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Teenager's birthday gift to suicide prevention charity

Alex West with two PAPYRUS representatives
Alex West with two PAPYRUS representatives

A teenager whose friend took his own life has donated all birthday money to a national mental health and suicide prevention charity.

Alex West, from Golborne, was inspired to ask friends and family for donations to PAPYRUS, a suicide prevention charity helping young people across the country, instead of 18th birthday gifts.

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An online fund-raiser was set up over Alex’s birthday lasting three weeks and had a target of £150. By the time it ended, Alex had raised more than £350.

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 his friend, Alex has been passionate about making a difference and encouraging people to talk.

Alex added: “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 talk about mental health.

“Our school brought in a bereavement counsellor and were really supportive. 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 fund-raising 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.

Prof Kate Ardern, director for public health 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 prevent this extremely unfortunate end.”

Prof Ardern is urging anyone who is struggling or who may have suicidal feelings to speak to their GP.

But she said, more importantly, 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.

She said: “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.”

PAPYRUS helpline, HOPELINEUK supports young people, and those concerned that a young person they know may be thinking about suicide.

More information about the council's campaign can be found at www.wigan.gov.uk/togetherwecan