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Fort William has been dubbed ‘The Black Hole’ by people involved in local mental health circles, according to the recently founded groups set up to combat the worrying number of suicides and people suffering from issues such as depression and anxiety.
It was earlier this year that the charity Lochaber Hope hosted meetings to examine the situation which resulted in the setting up of Lochaber MindFit groups for men and women.
These are peer-to-peer support groups for people dealing with mental health issues.
The two groups proved almost instantly successful, with a steady stream of people accessing them.
But Lochaber MindFit this week warned that, with the festive season and New Year approaching, a lot more people will need to reach out for support and to talk.
Lochaber MindFit groups are therefore relocating in January from their current base at CrossFit to Inverlochy Hall, with a ladies’ night on Tuesday and a men’s night on Monday.
The organisation’s secretary Sharon Wells told us: ‘Everyone who walks through our doors is likely to have been affected directly or indirectly by depression, anxiety or suicide, which has become the scourge of Lochaber.
‘In mental health circles our home town has been dubbed ‘The Black Hole’. The numbers are too great and the wounds are too deep to put down on paper.
‘We can’t promise to heal these wounds, but we can pledge that nobody needs to be alone anymore and we endeavour to nurture our group to become a safe sanctuary.’
Asked about the worrying ‘Black Hole’ soubriquet, Ms Wells told us: ‘A few of our group facilitators have heard the term used about Fort William area due to the high number of suicides, particularly among young people.
‘That is why we definitely need these groups because every week the numbers of people we are seeing is just getting bigger – at the moment, we have perhaps something like between 10 and 15 people regularly attending.
‘We see people from 18 to 70 years old who need support – the range and individual circumstances are actually mind boggling.
‘We provide a safe and welcoming space – somewhere people can talk, get a cup of tea or a hug.
As well as overall secretary for both MindFit groups, Ms Wells is a facilitator with the women’s MindFit group.
She has personal experience of the trauma inflicted when a family member commits suicide, losing her own brother five years ago.
‘I suffered from depression as a result of that, although obviously not to the extent he must have been suffering to lead him to do what he did,’ she told us.
‘It’s why I got involved with these groups, which can help family members affected by such tragic events to get back on their feet.
‘And as we come towards the time of year which is traditionally promoted as the time for being with friends and families, then many of those who live alone really start to feel it.
‘Those working will have two weeks off, at home, on their own. And if you suffer from depression it can be a very, very hard and difficult time of year.’
Both the Lochaber MindFit men’s and women’s groups can be found on Facebook.