Five courageous pupils from Ballymena Academy recently ‘took the plunge’ for a deeply personal cause by participating in a special and moving fundraiser in memory of their friend, Bethany Topping.
The 16 year old from Broughshane tragically took her own life earlier this year after battling with depression for just over two years.
The girls took part in a charity abseil at the Europa Hotel, Belfast on Sunday, 14th June organised by the local mental health and learning disability charity, Niamh (the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health).
Niamh delivers a wide range of mental wellbeing services throughout Northern Ireland including in the mid-Antrim area, its Woodvale day support scheme is located on the Ballymoney Road in Ballymena. Shiels Court is their supported housing scheme for people with long-term mental health conditions in Ballymoney and they also deliver a floating support programme which aims to support people in their own homes which is based in Cushendall and has a catchment area that stretches from Glenarm through to Ballycastle.
Holly Harkness (16), Hannah Boyd (16), Rebekah McKay (16), Robyn Gillis (16) and Emma McMullan (16) who had all been friends of Bethany, wanted to do something practical to help other young people who might find themselves in a similar situation to that of Bethany in terms of struggling with their mental health.
Following the tragic loss of Bethany, the girls, along with many of their peers, were struck by a great sense of sadness and shock that depression had so severely affected a young person, who, in their eyes, was “just one of them”. It brought to their doorstep just how fragile life can be and how deeply one can be affected by mental ill health.
Holly explained why the girls decided to take part in the abseil, she said: “It was important to all of us to do something to raise awareness that any young person who is experiencing mental ill-health is not alone, there is always someone there you can talk to about your feelings.”
Bethany who was from Broughshane and a former pupil at Cambridge House Grammar School, had been a happy and care-free young girl up until the age of 14, when she started to experience difficulties with her mental wellbeing which led to her developing depression. Despite the constant love and care of her parents Richard and Lorna, her brother Aaron and her sister Amy, Bethany’s mental health continued to deteriorate culminating in an incident that led to Bethany’s death of the 5th of May after a number of days spent fighting for her life in the Intensive Care Unit of Antrim Area Hospital.
Rebekah said: “It is such a significant and difficult time for us all at that minute. So many young people our age are affected by mental ill health, and after the tragic loss of Bethany, we just had to do something.”
It was a deeply emotional day and as the girls gathered to each take their turn at descending the 51 metres from the roof of the Europa Hotel down to street level on Sunday the 14th, there was some evidence of nerves, a lot of smiles and more than a few tears shed as the girls reflected on what had brought them together in their fundraising efforts.
Part of the monies raised by the girls will be used to pay for a specialist team from Niamh to go into local schools and work with the pupils on finding ways for them to build their own emotional and mental resilience in the hope that further tragedy and heartache similar to that which has befallen the Topping family can be avoided.
When told about these very remarkable young fundraisers, Professor Peter McBride, Chief Executive of Niamh was honoured that the girls had chosen to support the charity’s work to support people affected by mental ill-health. He said: “I was so touched when I heard that Holly, Hannah, Rebekah, Robyn and Emma wanted to do something to help raise funds for Niamh. It is tragic to hear of a young person losing their life to suicide, nobody of any age should ever had to find themselves in that most desperate of situations.
“Depression can be a terrible and difficult illness to have to battle, thankfully, our experience with the many people we support in Niamh that are affected by the condition shows us that in the vast majority of cases, someone living with depression can be supported to recover and led a rich and full life.
“My deepest sympathies go out to the Topping family at this most difficult of times for them. It is my sincere hope that although nothing can ease the family’s pain at Bethany’s loss, they will in due course be able to take some element of comfort from the efforts of her friends to help young people affected by depression and other mental health issues.”
Charities such as Niamh know that the key to preventing tragedies such as the death of Bethany is for individuals affected by mental ill-health being able to avail of high-quality and timely interventions and support in the places where they need it, whether that be their home, workplace, college or school. Niamh is dedicated to providing that support to ensure that anyone in Northern Ireland living with a mental health condition gets the help they deserve.
Thanks to the efforts of Holly, Hannah, Rebakah, Robyn and Emma, other young people in the Ballymena area will soon be equipped with the knowledge and skills that will help protect their mental wellbeing.
If anyone would like to make a donation towards the girls fundraising efforts, you can do so by sending a cheque made payable to ‘Niamh’ to Patrick McDonald (Niamh Income Generation Officer) Niamh, 80 University Street, Belfast. BT7 1HE. Please make sure you include a note to say your donation is in lieu of the Bethany Topping fundraiser.
Alternatively, you can make a donation online to the girls fundraising page at www.justgiving.com/abseileuropa
The final word should go to Emma who when asked what she would say to another young person experiencing depression said: “Depression is nothing to be embarrassed about, please seek help if you feel you need it.”
If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article and are in need of immediate support, please contact Samaritans on 0845 790 9090 or Lifeline 0808 808 8000 for free and confidential help day or night. You can also visit the Niamh website at www.niamhwellbeing.org for more general information and advice on protecting your mental wellbeing.