A mental health campaigner has been told by Derby City Council that his anti-suicide posters attached to bridges around the city must be taken down.
Rocco Hawkins, from Spondon, launched Bridges of Hope to help prevent people from attempting to end their lives but the charity Samaritans has advised against his approach.
The 37-year-old was himself saved by police officers when he attempted to take his own life after he was brutally assaulted in 2019.
Derby City Council spoke to the Samaritans for guidance on Rocco’s campaign. The charity advised that the signs should be taken down as they could be “triggering for people in recovery”.
As a result, the council is removing signage throughout the city “in a respectful manner”.
The guidance from Samaritans that was sent to Derby City Council reads: “The placing of highly visible notes in public spaces, including bridges and railway sites, where there may or may not have been suicides or attempted suicides, is likely to increase perception of a location as a means of suicide.”
According to the Samaritans, this raises a number of issues regarding public safety.
The charity says that this “could reinforce or increase the reputation of a location as a place for suicide and attract more people to it” and “could be triggering for people in recovery who see the notes, or upsetting for people who have been affected by suicide”.
The Samaritans also raised concerns that the signs could be a safety hazard for passing drivers.
They say the notes could distract drivers, and they could also potentially become detached and fall into the paths of vehicles.
However, Rocco claims that official Samaritans signage has been placed in exactly the same locations as his posters and poses just as much of a risk to motorists.
Derbyshire Live met with Rocco in Derby at one of the bridges where his messages were removed.
He said: “There are four Samaritans signs on this bridge and they are central to each lane below.
“They are saying it could be a safety hazard for drivers on this bridge and below the bridge. But they are put in the exact same places as my messages of hope were so it is completely contradictory.”
According to Rocco, his messages have saved at least 18 people, all of whom have reached out to him.
He told Derbyshire Live: “They say it could be triggering but I have never heard anything like that. All I have heard is ‘thank you for doing them’ or ‘I walk past them in the morning and they made me smile on the way to work when I’m feeling down’.
“People that drive past on the way to work tell me that they love seeing them there.”
Derby City Council told Derbyshire Live: “We as a council have referred to the national guidance from the Samaritans, the charity which specialises in supporting vulnerable people at risk of suicide, about the placing of highly visible notes in public spaces.
“The guidance states that notes of hope placed by members of the public should be discouraged and removed and as such, in consultation with public health and the Derbyshire Self-harm and Suicide Prevention Partnership Forum (DSSPPF), the council is developing a policy to remove such notes from bridges and sites in Derby in a respectful manner.
“It is fantastic to see members of the public taking proactive steps to support those who are at risk of suicide, but it should be emphasised that the prevention of suicide and self-harm starts long before someone reaches the point of crisis.
“Council colleagues have been working with Rocco to find an alternative way to support his work to help others who are facing suicidal thoughts.”
The Samaritans reiterated the guidance that it had issued to Derby City Council.
It told Derbyshire Live: “The guidance does not apply to crisis signage, which is the Samaritans signs you mentioned, as these are designed to be seen only by vulnerable people and only provides helpline information.”
They said: “The people who want to put up these notes are doing so because they strongly believe it could help save someone’s life by encouraging them to seek help.
“Many of them have been personally affected by suicide, with some having thought about taking their own life, possibly at the location they have chosen or similar.
“They are acting with the very best of intentions and therefore it is critical to communicate sensitively with them.”
Rocco now wants to launch a new campaign called Windows for Hope, working with businesses and residents across Derby to continue the spread of his inspirational messages.
Rocco urged: “If anybody is feeling low, needs a place to vent, or just wants to be in the company of others that are struggling in a non-judgmental group, then please join the Bridges Of Hope Facebook group.”
The Samaritans helpline is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and can be contacted by calling 116 123. Alternative contact methods can be found on their website.