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Calzy Foundation campaigns for mental health resources after tragic death

The foundation was set up in honour of Cal Stuart who took his own life aged just 23.

A new three-digit helpline number 988 was launched in July last year in the USA so people who were suicidal or in a mental health crisis could get instant access to help. The service has been described as a “life-saver” in preventing potential suicides.

As the world marks Mental Health Awareness Week, it is estimated over the course of a lifetime 1 in 5 people have suicidal thoughts, 1 in 14 people self-harm and 1 in 15 people will attempt to take their own life.

Alan Stuart, a Director of Employability Services at Middlesex University, is campaigning for the government and NHS to launch the three-digit helpline number 247 for people experiencing mental health crises and suicidal thoughts to replicate the service which has been introduced so successfully across the Atlantic.

The Calzy Foundation's #1k1call campaign will be launched in a 1k walk around the Middlesex University Hendon campus this Wednesday May 17. Anyone wishing to join the walk, which should take around 15 minutes, is advised to visit the Quad public entrance between midday and 1pm.

Alan’s world was turned upside down on January 7th 2021 when his son Cal took his own life after suffering from depression and anxiety. He was aged just 23.

He firmly believes such a helpline number may have saved his son.

After the devastating loss, Alan and his family - wife Joolz and daughter Cyan - launched the Calzy Foundation in honour of Cal which has a campaign to introduce the 247 mental health emergency helpline, a 24/7 service staffed by fully trained health professionals who could offer immediate intervention and find the most appropriate service for the caller.

“We felt compelled that we had to something in Cal’s name and fight for something that he didn’t have and that’s resulted in this three-digit campaign because Cal would always find those things very confusing,” said Alan.

“That one number which is operated by mental health professionals, that triages through to the appropriate service knowing when they are open and gets you to the right service, is desperately needed in this country.

“We want other people to have the number Cal didn’t have and which may have saved his life.

“This would have been a number that was in his head such as 111 or 999 which he knew that he could call and trust it would be picked up.”

Unfortunately, Alan (pictured below with Cal) notes that the UK government is currently planning to add an option to the existing 111 non-emergency number rather than create a new service.

He said: “We think this is wrong because 111 is recognised as non-emergency and, in the US, where they have launched 988 we have been in touch with agencies who are very strongly minded that you do not roll a mental health number into an existing non-emergency helpline.

“It’s too confusing and is mixed messaging and from a government perspective shows no desire to place mental health with the same parity as other health emergencies. Yet we know mental health is the biggest killer of males under the age of 54.”

Alan and Cal Stuart

Cal, who lived in Friern Barnet, North London, was hugely popular and had a passion for arts, skateboarding, design and music.

There was a huge outpouring of grief from his many friends and peers.

“Cal was universally loved by anyone who met him, even for the most fleeting of moments,” said Alan.

“He was a genuinely shining light in most people’s lives, he had this amazing way of being able to lift people’s spirits and elevate their self-worth. He also took people under his wing who felt left out or lonely.

“We were a super close family. I still refer to Cal as my best friend and my hero as well as my son.”

As a socially conscious person, Cal helped those less fortunate such as people sleeping on the streets.

To continue his own personal legacy, the foundation set up Calzy Vision, which is a partner social enterprise that brings to life Cal’s artistic designs onto a range of eco-friendly, organic clothing.

Profits go towards making Calzy Care Kits, which are daily essentials and hygiene products that are handed out to homeless people in London.

Cal’s family believe several factors contributed to his increased sense of anxiety and depression.

The music college he was attending and on course for a distinction shut down with funding cuts blamed and two close friends took their own lives during the pandemic which particularly impacted Cal.

His work in hospitality stopped with Covid and he died during a particularly difficult time for many after Christmas with the continual threat of lockdown still present.

“We used to talk with Cal about mental health and he was receiving support from his GP and from us but on that day the illness got the better of him and we specifically call it an illness,” said Alan.

“The day before he was fine, walking his dog, smiling but in many cases people who get to that point just can’t see a way out. It’s not that they necessarily want to but they just can’t see the hope and the illness really does take over and it becomes a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

“Not long after Cal took his life, his peer group reached out to us and us to them and what was clear was that they really struggled to process their peer loss and support each other through this. They were desperate for more accessible and relatable peer-to-peer support.’

“So, we set up the Calzy foundation as a community interest company driven by a youth board that is made up by Cal’s peer group and others that have joined who simply understand and empathise with what Cal and so many other young people struggle with in relation to their mental health.”

Cal Stuart

The Calzy Foundation provides free mental health first response training to young adults who are suffering mental health trauma or crises by providing tools, resources and strategies to help themselves and other peers.

One of the Calzy Foundation’s key objectives is to reduce the stigma around discussing suicide.

“We need to reduce this stigma and talk more about it as the end result of what should be termed an illness. We used to shy away from the term cancer many years ago, so by talking about it and being more open and not having this stigma, more people will feel they can search out the support they need.”

To students who may be struggling, Alan said: “Try to find the courage to reach out to find someone to talk to, whether that’s a trusted peer that you know or tapping into the university’s support services which are great and doing a lot of work around suicide prevention and post-prevention. But don’t keep it in, you have to talk to someone.”

As a coping mechanism, Alan went running on a regular basis “come rain, shine or snow” while listening to the music he enjoyed with his son.

This has led to a further annual campaign called #1k1call in which last year Alan ran 25k for 25 weeks in the run up to July 20th which would have been Cal’s 25th birthday.

This year Alan is repeating the marathon charity effort before Cal’s 26th birthday by running 26km every week for the same number of weeks leading up to the 20th July.

The Calzy Foundation is encouraging people on July 20th to complete 1k of exercise through walking, cycling, running or swimming.

And they are urged to make a call to a friend, neighbour or someone else close and really find out how they really are emotionally.

The Calzy Foundation's #1k1call campaign will be launched in a 1k walk around the Middlesex University Hendon campus this Wednesday May 17. Anyone wishing to join the walk, which should take around 15 minutes, is advised to visit the Quad public entrance between midday and 1pm.

Find out more about the Calzy Foundation.

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