Each day in London two people in deep despair take their own lives and around 70 more make an attempt. For many people Maytree’s north London house has been a lifeline without which they would not be here now.
Suicide can affect anyone, from any age-group and any walk of life. There is so much difficulty and stigma around suicide that it’s often too hard for people to talk about it. However, just the process of talking and being heard, can save lives.
Maytree was established in 2002 to meet a need amongst those at immediate risk of suicide for brief respite, and to provide an opportunity to be heard with compassion and warmth in a non-medical environment. Maytree believes that it helps to talk and that everyone needs to be treated as an individual and with respect. This kind of help is rarely available for those who can see no light at the end of the tunnel. Its aim is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and enable the suicidal to re-engage with life – to help them find hope again.
If you or someone you know is affected by suicidal thoughts and feelings, you can contact Maytree on 020 7263 7070 or maytree (Email: maytree [at] maytree.org.uk). Or for more information visit www.maytree.org.uk.
Hosting an event for Maytree at Lambeth Palace in 2009, The Archbishop of Canterbury said of Maytree:
“When I first encountered the work of the Maytree centre, my initial thought was simply, ‘Why had no one thought of this before?’ So many people coping with negative and suicidal feelings don’t know where to turn to find the sort of help that would allow them just a short period to get some perspective on their lives and find a degree of fresh energy for living, in an atmosphere of warm but non-invasive care. Maytree has provided this kind of unobtrusive life-saving care to many individuals over the last seven years and it is an idea that deserves the most generous support.”
Based in a terraced house in Finsbury Park, North London, Maytree offers a brief stay of four nights for a maximum of four guests who are in danger of taking their own lives. It fills a gap in services, receiving referrals from statutory, private and voluntary sectors, as well as self-referrals and those who hear by word of mouth. It is open to adults aged 18 and over, and there is no cost to guests, so Maytree relies on the generosity of donors to ensure it can run its service.
Since opening in 2002, over 5,000 people in suicidal crisis have been supported by the charity. Just under 800 of these through a stay at the Maytree house, the rest supported through their crisis via phone and email. 50% of Maytree’s guests have not been in contact with mental health services, showing that it helps some of the most hard to reach. Maytree is staffed largely by volunteers backed up by a small staff team.
Often, those who are feeling desperate and isolated are reluctant to reach out for help, fearing that they may not be taken seriously or, conversely, put into hospital under section. When in a suicidal crisis many people express ambivalence: “I don’t want to die but I don’t know how to live.” They are concerned that if they contact the doctor, anything they say will be put on their medical record and, should they survive, that it will impede future job prospects.
It is well known that even serious thoughts of suicide can be temporary, and there is evidence to show that if you can be helped through this point, you can go on to live a happy and successful life and may never be suicidal again.
Maytree has no magic wand but many guests find a stay at Maytree is a turning point and that by reconnecting with others, they begin to re-connect with life again.
There are three questions which are often asked of Maytree:
How do those who are feeling suicidal find Maytree and arrange to stay?
Some guests are referred to Maytree, others self-refer and increasingly the charity is contacted by email, by people who have been exploring suicide on the Internet and come across its website. Once someone is in touch, whether by telephone or email, a process of exploration on whether a stay at Maytree might be beneficial begins. All things being equal, a potential guest will be invited to visit for an assessment, which is essentially a discussion to make sure that Maytree is the right place and can offer the right degree of support. Because the essence of Maytree is befriending and talking, it is not able to accept people who use drugs or alcohol to the degree that they’re not able to relate and who couldn’t agree to refrain from using these substances. Depending on each individual’s need and circumstances, he or she may stay straight away or they may come back to Maytree within a few days.
What happens when at Maytree?
Each guest has his / her own room and meals are shared in the kitchen. The aim of the stay is to explore what has brought someone to the edge of suicide and involves deep and often painful conversations but equally therapeutic work that goes on round the kitchen table, in the garden or one to one in a befriending room with staff or volunteers.
Maytree doesn’t have many rules but doesn’t allow alcohol or non-prescription drugs on the premises and the house must be kept a safe environment for everyone. There’s no television in the house, which comes as an unwelcome surprise to some people when they arrive. It does mean, however, that scrabble and jigsaw puzzles are popular – and inevitably means more talking gets done. Guests are free to come and go as they please and to have family members or friends visit them.
What happens when a guest leaves?
Making the first contact and then coming to stay at Maytree can be very difficult for many guests. Leaving can be equally difficult and the process of ‘the goodbye’ is an important one. Maytree offers a one-off stay and no ongoing support when a guest leaves, and this is made clear from the very start. Each guest receives a personal goodbye letter – an object reflecting their stay and what they talked about or learnt at Maytree – and a follow up call two weeks later is also on offer. The stay offers, though, the time and space to consider what ongoing support an individual might need or reconnect with after their time at Maytree, and the charity does its best to set up onward referrals for guests when they leave if they want.
Volunteers and staff note how sad it is to say good-bye, but also deeply satisfying to witness how much someone can change in just a few days – guests often look like quite different people by the time they are ready to leave.