Belfast Telegraph

Poignant words of hope left on Foyle Bridge in a bid to save young lives

By Donna Deeney

An inspirational teacher has left messages of hope on Londonderry's Foyle Bridge in a bid to cut the city's suicide rate.

Gary Clarke was touched by the high number of young people he was in contact with who had been affected by mental health issues or knew of someone who had suffered.

The supply teacher, who works at several schools in Derry, initially set up a Facebook page called 'Messages of Hope - Foyle Bridge' as a way to reach out to anyone feeling suicidal. But he has now expanded that platform to the bridge itself.

Messages written by members of the public have been left, letting vulnerable people on the bridge know they are not alone, they are valued and that they won't always feel low.

Mr Clarke explained how they are already saving lives.

Among the poignant notes is one that reads: "Every storm passes over, thinking of everyone struggling with dark clouds."

Another says: "Don't you dare give up on this life, not tonight, not tomorrow, not ever."

Mr Clarke said: "I first realised how bad the mental health issues among young people in particular were about eight years ago when I was at university and saw it at first-hand.

"I saw examples of the messages across other parts of the world and I thought, the way things are in Derry this past while, with so many people struggling with mental health issues and so many young people taking their own lives, to do something.

"This is a big issue for a lot of people and my job as a supply teacher to six different schools in Derry puts me in contact with young people up to the age of 18.

"Seeing those young people not being able to talk about their problems got me thinking.

"I started the Facebook page thinking that if I could save even one person's life then it would be worthwhile, but I never imagined it would have struck such a chord with people.

"I thought if I got 100 people on the page I would have been over the moon, but it has been seen by 330,000 people and there are actually over 6,000 people who have 'liked' the page in just three weeks, so it has exploded beyond what I had hoped."

Mr Clarke said he had been inundated with messages from people thanking him and telling him how it has helped them.

"The messages on the bridge started from the Facebook page and come from people of all walks in life from the city," he added.

"It lets people know at their lowest point that they are cared about.

"What has surprised me is the number of older men who were getting in touch and saying they're happy something like this is being done.

"A lot of them told me they wanted to reach out and offer their help to anyone who needs it. Some people have written a message, but others have contacted me and asked me to write a message for them and I am happy to do that.

"These are short, simple messages written from the heart of so many people, but they are proving to have a powerful effect.

"If something simple like leaving a message on the bridge saves a life and changes even one person's mind, then I have achieved what I wanted."

l If you or someone you know is in distress or despair contact the Samaritans free on 116 123.

Belfast Telegraph

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