A young Market Harborough woman is fighting to help people battling mental health issues after tragically losing two loved ones in the last year.
Inspired Amy O’Dell, 33, is taking powerful direct action after her nephew Mikey Smith, 31, and her cousin Paige Howard, 25, both took their own lives in separate tragedies.
Opening her heart to the Harborough Mail, Amy said: “It has been a devastating year for my entire family.
“Both Mikey and Paige meant the world to all of us.
“They were both lovely people and they had their whole lives to look forward to so their deaths have hit us very hard.”
She stressed: “There are a lot of other people out there in Market Harborough and throughout the area who are right now trying to deal with their own mental health issues.
“This crisis in society runs far deeper than any of us know.
“In 2018 alone some 6,507 people tragically took their own lives in the UK.
“That’s well over 6,000 families torn apart by losing their sons, daughters, partners, parents, siblings, relatives and friends in arguably the most heartbreaking way possible.
“I am determined to work relentlessly to help struggling people, save lives and prevent more families suffering the sort of devastation and grief that we have.”
Amy, of Rupert Road, Market Harborough, is now setting up a Community Interest Company (CIC) called Mind MAP.
“MAP stands for Mikey and Paige.
“I am dedicating this venture and the good work we are trying to do right across the board to both of them.
“I’m determined to make sure that some good comes out of their twin tragedies,” she said.
“Both Mikey and Paige will live on through the work that I want to do with many other people tackling their own desperate issues.”
Single-minded yet truly compassionate, highly-focused Amy has just qualified as a ‘person-centred counsellor’ after five years of intense study.
“It’s too late, tragically, to help our own Mikey and Paige.
“But so many people out there urgently need our support.
“I’ve got to know a lot of counsellors who are offering to help me help others,” said Amy, a carer who’s set to become a 999 respond caller in October.
“All the people on my course have now qualified and they are willing to give their services and expertise for £15-an-hour rather than the usual £40.
“That will be huge and will save us so much money over the weeks and months to come.
“And it means that we can get behind so many more men, women and children crying out for our help.”
She said many of her own family had sought help from Market Harborough Christian counselling service Bower House.
“They are brilliant but they are being absolutely inundated by people needing help.
“All of my family have referred themselves to Bower House.
“My nieces are struggling after losing Mikey and his younger brother Jack, 22, has suffered guilt,” revealed Amy.
“Paige’s shocking death has also obviously shattered so many of us.
“We are just one family out of thousands across our country in this position.
“But if we can get free or donation-only counselling we can give people a real chance.
“We also want to train the relatives of people at risk of suicide to become mental health first aiders themselves.
“We are also aiming to bring in guest speakers to give well-informed, insightful talks on mental health conditions to educate our community as much as possible.”
She is now launching a vibrant new Facebook campaign, #mileformikeyandpaige, which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/mindmapharborough“We are asking people to walk a mile - which is also good for your mental health – and donate a pound and nominate others to do the same.
“I am hoping the people of Harborough will clock up an impressive 6507 miles and rake in £6,507 to fund the service for a year.
“The money will get us off the ground.
“The figure is also poignantly symbolic as every mile represents a much-loved person who took their own lives in 2018,” said Amy.
She warned that we are facing a devastating “mental health timebomb” amid the extraordinary Covid-19 crisis.
“We had enough people struggling to get by day to day before this long coronavirus lockdown started in March.
“They will have found it even tougher to cope during these dark days, especially as crucial resources like Bower House have been forced to physically close,” said Amy, who’s just qualified as a national finalist to a plus size beauty pageant called Miss Voluptuous.
“And so many more of us are feeling worse as a result of being locked down and denied access to our loved ones, friends and work colleagues.
“This is not just about saving lives.
“We also want to improve lives as well so that people can enjoy themselves more rather than just existing or getting by.”
Amy’s football-mad nephew Mikey killed himself in Market Harborough last July after he was seriously sexually assaulted as a young man.
His devastated mum Bev Harper, of Great Bowden, bravely told his harrowing story to the Mail as she urged troubled young men not to suffer in silence.
Mikey’s cousin Paige Howard, a mum-of-one, died on Saturday March 28 when she smashed her Vauxhall Corsa into a wall on Albany Court, Albany Road, Market Harborough.
“Paige set out that day to kill herself.
“She has a seven-year-old son and her loss is so tragic,” said Amy.
“Paige seemed to be coping fine with life and none of us knew that she was struggling.
“She didn’t confide in any of us and it’s just awful.
“But supported by all our family I will do everything in my power to try to prevent more Mikeys and more Paiges.
“And I am calling on the amazing community that we have got here in Market Harborough to do all they can to back our campaign every step of the way.