Mark: “The Hope Programme gave me a better outlook on life… I feel like ‘me’ again”

Norfolk firefighter Mark Westgate went through an incredibly challenging time after losing his mum to cancer and three colleagues to suicide. Here, he shares how our online mental wellbeing programme helped him.

Mark Westgate is known by his close friends and family for his sense of humour, so when the jokes suddenly stopped, his family knew he needed help.

Those early signs that your mental health has taken a dip can be different for everyone. But for Mark, he says it took his wife telling him that he hadn’t made her laugh for a year for him to realise how much he’d been struggling.

Having been a firefighter for Norfolk FRS for 28 years, Mark luckily knew we offered a number of support pathways and got in touch with us. From there, he attended our online Hope Programme, a mental wellbeing programme aimed at those living with stress and anxiety, and he says it helped him feel himself again.

“I went through a really rough couple of years. My mother was diagnosed with cancer in 2021, she was very ill for about a year before she passed away, in November 2022” says Mark.

“She really rallied and was determined to be there for all the family’s birthdays that year. She passed away just three days before my grandson’s birthday – that was the only birthday she missed.

“We’d had a really rough time at work around then too. We lost three colleagues to suicide and I think I hadn’t realised the impact that that had had on me either. I’d known one of them quite well.

“The following year, my wife told me I hadn’t properly been there for a year or so… she said, ‘you’ve been here, but you haven’t – you need help’. When she takes that tone, I know she’s serious. I just hadn’t realised myself.

“One thing that stuck with me was, she told me I hadn’t made her laugh for a year. I’m known for taking the mick out of people, and my sense of humour, so that was enough said.”

Knowing he needed help, Mark got in touch with us and was told about our Hope Programme.

The self-directed online wellbeing programme is perfect for building up a toolkit of knowledge, skills and strategies to help you cope with life’s challenges. You can find out more about it here.

Mark adds: “I’ve got to say that the speed at which The Fire Fighters Charity got things put in place and in motion was amazing.

“I left a message on the Saturday night, and I was having an in-depth chat with someone that Monday morning.

“Everyone was absolutely amazing, nothing was too much and their manner was always friendly and helpful. In fact, it wasn’t until I spoke to the Charity and started the Hope Programme that I really realised the impact everything had had on me.

“Knowing that we have access to the Crisis Line too is amazing, it’s so needed.”

Mark Westgate

“The Hope Programme really helps. You take it at your own pace, the videos and talks highlight that week’s topic well. Setting goals and having a better outlook on life has made me feel so much better and ‘me’ again.

“Knowing now that we have access to the Charity’s Crisis Line too is amazing, it’s so needed.”

Mark went through a very difficult time more recently, when his mother-in-law passed away, just seven weeks after a diagnosis, and he also supported his wife through her best friend’s memorial, who passed away last year suddenly.

He says the tools he learned on the Hope Programme have helped him hugely throughout, and he hopes to continue bringing them into his everyday life going forwards.

Join our Hope Programme

If you feel you’d benefit from our health and wellbeing support, you can call our Support Line on 0800 389 8820, make an enquiry online or visit the ‘Access Support’ tab in My Fire Fighters Charity.

And remember – if you’re feeling suicidal, you can call our Crisis Line 24 hours a day on 0300 373 0896.