Ben Wilson, paramedic and suicide prevention lead at South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) was honoured to have been chosen to play a leading part in the national Baton of Hope Tour when it arrived in Milton Keynes on Tuesday, 4 July.
The Baton of Hope was designed to be the biggest suicide awareness initiative ever seen in the UK, with the aim of helping people to open up and talk about suicide and, in doing so, help prevent it. Suicide is the single biggest killer of young people in the country and there are estimated to be over 6,000 deaths by suicide each year.
Ben said: “Like many people, I have been personally affected by suicide and therefore it was a huge honour for me to be selected to take part in the national Baton of Hope Tour when it came to Milton Keynes. Suicide is devastating for family, friends and loved ones left behind, but it is preventable.”
Ben was one of a number of professionals and leading experts in the field attending the Creating Hope – Suicide Prevention Conference, held at Stadium MK on 4 July. Delegates came together to share the latest research, strategies and tools to help prevent suicide by creating safe spaces, fostering open conversations and providing essential resources. As well as contributing to national suicide prevention projects, Ben’s role at SCAS also involves analysing data from police forces and ambulance trusts to develop new initiatives and ideas aimed at preventing mental health distress and suicide.
The conference paused at noon to welcome the Baton of Hope procession as it entered Stadium MK, the home of the Milton Keynes Dons Football Club. Ben received the baton from the group that had walked it on a route around Milton Keynes after which there were some short speeches to those spectators in the stands. Ben then carried the baton and led the procession out of the stadium handing it to the next carrier, as it made its way to the Red Bull Racing Headquarters where it was due to be received by reserve F1 driver, Daniel Riccardo, to close the Milton Keynes leg of the tour.
The Baton of Hope Tour, which began on 25 June in Glasgow visited cities in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England, finishing in London on 6 July with a visit to Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak MP at 10 Downing Street. Baton holders on the route across the country included many parents, brothers, sisters and partners who had lost loved ones to suicide.
“No one is immune from the risk of a mental health crisis that can lead to a suicide attempt,” added Ben. “The single best thing we can all do in terms of suicide prevention is if you notice something that is out-of-sync with someone you deal with in your everyday life – even a stranger – it’s fine to ask them ‘are you OK?’ And if you’re not wholly convinced by their answer, ask them again ‘No – are you really OK?’ Just by being willing to create that culture to have a chat, it could, ultimately, save that person’s life.”