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      Stornoway News

Jane Harlington

Sarah’s Sanctuary, a bereavement support group on the Isle of Lewis, has been awarded funding by SeeMe, Scotland’s National Programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, for an arts project which will challenge stigma around the topic of suicide and suicide bereavement.

Artist Jane Harlington, of Blue Pig Studio in Carloway, will run a series of workshops open to anyone who has been affected by suicide bereavement, whether that is the loss of a family member, friend or colleague.

An initial round of workshops will take place in the art room at An Lanntair from 7 to 9 pm on Wednesday 1 May and 29 May and June 26.

Meetings of Sarah’s Sanctuary suicide bereavement support group will take place between the workshops. These will be held from 7 to 8 pm in the Western Isles Counselling and Family and Mediation Centre on Bank Street Stornoway on Wednesday 15th May and 12th June.  Another series of workshops will follow in the autumn.

The aim of the workshops is to use art and creativity to help participants move farther along their healing journeys and make meaning from the experience of suicide bereavement.  The theme of the workshops is Slipping Through the Net. Those who have lost someone to suicide often feel that their loved one has, for whatever reason, slipped through the net of support.  At the same time, those bereaved by suicide often feel that there is no-one they can speak to and can themselves experience slipping through the net. Catherine Barron, a counsellor at Western Isles Counselling and Family and Mediation will be present at the workshops in order to ensure a safe a confidential space for all those who take part.

Workshop participants will also have the opportunity to contribute towards some final pieces of work with the aim of displaying them in the café space at An Lanntair with the aim of raising awareness and understanding of suicide bereavement and mental health issues.

Jane Harlington who will be facilitating the workshops says, “Using art and creativity as a process rather than an endpoint facilitates individuals to engage with art materials, be that paint, clay or textiles in a way that is meaningful to them. The catch all phrase would be, ”process not product!” In the course of exploration, ideas and conversations are often sparked and emotions and feelings explored in an open, honest, non-judgemental environment.

"The group setting establishes a place of empathetic understanding that suicide has touched the lives of others within the group. To work on a collective project has the possibility of individual expressions adding quite literally into a bigger picture which could then be used to help inform, educate, raise awareness in others and to begin to highlight and breakdown misunderstanding, and therefore stigma.”

Sarah’s Sanctuary was set up in 2020 by Lewis man Kenny MacDonald after his daughter Sarah took her life. It aims to provide opportunities for those who have lost someone to suicide to support one another. A qualified counsellor is present at all meetings to provide farther support and ensure a safe and confidential space. Sarah’s Sanctuary is a branch of Beautiful Inside and Out SC044868 set up by Pauline Moriarty after losing her teenage daughter to suicide.

The Sarah’s Sanctuary support group offers a safe place to talk about the effects of suicide bereavement. On top of the grief and shock of suddenly losing a loved one, those affected can experience extreme emotions such as anger, guilt and fear, or numbness and an inability to feel emotions. People who are bereaved by suicide can even themselves experience suicide ideation. Catherine Barron says, “People bereaved by suicide are often traumatised by the events around their loved ones passing and go onto experience a complicated grieving process which can develop into depression, anxiety and other clinical conditions.  Sarah’s Sanctuary aims to support people in their grief and facilitate referral to other services when appropriate.”

The stigma around talking about suicide can mean that those affected by suicide loss can feel very isolated. The Slipping Through the Net project has been conceived in order to challenge the stigma around suicide bereavement, both by giving those affected a safe space to creatively explore their feelings and by raising awareness in the wider community through an exhibition of some of the work created during the workshops.

For further information on the workshops, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Members of Sarah’s Sanctuary will blog about the arts project Sarah's Sanctuary Western Isles (sarahssanctuarywesternisles.blogspot.com)