The communities of North Kent came out to attend a public conference around health and being called Listen Up on Thursday 10th March. Held at the Woodville in Gravesham and organised by the Kent Equality Cohesion Council in partnership with Rethink Sahayak, North Kent Caribbean Network and EK360, the aim of the conference was to raise awareness of issues such as suicide, substance abuse and mental health which have been impacting communities since the onset of the pandemic.

Approximately 250 people attended the conference and heard presentations from speakers including Mandeep Manocha from Alcohol Free Sikhs, Sandeep Saib who spoke her lived experiences with body dysmorphia and attempted suicide and Tim Woodhouse from Kent County Council who covered a number of the services provided to tackle the issues discussed during the conference.

Also speaking at the conference were Deputy Lord Lieutenant Dr Bhargawa Vasudaven, Acting Head of Community Services South, Carol Gosal, and Chair of the North Kent Caribbean Network, Michelle Bramble. They gave a community perspective on the issues discussed during the conference and some of the support available locally.

The conference was concluded by Gurjit Singh Shokar’s emotional and hard hitting experience around the loss of his brother Amarjit Singh Shokar to suicide recently. Gurjit has been advocating for more work to be done to raise awareness of suicide prevention especially within ethnic minority communities as there is still a taboo around mental health.

Furthermore, in recognition of the tragic events unfolding in Ukraine, fundraising was conducted during the conference and £950 was collected. The funds will be donated towards the Ukrainian relief efforts via the Disaster Emergency Committee.

Gurvinder Sandher the CEO of the Kent Equality Cohesion Council commented “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen issues such as suicide and mental health reach new devastating levels. As such, we felt it necessary to hold this conference and reach as many people as we could from the local communities, to raise awareness as well as highlight the services and aid available. Our hope is that through the conference, if even one life can be saved, or someone suffering from mental health can find access to care, then we have done our job right. I am also grateful to everyone who donated to the Ukraine appeal on the night.”

Carol Gosal, Acting Head of Community Services South commented, “We are really pleased to have been able to deliver this event and reach so many people. The topics discussed today are hard hitting and not easy to listen to but we have to make ourselves uncomfortable for the severity of the matter to really sink in. It’s vital that we talk about suicide and mental health and raise awareness. Special thanks go to our speakers who all made such important contributions.”

Michelle Bramble, Chair of the North Kent Caribbean Network said, “We wholly believe that we need events like these to raise awareness and shine a light on subjects like suicide and mental health, subjects that aren’t necessarily talked about until it’s happening to you or someone you know. The aim of this event was to show people that it’s never too late to access help and support no matter where you are from. I am so happy so many people came out to support and it was particularly heartening to see members of the community reach out to speakers and thank them for sharing their stories. It’s indicative of the fact that on some level, the penny has dropped and people are listening and taking this seriously.”