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GHA and campaigners raise awareness on World Mental Health Day

Eyleen Gomez

Suicide prevention was the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day awareness stand outside the ICC yesterday.

The Mental Welfare Society and Childline joined the GHA in this campaign and were talking to people about all mental health issues in particular offering advice on how people can help someone who is suicidal.

Jason Desoisa, an approved mental health professional who had worked in nursing mental health for 38 years, said: “The importance of today is to raise awareness, which I think is very important in Gibraltar.”

“Nowadays there is more openness with mental health but before there was a stigma and in a small community awareness is important because people might be shy away from expressing their mental health problem.”

“It is now more normalised and more acceptable, the way it should be,” he added.

He stated that anyone with a mental health illness is the same as anyone with a physical illness and they should be able to express their need for help and receive that help in turn.
The stall was a success according to Mr Desoiza.

“We are getting people approaching and taking leaflets, not the heavy ones stuff like schizophrenia or OCD, but nowadays most people have some anxiety or panic attacks and people want to know what they can do without relying on medication as a treatment option,” he said.

Conchita Triay from the Gibraltar Mental Welfare Society underscored the importance of the day and said the stall was set up to raise awareness.

“There has been an increase of awareness but not so much awareness that mental health illness exists but the awareness that it is a widespread problem and that you should be able to access whatever help you need when you are going through a bad time,” she said.

“And, that it is ok to be unwell and that it is normal for some people to be unwell in the course of the year or whatever.”

“The important thing is to normalise mental health problems and it is not something it has to be hidden because then you create a double problem,” she added.

She also stated that she hopes that when mental health is talked about more, people will admit to it more and that as a result there will be better provisions provided in Gibraltar.

“When people start to say we need this and such an illness needs that then eventually you are able to have a service provision that suits the needs of people and one that is more flexible than the one we have at the moment,” she said.

Margaret Turner-Bone a manager with Childline was also present at the event.

“Mental health is a big issue with young people, especially boys because they do not talk about it. So what we want them to know is that they can talk to us at any time from 5-9pm every day of the year,” she said.

“Even if they are having a good day and they just want to call us they can. Because, when they are having a bad day they know it is someone they can trust and feel comfortable talking to.”

Anonymity is very important to the charity as they are aware some people would not want to identify themselves.

“All our calls are anonymous, and we have different routes as to how they can contact us,” she said.

“We have the phone line, which is 8008, they can call it and we cannot track the number or anything. We have a web chat where we do not even hear their voice so that is really anonymous and then we have the WhatsApp chat.”

“The only proviso we say is that if we feel they are in danger so if they were saying they were having suicidal thoughts we would have to contact somebody if they are at risk,” she added.

Ms Turner- Bone said that the major health issues affecting teenagers in Gibraltar are body image and educational pressures.

“Body image is a big thing, a lot of them see all these perfect images on social media and they think they have to be like that and they want to be accepting,” she said.

“Also they feel pressured at school about exam results, so around exam time we generally here from a few of them saying they are worried about how they are going to do,” she added.

On occasion the teenagers are also under pressure at times to send intimate photographs of themselves.

“They might have been friendly with somebody, sent them a photo and then it is sent on somewhere else and they worry about that,” she said.

Childline is not just for children and the charity welcome adults who are concerned about children to contact them for help or advice.

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