Charity inspiration interview - SELF

SELF logo

SELF is a suicide awareness, prevention and support non-profit organisation based on the Isle of Wight.

Set up to help signpost and support those affected by suicide – from crisis points through to bereavement – it is an organisation that is going from strength to strength. SELF is becoming an integral part of the community on the island, allowing people to talk about something that is often considered a taboo subject. Here, we talk to Gennive Woolston, director of SELF, about the organisation, the challenges she has faced along the way, and why it is a subject that is so close to her heart.

When and how did the dream become a reality?

In August 2013 I was approached by Sarah Mitchell, who had lost her 18-year-old brother to suicide. Sarah and a couple of other ladies were interested in putting something together for the community in regards to suicide prevention and "postvention", and asked if I would be interested in helping. The project began to evolve behind the scenes, with lots of research and preparation. Then, in June 2014, my 27-year-old brother tragically committed suicide too. It was then that the project took on a whole new meaning to me; I understood from a very personal perspective what we needed to do, and so in August 2014 SELF was officially established, providing signposting to those in crisis and others concerned for them, raising awareness through events and education, and support for those bereaved by suicide.

What are the main drivers behind the concept?

The main drivers behind SELF are the people in our community; those who need support in their darkest hour. If we can help one person to stop feeling like our lost loved ones, or ensure one family doesn't have to experience the pain we've been through, then we have done what we set out to do. Suicide is still a very taboo subject, with such stigma surrounding it. It is this that we are aiming to abolish by allowing those in need to feel more comfortable in reaching out for help.

How many of you run the charity?

Unfortunately, due to personal circumstances, Sarah and the other ladies were no longer able to carry on with SELF, so currently I run SELF independently. I have some wonderful volunteers signed up who will hopefully be starting shortly, and I also hope to have Sarah back in the future.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

So far we have been quite fortunate; because people realise that this support is very much needed in our community, we have had very positive responses to our work. Funding is always an issue when you first start out, but we have been very lucky to have been awarded our first grant which will really help us as we go into our second year.

It can be challenging at times as I work and have three young children to look after, but it's so very rewarding. I am always online for support – crisis and grief is not a 9-5 thing – and I'm usually contacted just before I go to bed! But I'm used to that now.

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I found that since my brother passed I have been able to really understand what's needed in our community. For instance, when someone is notified that a loved one has taken their life there is no support, so I am trying to implement a Suicide Support Officer role. I have been doing this for families, but I want to make this a mandatory part of the formal process with the police, coroner etc. I have been advocating for families who are finding it hard to deal with the formal processes while grieving, so have been contacting police, funeral directors and coroners on their behalf. I also support them by trying to keep them talking as a family and signposting them to available resources, especially for children who have lost their parents.

Another service I want to provide is more education in the community, enabling people to feel more comfortable to reach out and understand mental health issues. I want more Youth Mental Health awareness in school settings and much more provisions for children in crisis and support for their families.

I also have lots of awareness events coming up: concerts, marathons, fairs, and so on. One exciting event I'm arranging at the moment is a youth talent show, with three categories: art, music and literature. It is all to be based around mental health to really get children thinking and talking about the subject.

What advice would you give to other charities?

Do your research; make sure that you have support and interest in what you are doing from the beginning. It is hard work to get off the ground, but don't give up. Don't let criticism bring you down; use it constructively, as with a firm foundation and hard work you will realise your dream.

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