Talk about your worries – that's the message going walkabout in York this week to boost mental health awareness

CORONATION Street had one of its hardest-hitting storylines last week when one of its characters, Aidan Connor, took his own life.

Writers worked closely with the Samaritans on the script, which has been praised for raising the issue of male suicide.

Shayne Ward, who played Aidan in the soap, tweeted a message to fans after the Wednesday-night broadcast: "Keep talking everybody".

That's the message being echoed here in York at the start of Mental Health Awareness Week.

"Please keep talking," said Holly Bilton, community fundraiser with York Mind, which helps people with mental illness. "Don't be afraid to talk – you have got to keep the conversation open."

To mark the week, York Mind is hosting its second York Walls Walk on Friday, from 4pm-6pm, where people can donate money, put on fancy dress if they wish, and walk around the city's landmark boundary together.

Suicide claims almost 6,000 lives in the UK each year. Some three-quarters of those deaths are male, with the highest risk group among those aged between 40-44 years.

Rhys Harrison, 56, of York, now works to help people with mental health problems – after having a crisis of his own three years ago.

Rhys applauded Coronation Street's handling of what is still a taboo subject. He said: "It was really well done. The Samaritans gave script advice." And he urged anyone feeling suicidal, particularly those most at risk, to talk to somebody. "Men under 50 need to talk. If you are in a low mood, have lost your appetite for two weeks, are feeling anxious, then these could be indicators for mental ill-health. It's important to speak to a friend, someone at work, your GP, or the Samaritans. By speaking to somebody, that will help."

Rhys said: "I didn't realise I had a mental health issue until I had a mental health crisis. I was the primary carer for my mum, who lived 250 miles away in Glasgow and had Alzheimer's and vascular dementia. I went to see my GP and I was very lucky because I got to see a counsellor within two weeks."

After four months of counselling, Rhys went on an eight-week course where he learned about mindfulness and how to use meditation to boost his overall wellbeing and make him feel more like his old self.

"With mum, I was always having to deal with social workers. One time they called me at 1.30am to tell me she had set her kitchen on fire. You have a massive feeling of guilt that you cannot do enough. My mum had an aggressive form of dementia, often she would phone up and shout at me. Through using what I learned in counselling and through mindfulness, when she called and spoke for an hour just asking me what time it was over and over again, I was able to listen without getting angry or frustrated – which was a major breakthrough for me."

After his mum died, he began volunteering for York Mind, and was trained as a mentor so he could help other people with mental ill health recover like he had done.

He said: "York Mind gave me an opportunity to channel and focus my energies when I was at a low point in my life.

"Through mentoring adults recovering from mental ill health, I was able to regain a sense of self-worth, and a belief that I could make a difference."

His volunteering work led to a new career too. After 35 years working in IT, Rhys now works with the Department for Work & Pensions as Mental Health Community Partner for North Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, and Humberside. In this role, he can support DWP clients who have mental health problems and train staff to be more aware of these. He also represents the DWP on issues around mental illness in the wider community. He said: "Without my training and experiences with York Mind this would not have been conceivable 12 months ago."

The young royals – Prince William, wife Catherine and his brother Harry – have all spoken publicly about the issue of mental wellbeing and champion the mental health initiative Heads Together. Prince Harry has also talked openly about his own experience of counselling some 20 years after the death of his mother, Diana. Rhys said this had been "incredibly helpful", adding: "it has broken down the taboo of not talking about it. It is really important not to bottle things up."

He said a really good way to get people to open up is to be direct and ask: "What's happened to you?" And if you fear they may harm themselves, don't be afraid to be direct and ask them if they are thinking of suicide. "That is a very powerful question," said Rhys.

Holly said the charity walk around York City Walls chimes well with Mental Health Awareness Week. She said: "The good thing about the walls walk is that many of us live in York, but many of us don't do it in full. On different days, you see things in different lights – and that is a nice reflection of the ups and downs of mental health."

Take part in York Walls Walks:

When: Friday, from 4pm, meet at the entrance to York Theatre Royal. Fancy dress optional.

What: Walk the 3.4 kilometres of the York Walls. The complete circuit will take around two hours, after which you can relax and enjoy a goody bag (first 100 participants only) at a local café, Random Encounter Cafe, 9 Gillygate.

Who: Open to everyone, and suitable for families with children.

Donation: A suggested donation of £5 to York Mind to take part. You can make a donation online at, search for ' York Walls Walk 2018'.

Sign-up: email or telephone York Mind Fundraising on 01904 404940.