Based in an unassuming surburban London street, Maytree is a place for people who are considering taking their own lives to stay for a few days, to talk, rest and reflect – somewhere independent that does not offer medical treatment, nor is linked to mental health services.
“We are a sanctuary for the suicidal,” says Paddy Bazeley, one of the founders of Maytree.
People who are suicidal feel a stigma about using mental health services, says Bazeley. They do not want the label of “he has been in hospital”, and they fear the unknown, of what exactly happens inside. Maytree provides a place for them to take stock. “There is always a bit of them that wants to live,” she says.
More people commit suicide in the UK each year than die on our roads (5,600 compared with 3,200). In London, there is an average of two suicides every day.
It was Bazeley, a consultant director to the central London branch of The Samaritans, and Michael Knight, a psychotherapist, who first had the idea for the refuge. The house has space for four guests at a time, and they are allowed to stay up to four nights. Stays are free and the charity is funded entirely by donations.
Their time spent here “is intense and focused,” says Bazeley. “We don’t provide counselling, which would imply treatment,” she emphasises. “It is about offering people befriending – providing listening, and non-judgemental interest, consideration and care.”
In the five years since its formation, Maytree has assessed 1,500 people from which it has taken nearly 400 guests. “We cannot help everyone,” admits Bazeley. Some decide the time is not right to visit, or that Maytree is not for them, and some cannot commit to a drug- and alcohol-free stay.
“They have to be able to relate and to spend considerable time exploring what has brought them to Maytree. That’s the point of their stay,” she says.
And there is plenty of evidence to show it is successful. A recent evaluation by The Tavistock Institute found that Maytree made a difference by helping guests gain relief from desperate and difficult situations. It concluded that for some it can have a transforming and lasting effect.
Most people who visit are aged between 30 and 49 (56%) and female (63%) – although an increasing number are men who have suffered a relationship breakdown. Ethnic minority groups make up 30%. Most are from London (62%), but some come from as far away as Scotland.
Most guests are referred to Maytree from hospitals, and referrals also come from family or friends, work colleagues or employers, voluntary agencies or support services, doctors and mental health professionals. But the biggest recruiter has become self-referrals, thanks to an advertisement on the internet.
There is no such thing as a typical guest. “Lots of the guests have had very bad experiences within the family, and/or were in care,” she says. “Conversely, many have had perfectly happy family backgrounds.”
The house is a light and airy four-storey with a beautiful garden and guests are invited to take a full part in activities, whether shopping, preparing meals, or cleaning. “Some guests are so cut off from people that they have never eaten around a kitchen table, and doing so can be quite frightening,” says Bazeley. “But they get used to it and it becomes second nature.”
Glen is one of 60 volunteers. “It is not a place with a magic cure,” he says. “But there is a pattern to people’s stay. On the first day they are usually anxious, Gradually they open up, and by the end there is often an emotional goodbye.
“You get a weird mix of feelings when it goes right,” he says. “There is the good feeling that listening to people can help, and the sad feeling that they have never been listened to before.”
Maytree – 020 7263 7070