Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Barry Coppinger has pledged his commitment to supporting people living with mental health issues within the local community, by taking part in a Walk a Mile event from Tees Barrage to Stockton Parish Church Gardens as part of this year’s One Red Sunflower initiative.
One Red Sunflower is a week-long series of community walks aimed at highlighting the issues faced by the 49,000 Stockton residents who live with mental illness or addiction.
It is estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues during their lifetime and the initiative aims to break down the stigma sometimes associated with mental health, and bring the wider community together to promote empathy through proactive involvement in walks, meals and other events.
One Red Sunflower builds on the success of 1245 Sunflowers in 2014 which saw Stockton communities coming together to grow, care for and cut down sunflowers to represent the 1245 men and boys of Stockton who lost their lives in the First World War. The event united communities in empathy with those who lost their lives in battle and this year’s event aims to build on that sense of empathy.
The project has been funded by Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council and has seen Wildcats of Kilkenny frontman, Mike McGrother, leading a series of recovery walks between Monday 15 June and Saturday 20 June. Mike has been joined by representatives from local support services and their clients, students from Stockton Sixth Form College and guest musicians, who have penned original songs to support the Red Sunflower Army, focusing on the experiences that people have shared with them during the walks.
Barry Coppinger said: "Increasingly in modern policing we recognise the link between mental health, addiction and crime and antisocial behaviour, and we are working hard to ensure that vulnerable members of society who come into contact with the criminal justice system are supported through the process, whether they are victims or perpetrators.
"This support ranges from early identification of mental health issues and addiction in custody through our Arrest Referral and Liaison and Diversion Teams to better links with mental health institutions to ensure that those in mental health crisis can be taken to a point of safety rather than into police custody."
"Events like this which bring the issues out into the open for honest discussion are invaluable in breaking apart stereotypes and reducing the stigma of discussing mental health. As a keen walker myself it is great to be able to combine an activity I truly enjoy with a cause I am passionate about taking forward."
Organiser of the One Red Sunflower Project, Mike McGrother, added: "Few people who were involved in the 1,245 Sunflowers events last year will ever forget what happened over an extraordinary few days. I have reflected on stories I was told in relation to the First World War. How many of those who returned were scarred for life. They suffered terrible mental illnesses. They turned to drink. They lived a living hell. And society didn’t know what to do. They weren’t talked about – they became a hidden, stigmatised community fighting on-going battles with an enemy no one knew how to fight.
"100 years on mental illness, addiction and all of the related debilitating, crippling conditions are still dealt with as a stigma, as something we don’t really talk about. So, for the first year of the 1,245 Sunflowers legacy, we are looking at how the community of Stockton-on-Tees can create change."
Posted on Thursday 18th June 2015