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Charity project success recognised at cinema showcase


Samaritans Scotland’s West Highlands and Skye project was launched in 2022. 

Samaritans Scotland celebrated the success of its dedicated West Highlands and Skye project at a showcase event.

The event was held at the Highland Cinema in Fort William last month, with a range of local supporters and partner organisations in attendance, as well as Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport.

The project – funded by the Scottish Government Transition and Recovery Fund - was launched in 2022 with the aim of reducing suicide risk and improving mental wellbeing in the area.

The audience heard short speeches from the Minister; Danielle Rowley, head of policy and communications at Samaritans Scotland, and Lowri Richards, tenant participation officer at the Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association.

Danielle Rowley, head of policy and communications at Samaritans Scotland, said: “Data from the National Records of Scotland had shown that the Highlands region recorded the second highest rate of probable suicides in Scotland between 2017 and 2021, which highlighted a clear need for suicide prevention work in the area.

“Samaritans’ own research also found evidence of considerable stigma around mental health and local narratives about suicide in the Western Highlands.

“Our project team has led a multi-faceted approach in the West Highlands and Skye, including awareness-raising campaigns and delivering training in local communities and workplaces, which we hope has and is continuing to make a real difference in the area.

“We are grateful for the Scottish Government’s support with the project and it was an absolute pleasure to celebrate the team’s hard work and show the Minister for Mental Wellbeing – and our supporters - all that has been achieved over the last year.”

Attendees were also treated to a film created by local filmmaker Beth Chalmers, from Oban, highlighting the project’s work over the last year and speaking to people from the area about their life and mental wellbeing.

With a particular focus on reaching isolated workers, the project also raised awareness of support services available, including the Samaritans helpline and workplace training.

Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Social Care, Mental Wellbeing and Sport, said: “This project is about building connections in rural communities so that we can look after the mental health and wellbeing of the people who live there.

“It is vital that our support looks and feels right, so that it resonates with people and supports them to take the first step of reaching out for help. Or, in the case of employers, to help them feel safe and confident to ask after an employee’s mental health.”

At the showcase, Samaritans Scotland shared a research report, created in partnership with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), exploring ‘Mental health and wellbeing protective factors of lone and isolated workers in the West Highlands and Skye’.

The research explored the lone working experiences of a range of different professions from throughout the area and highlights what helps to support mental health when working in a lone or isolated environment.

Fiona Thompson, Samaritans Scotland West Highlands and Skye Project manager, said: “We know that issues of isolation, access to health services and stigma can often make seeking help and support challenging in a rural area.

“We also recognise that the geography of the West Highlands and the nature of many key industries – such as tourism and aquaculture – can create issues of isolation and a lack of connection.

“It has been wonderful to meet and connect with so many people across the area as part of our outreach work and community and employer training programme.

“We hope that the skills participants have been equipped with will have a real and lasting impact, and that they continue to grow in confidence to support themselves and others.”

A question and answer session featuring a panel of Anna McBride, Ewen's Room; Kate Lamont, SRUC; Gavin Major and Keith Walker, both Samaritans volunteers; Beth Chalmers, project videographer, and Fiona Thompson, project manager with Samaritans Scotland, brought the event to a close.

Dr Kate Lamont of SRUC, said: “Scotland’s Rural College was delighted to work with Samaritans Scotland on this project and it was a privilege to hear about the personal experiences of so many lone workers on Skye and in the West Highlands.  

“There are huge levels of resilience, adaptability, and flexibility amongst this population in responding to the many unique challenges they face - some of which are quite different from an urban context.  

"Whilst many thrive, not least because they value and appreciate the beauty of the natural environment in the West Highlands and Skye, a lack of understanding about the nuances of the rural context, not least by employers, can add to the challenges they face.  Over time this can undermine even the most resilient of individuals.”



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