World Mental Health Day: Margate dad moves a step closer to SOS mental health hotline proposal

Craig says the mental health phone hotlines could save lives

Today (October 10) is World Mental Health Day – an international day for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma.

A Margate dad-of-three who has used running to combat poor mental health and raise money for charity says he is now ready to take the next step with his proposal for SOS mental health phones to be installed at known suicide spots,

Craig Harker spent six years struggling with drug addiction and crushing anxiety before  being taken to hospital with a suspected heart attack in February just days before his 34th birthday.

The scare forced the bar manager to re-evaluate his life and led to his passion for running.

In August Craig completed a 5k a day challenge to raise money for We Are With You counselling service, which helped him at his time of need, and to highlight his campaign to get dedicated SOS mental health hotline phone boxes so others can get the help they need at the most desperate of times.

Through the month he covered 115 miles, raised £1115 and achieved 9 personal bests.

Craig now wants to moved forward for the plans for his mental health hotline phones and has come up with a design with the help of artists Guerrilla Pest and Dawnie Harris.

He said: “I came up with a design after seeing the parking meters by Sundowners, You could use the same design but in the middle bit you have the SOS phone with reflective strip – a bit like the AA roadside phones –  LED lighting, a sharps draw, and then options to get through to someone who is trained in mental health.

“The parking meters are already there so it is just getting the phoneline in.”

Craig says he plans to put the idea forward to Thanet council but is also looking for expertise from anyone who might help him make the hotline phones a reality or sponsorship to help with costs.

Craig is also planning to organise torchlight parades along the coast “to light up the darkness,” an Isle of Thanet marathon and various fetes and football events.

He said: “I’d like to get everyone together and I’d like to move on to this next chapter.”

Craig felt compelled to campaign after hitting a low and contemplating taking his own life because he could find no way to reach out for help.

He said: “I was trying to find a phone box to call the Samaritans. After two hours I finally found one and then my heart sank, there was no dial tone and it was full of cobwebs.

“I was thinking ‘where do I go now?’ I found myself on top of the cliff wondering what to do but I managed to pull myself together. Anxiety will never go away but I can now deal with it and understand what the triggers are.

“But it made me think there was nothing out there to help and when you can’t get that help, where do you go? There isn’t enough money to fund mental health services and people are struggling. I had tried for a long time to find help, I was on a waiting list at mental health places and went to my doctors but ended up with whale music and advice to drink herbal tea.

“I feel that someone needs to speak up. The SOS phone boxes would be a last cry for help, where there is a professional on the other end of the line, someone to talk to and to say ‘this is my crisis’.”

To get in touch with Craig email craig.harker@hotmail.com

Sadly, Thanet has the highest three year rolling suicide rates in the county, according to a report to Kent County Council this month which shows a 15.9 per 100,000 people rate for the isle compared to 8.6 in Swale.

KCC  has made a new Kent and Medway Better Mental Health Pledge to take action to improve the mental health of individuals and communities in Kent.

The authority has drawn up a draft strategy – Preventing Suicide in Kent and Medway: Strategy 2021-25 – which will be discussed this Tuesday (October 12).

The authority heads the Release The Pressure 24hr helpline – Text the word Kent to 85258 or phone 0800 107 0160 for free confidential support

Find more advice from Release The Pressure here

Journey from addiction and ‘a dark place’ to 5k a day fundraiser for emergency mental health hotline proposal

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