
The campaign is currently focusing on young people under the age of 21 by highlighting the issue of body image and signposts to support available on a local and national scale.
Professor Kate Ardern, director for public health at Wigan Council said: “Sadly, we are losing too many people to suicide and although a person’s mental health can be very complex, we can all work together to do our best to prevent this extremely unfortunate end.
“We encourage anybody who is struggling or is feeling suicidal to speak to their GP, however, change can begin by having a simple conversation with someone you feel comfortable with, whether it be a friend or family member, a trusted hairdresser, the person who owns the local convenience store or even your dog walker.
“We need to smash the stigma associated with talking about mental health and suicide and we can only do that by being more open and willing to listen.
“Turning 18 is a pivotal moment in a young person’s life and it’s inspirational that Alex has marked this occasion by raising awareness of young suicide.”
Joann Hitchen, North West Regional Development Officer at PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide says “As the national charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide, PAPYRUS sadly hears daily from young people who are struggling with thoughts of suicide. Our helpline, HOPELINEUK supports young people, and those concerned that a young person they know may be thinking about suicide.
“PAPYRUS exists to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives. By shattering the stigma around suicide and equipping young people and their communities with the skills to recognise and respond to suicidal behaviour. It is so wonderful to see Alex has come through a difficult experience and is helping to raise awareness within his own community.”
For more information about the #TogetherWeCan campaign, visit www.wigan.gov.uk/togetherwecan