Her brother’s suicide compels Larne woman Carlee to prevent such tragedies

Carlee Letson of PIPS, Larne, with the Larne/Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey Times "Person To Be Proud of 2012" trophy sponsored by Firmus Energy. INLT 31-309-PR

Carlee Letson of PIPS, Larne, with the Larne/Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey Times "Person To Be Proud of 2012" trophy sponsored by Firmus Energy. INLT 31-309-PR

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A suicide prevention group leader has told how she turned her life around after her brother’s death, to help others bereaved by suicide.

PIPS Larne chairperson Carlee Letson’s life was shattered after her brother Arthur took his own life in 2006.

After receiving counselling with PIPS to deal with her loss, Carlee embarked on a career helping others, running the local support group while studying for around twenty counselling and suicide prevention qualifications.

Carlee, who won the East Antrim Times Person to be Proud of 2013 award, told the Times: “I found out about PIPS because I had to deal with my own issues. I was looking for answers for what had happened, but only Arthur knows that.

“At the time there was nothing in our community to help people, now we have a brilliant community mental health team, GPs are more alert and we have support groups.

“At PIPS Larne we have a rule that no one can join the group until two years after they have been bereaved, so they can get the help and support they need.”

Since joining PIPS Larne in 2007, Carlee has helped hundreds of people in distress from across County Antrim. This has involved gaining extensive educational and practical qualifications to deal with clients’ issues.

Currently an interventionist, she possesses an OCN-accredited Level 2 Award in Introduction to Counselling Skills and this summer will gain her Level 4 certificate before embarking on a three-year foundation degree to become a fully-qualified counsellor.

She is also qualified in suicide prevention, drug awareness, dealing with vulnerable clients, self-care, safe talk, basic life support, and dealing with the effects of alcohol for people at risk of taking their own lives.

In addition, she is a PIPS Community Lifeguard, and is qualified in keeping adults safe. Further qualifications include a certificate in Mental Health Recovery and Wellness Recovery Action Plan, a basic first aid course, ABC of first Aid, overdose management and CPR, mental health first aid and understanding suicide and self harm.

Carlee explained: “Safe Talk is about how to talk safely to someone who is at risk of taking their own life so that both you and they are kept safe. “Training as a PIPS Community Lifeguard enables you to talk to someone if they are in physical danger.

“We also learn self-care and how to deal with our own feelings as well as other people’s. Every volunteer receives counselling to ensure their mental health is not affected.”

In addition to helping improve the quality of countless local lives, Carlee turned her own life around to become the Chairperson of PIPS Larne.

Despite recent illness, she is still overseeing the group’s activities. She revealed: “I used to have problems with alcohol. I used it as a crutch for pain, but now I don’t need that.

“After I received help from PIPS Belfast it motivated me to help other people and to get an education, something that I thought I could never do.

“I didn’t believe in myself, now I have a future and I’m not defined by my past.”

Despite her life-saving work, Carlee, who was recently a runner up in the Belfast Telegraph’s 2015 Women of the Year Awards, says she doesn’t think she is an inspiration.

She continued: “I am proof that anyone can turn their life around at any time but you have to want it. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my brother but if we can prevent another family from going through that, allow people to express themselves and be there for them, it is worth it.”

This summer, PIPS Larne will open new headquarters on the site of the old Woodsides shop on Main Street.

Carlee revealed: “There will be a charity shop opening on the premises which will help fund our work as we receive no government funding so we would appeal for donations of clothes and bric-a-brac.

“We will also have Caroline Teague who will work with Simon Community clients and also provides acupuncture and aromatherapy. We will have a survivors of suicide group, a family support group and trained counsellors to bring the service into the community.

“There will be disabled access downstairs so they will have equal access to the premises.”

Reflecting on her involvement with the charity, Carlee commented: “The work is not easy but it is rewarding. Your history and what you have been through doesn’t have to define you. You can still change your future.

“You can move on and achieve things. I know what people are dealing with, because I’ve been there.”

Carlee says it is vital that people seeking help ensure they go to qualified counsellors who are experienced in dealing with their issues.

PIPS Larne is now looking for volunteer qualified counsellors to help with the service, and for a fundraising team.

To volunteer as a counsellor with PIPS Larne, telephone 07530797716. To volunteer for the fundraising team or to donate to the charity shop telephone 07972705564.

Alternatively, email pipslarne@yahoo.co.uk.