The orange button is a small orange pin worn on an office lanyard or clothing but it can be a powerful lifesaver.
Katrina Kerr found this out when she supported a work colleague who was having suicidal thoughts.
Kat, as she prefers to be called, is an Operations Director for a Manufacturing company in Malvern. Her colleague had been struggling with their mental health for some time.
Kat explained to us what happened: “When we met at work I took them away from the normal environment to a free conference room so they could feel safe with me to talk. We sat down and chatted for about an hour. I was surprised to hear that they had thought about suicide 3 to 4 times already, but last night was when they reached a crisis point. They wanted to escape their pattern of ups and downs, they were sick of being mentally well one moment and then really low the next and didn’t know what else to do. We wrote a safety plan together and I asked for permission to check up on them to make sure they were following the safety plan and that they were ok.”
After the initial meeting and with their permission Kat explained the situation to their father, who was able to support them further.
None of this would have happened if Kat hadn’t been wearing her Orange Button, a sign that she is trained to support people who may be thinking about taking their own life.
Kat first heard about the Orange Button Community Scheme a Wellbeing event in Worcester. She had taken a Mental Health First Aid Course after being affected by the sudden death of one of their suppliers, who had taken their own life
Kat said: “It came as a nasty shock to all of us, as we were in a meeting with him on Friday and we learned that he had taken his life on the Saturday. We were in complete shock as we had worked with him for a long time. Myself and my team carried so much guilt about not seeing the signs and I personally saw how it affected the team and didn’t know how to help. I already knew that men were at the highest risk of suicide and of course, working in a manufacturing industry- men make up most of the employees. I felt I needed to do something about this as I don’t want to be involved in another situation like this. So, I paid for myself to go on a Mental Health First Aid course and then learned about the Orange Button and wanted to use my skills further and promote help for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Her organisation now has a Mental Wellbeing monthly team meeting and a separate Mental Health and Wellbeing noticeboard which is where she put up her Orange Button posters and signposting flier.
“I’m not sure if they would have come to me without my Orange Button.” she said “without me making it known in previous meetings what it is and that I am now an orange button wearer, or without the poster in the staffroom telling people what it is.”
Councillor Karen May, Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing at Worcestershire County Council, said: Kat’s story is really poignant, and shows just how powerful wearing an Orange Button can be. It’s really important that support is now more visible to those struggling with suicidal thoughts or worried about someone who might be.
“We really want to create a community of Orange Button wearers who people can turn to. Orange Button wearers are there to listen, signpost to local support and help reduce stigma by talking openly about suicide.
Reflecting on advice for others, Kat says: “Be brave and ask the question, be direct, if you don’t ask, people won’t open up to you. As an Orange Button wearer, I feel grateful to be able to help people in this way. I have helped two people since wearing the Orange Button and even if I have helped them to choose life for a day longer then that’s something.”
The Orange Button Community Scheme was launched by Public Health across Herefordshire and Worcestershire in September 2022. There are currently over 230 wearers across both counties.
By wearing an Orange Button you are making yourself visible to those who may need a conversation about suicide and to those who may be worried about someone else. Orange Button wearers possess the knowledge and skills from having a certain level of mental health and suicide prevention training to signpost individuals to support services. Being an Orange Button wearer means you are comfortable to talk to about suicide and you can listen without judgement.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this story, you can find support, advice and information including the Orange Button Community Scheme on the Now We’re Talking website.