The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the Mary O’Gara Foundation have joined forces to raise awareness about suicide and improve mental health support for students. The foundation, established by Sharon and Paul O’Gara in memory of their daughter Mary, who tragically took her own life, offers suicide prevention training to educational and community institutions in Lancashire. In commemoration of World Mental Health Day, the O’Garas, along with UCLan, have placed empty chairs outside the university, each representing a child lost to suicide.
The aim of this initiative is to encourage open conversations about mental health among students and to promote the importance of seeking support when needed. Papyrus, a suicide prevention charity, reports that approximately 200 children in the UK die by suicide each year. By creating a visible presence through the empty chairs and fostering dialogue, the O’Garas hope to prevent others from experiencing the same devastating loss they have endured.
Megan Blissett, the head of student support and wellbeing services at UCLan, stresses the significance of students paying attention to the empty chairs and engaging in conversations about mental health. UCLan provides a team of highly trained practitioners who offer mental health and wellbeing support to students. Blissett emphasizes that mental health issues can affect anyone at any time and that discussing suicide should not be avoided.
The O’Garas are sharing their personal story to raise awareness about the signs of suicide and to promote suicide prevention training within educational and community settings. They believe that even if their efforts can save just one life, it would be a significant victory. By encouraging open conversations and providing support, they aim to create a more compassionate and understanding environment for young people facing mental health challenges.
The collaboration between the Mary O’Gara Foundation and UCLan serves as a powerful reminder of the urgent need to address mental health issues and support those in need. By placing empty chairs outside the university, the O’Garas and UCLan hope to spark conversations and encourage students to seek help if they or someone they know is struggling with mental health. Through their joint efforts, they aim to make a positive impact on the lives of young people and prevent further tragedies.