Suicide Safer Harrogate campaign to help district's schools

Two incredibly dedicated Harrogate women who went through individual heartbreaking family tragedies hope their Suicide Safer Harrogate campaign will reduce the chances of the same nightmare happening to other parents.

Friday, 24th January 2020, 11:35 am
Updated Friday, 24th January 2020, 12:12 pm
Using personal experience to lead the way with Suicide Safer Harrogate - Harrogate's incredible Pat Sowa and Alison Pearson. (Picture by Gerard Binks)

When Alison Pearson-Segal and Pat Sowa first met it was originally to see if they could support each other after the devastating loss of their sons.

Dom, Pat’s son, died in October 2017 while Alison’s son, died shortly after.

Although the circumstances were very different, both women discovered a common goal in wanting to change the way suicide is understood and talked about so that unnecessary deaths can be prevented in the future.

Out of this has come two new organisations - The Ostrich Foundation founded by Alison to fundraise and raise awareness and Starfish, created by Pat to boost training and share information about mental health and suicide prevention.

Now the two mums have a new goal - to take the Suicide Safer Harrogate campaign to every secondary school in Harrogate.

Alison Pearson-Segalsaid: “Those of us who are touched personally by suicide have a unique contribution to make in preventing future young deaths.

“No one should have to go through the everlasting pain of losing a loved one in this terrible way and when you lose someone to suicide, the family and friends become at greater risk of suicide.

“I can’t change the world but I can help in Harrogate.”

Some of the staff from Harrogate Grammar School have been the first to benefit from training carried out by Pat Sowa of Starfish Harrogate with funds raised by The Ostrich Foundation.

Headteacher Neil Renton said: "the outstanding training has helped us to develop a focus on this important area and we really appreciate the funding."

The Ostrich Foundation is delighted by progress and is continuing to raise funds for this training across the Harrogate District.

Alison Pearson-Segal said: "We’re delighted the training has been a success and that staff feel they are now better equipped to help any students who may be struggling with their mental health. Well done Harrogate Grammar School."

Figures from the Office For National Statistics for 2018 show there were 6,507 suicides registered in the UK, an age-standardised rate of 11.2 deaths per 100,000 population; a significantly rise on 2017.

Official statistics also revealed suicide rates in Yorkshire and Humber were among the highest in the country and that these had risen, in particular, among those aged 10 to 24 years old.

A North Yorkshire suicide audit discussed by North Yorkshire County Council showed that there had been an increase in the number of suicides in Harrogate district between 2015 and 2018.

But both Alison and Pat are keen to highlight the positives and change things for the better.

Pat said: “I don’t want to focus on negative statistics.

“The goal is to reduce suicides by encouraging people to train in spotting signs and learning to ask directly if someone is suicidal.

“Our aim is to promote positive news that Harrogate is getting suicide safer through training and awareness not to focus on statistics which might put vulnerable people at risk.”

While Alison has been raising funds via sponsorship and a series of successful public events such as last year's Ostrich charity walk in Ripley and a forthcoming Ostrich gig at the Ivory Bar in Harrogate, Pat has put the skills she has learned as a qualified Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Trainer and National Professional Qualifications facilitator to good use, providing training to spot the early signs of suicide risk in Harrogate schools, sports groups and other organisations such as the scouts.

Pat said: “My aim is to ensure Harrogate plays its part in reducing young suicide by developing a community wide approach which includes public health, the NHS, schools and social services, as well as specialist charities.

“By giving people the skills to spot signs early and ask directly about suicide if you’re worried about someone, we can help each other get over a crisis and steer towards the right support.”

So far, the Suicide Safer Harrogate campaign has made good progress - staff at Harrogate Grammar School have been working towards accreditation in the Schools Mental Health Award with other schools set to follow.

But there’s more to Alison and Pat’s efforts than creating ‘best practice.’ They feel it is vital to normalise the very way that suicide is talked about.

Alison said: “We want to shatter the stigma around suicide and remove the word ‘committed’ from common vocabulary.”


Advice to parents is available via North Yorkshire County Council's North Yorkshire Pathway of support for children and young people with self harming behaviour and/or suicidal ideation (sections for parents, professionals and young people) at: