Balloon carries message of mental health awareness overseas

What goes up must come down and a balloon that was released into the skies above the Great Western Hospital in Swindon last year to mark World Mental Health Day did just that, but nearly 1,000 miles away in the south of France.

The purple balloon, which was one of dozens that soared into the atmosphere after being let go by hospital staff in October 2016, was found last week in a picturesque village in southern France by a hiker who almost mistook it for litter on the ground.

Didier Bert was out walking in the hills of Barreme, a small province around 60 miles north of Nice, when he came across the now-deflated balloon and the attached message encouraging whoever found it to go online to learn more about the importance of mental health.

SwindonTown Centre Fairytale BIG Christmas Lights Switch-on SwindonTown Centre Fairytale BIG Christmas Lights Switch-on

He said: “Well, at first, I simply thought it was a piece of waste on the ground, which disappointed me as the hills of Barreme are a protected nature area.

“But when I looked closer, I realised the balloon had come all the way from England, so I felt it was only right that I got in touch with the hospital to let them know that it had been found on French soil.”

Although a number of other purple balloons were found in and around Swindon in the weeks after the balloon launch, Didier’s balloon appears to have travelled the furthest with its international flight clocking up more than 750 miles.

Last October’s balloon launch kicked off the World Mental Health Day celebrations at the Swindon hospital, with staff coming together to learn more about spotting the often-hidden signs of conditions that do not always have visible symptoms.

It was also a chance for people to put the topic of mental health up for discussion, as many sufferers often shy away from talking about their problems with others.

Speaking at the time, Louise Jurkiewicz, Staff Mental Health Practitioner, said hospital staff should practice what they preach when it came to mental health.

She said: “As healthcare professionals, it’s important we make time to care for ourselves, not just so our bodies are fit and healthy, but so we’re able to provide great care to our patients.

“The health and wellbeing of staff is so important and, as a Trust, we do all we can to support a work-life balance.

“Staff have access to free counselling, stress management and a whole range of therapies to support their mental wellbeing.”

For more information about mental health and the support available, visit the NHS Choices website at www.nhs.uk.