All About the Baton of Hope as it Heads to Newcastle to Raise Suicide Awareness
As the Baton Of Hope heads to Newcastle in June, local project leader Jayne Walsham shares her daughter Jodi's story and proves why everyone across the North should be supporting the biggest suicide awareness and prevention initiative the UK has ever seen
Jayne, who lives in Humshaugh, sadly lost her daughter Jodi to suicide in January 2021, aged just 23. ‘Jodi, on the face of it, when she was little, seemed like any other child. Nothing stood out,’ Jayne says. ‘We have a three-tier system in Northumberland and when Jodi went to first school here everyone knew her. She was just Jodi. She had many friends, she had no problems at school and she was allowed to be who she was. When she hit middle school she was faced with hundreds of children who didn’t know her and I think that’s when Jodi started to mask her feelings, she realised she was slightly different to other children inside.’
Jodi was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in her early 20s. ‘Our perception of what ADHD and autism is was completely wrong, especially within girls,’ Jayne reflects. ‘Girls are masters at masking things and Jodi needed to fit in, so she went from a young girl who was very headstrong to just copying everyone else. We didn’t see it at the time. When she was around 10, she still had plenty of friends and she was loved by teachers and parents but in the home she became quite confrontational. We now understand that was frustration, but we didn’t understand that at the time. We visited our GP and asked for help and I was told I needed to discipline her more. I left thinking this was my fault.’
Jodi graduated from university in 2018, travelled the world, volunteered in a cat sanctuary and had ambitions to study a Masters Degree but she sadly took her own life in January 2021 after two job offers were withdrawn due to the Covid pandemic. ‘Jodi helped others,’ Jayne says. ‘She always put others first. She was empathic and felt people’s pains. She was creative, she was a singer-songwriter and an artist and she would’ve done great things if she was able to get past that moment in time. But the help just isn’t there.’
After losing Jodi, Jayne’s only child, she didn’t know what to do or how to go on. ‘My future, or what I imagined it would be, just disappeared because Jodi was my life,’ she says. ‘In Jodi’s memory I’ll do anything in my power to stop people struggling the way she did and taking the path she took. It’s just so unfair people are still not taken seriously where mental health is concerned. Everyone should be taken seriously. It’s also about breaking the stigma down because people are frightened to talk about it. It’s the biggest killer of under 35s. That can be preventable with the right help, and it doesn’t always take a great deal of help. In October 2022 a member of the Crisis team came to see Jodi and after spending two to three hours with her she had a much more positive outlook on life. She said “he put things into perspective for me”. An hour’s therapy face to face could save a heck of a lot of lives.’
That’s why Jayne got involved with Baton of Hope UK. Not long after she lost Jodi, she saw cofounder Mike McCarthy speaking on TV about losing his son Ross to suicide. ‘I got chatting to Mike and he asked me to be project lead for the North East’. Jayne was also recently given a Northumberland 'community hero' award for her work on mental health and suicide prevention at an awards ceremony at Alnwick Castle.
In June, the Baton of Hope will set off from Glasgow on a journey through towns and cities across the UK, including Newcastle, reaching Downing Street two weeks later. The route in Newcastle starts in Northumberland Park, North Shields on 27th June at 8am and will be broadcast live on BBC Breakfast. Family and friends bereaved by suicide will carry the baton in memory of their loved ones as it travels into Newcastle city centre. Supercars will take the baton to the Northumberland Football Association ground on Whitley Road in Benton and special events will take place at Spanish City, Jesmond Dene, the Ouseburn, Grey’s Monument, the RVI and St James’ Park, among other stops.
‘It’s going to take 12 hours and it’s going to be tiring but the whole point of the Baton of Hope is about breaking down the stigma,’ says Jayne. ‘The way the Olympic Torch celebrates physical health, we’re hoping that this special symbol will represent and promote mental health and wellbeing. We’re hoping to smash the stigma which prevents so many people from talking about their problems. It’s a symbol of hope and positive change.’