Since Pat Sowa’s son, Dom, died of suicide in 2017 she has dedicated her life to helping people who are struggling with their mental health.
The Sowa family has lived in Harrogate for 23 years. Dom, a student at Harrogate Grammar School, was just 17 when he died.
Mrs Sowa said friends described Dom as “giggly with the kindest heart”. He played the saxophone and loved to be outdoors.
Looking back, she says she could see he was struggling; he had been withdrawing from friends and saying he felt “very sad”. But she said without the training she’s had now she didn’t know how to ask the right questions and help.
“It breaks my heart that I didn’t know the signs. I always say ‘we do our best but when we know more we do better’.
“And it’s true. Instead of people crossing their fingers or depending on the system to take care of their loved ones, through training they have the skills to know what to do to help.”
After losing Dom, Mrs Sowa left her job as a primary school headteacher and trained as a mental health first aid trainer.
She now works with North Yorkshire County Council in its Headfirst programme, which offers free mental health and suicide prevention training for anyone living or working in North Yorkshire, alongside her other work.
She is determined for more people to train as mental health first aiders. She says it is important for anyone struggling to feel as if they have someone who is their safe space to talk to.
Her mantra is:
“Get trained, save lives and be kind.”
Losing Dom turned the family upside down and Ms Sowa finds her work to promote suicide prevention has helped her “work through the devastation”.
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Ms Sowa also works closely with Papyrus, a charity dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide. It offers a helpline to people, runs training programmes and campaigns to get people talking about mental health.
Next weekend, Ms Sowa will join Dom’s former school, Harrogate Grammar School, on its fourth Hopewalk. It is part of a Papyrus initiative that includes a month of walks across the country to get people out and talking about mental health.
The four-mile route around Fewston reservoir takes place on October 17 at 10am.
Ged Flynn, chief executive of Papyrus, said:
“We would like to say a big thank you to Pat Sowa and all those who will we supporting the Hopewalk in memory of her son Dom.
“Every year Hopewalks raise awareness of suicide prevention and help us to continue giving hope to young people who are struggling with life.
“Generous fundraising and donations help to pay for potentially life-saving calls, texts and emails to our confidential HOPELINEUK service, which offers support and advice to young people and anyone who is worried about a young person who may be having thoughts of suicide.
“We believe that many young suicides are preventable and together we can all help to keep our communities suicide-safe.”
If you need support:
- Papyrus HOPELINEUK service on 0800 068 4141 between 9am and midnight
- Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123