How to support Baton of Hope's vital campaign for suicide prevention: Alan Billings

I wonder whether you know what the biggest killer of men and women under the age of 35 is? It’s suicide. It is quite shocking to think that every day, on average, 17 people will die at their own hands in the UK.

That is 17 people, male and female, from all walks of life and cultures.

I am not surprised by the figures because each morning I read a summary of some of the more serious incidents that police officers have had to deal with in the previous 24 hours and suicides or attempted suicides feature regularly.

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It is always distressing to read them, and I feel for the officers who are called to the scene or have to break bad news to next of kin.

Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings. Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings.
Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings.

Last month the Chief Constable, the Chief Fire Officer, a representative from Yorkshire Ambulance Service and I met a group of people who are promoting what they say is the biggest suicide prevention initiative the country has ever seen.

It’s called the Baton of Hope.

The CEO of the initiative, Mike McCarthy, came into my office to explain how it came about and what they hope to achieve.

Mike began by explaining that his son, Ross, had taken his own life, but in the hours before he did so he wrote to his family imploring them to help campaign for better mental health support.

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He had suffered from severe depression but the wait time for services was six months.

He died after two weeks of waiting.

Mike, a former journalist and radio and television presenter, who lives in Sheffield, was determined to do what he could to honour this request.

Briefly, Mike and another bereaved parent, Steve Phillip, realised that what united all the families affected was the way their loved ones had lost hope.

They have had a baton made, the Baton of Hope, that will be carried around various UK cities in an attempt to raise public consciousness around suicide, to challenge the stigma that so often prevents our talking about it, to seek improvements to mental health provision, and in so doing save lives.

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They are looking to raise £1.5m in order to fund a campaign.

The baton is a fine piece of craftsmanship and will be carried over the summer through Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Belfast, Cardiff, Birmingham, Bristol, Milton Keynes, Brighton and London.

In each place there will be stops with events taking place to raise awareness of the issues.

The baton will be in Sheffield on Wednesday June 28.

It will be carried round the city, stopping at various places, including Police Headquarters, where we will be joined by all three emergency services, and ending in Tudor Square.

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I hope you can watch out for further news and note the messages the organisers will try to put across – about the need to be less inhibited in talking about suicide and the need to transform mental health services to support people in crisis.

Dr Alan Billings is the Labour Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire.

For more information about the Baton of Hope initiative and the organisation’s events programme, visit