HE was a happy, normal boy before it happened.

But after he was sexually abused as a child, his life changed.

He suffered mental health problems for years and repeatedly tried to take his own life.

“I tried to hang myself about a year ago, I have taken about 20 overdoses,” he said.

But hope has come in the form of a new scheme Synergy Essex First Responders.

The last time the man tried to take his life was two weeks before the first responders called him.

“Before the SFR rang me, my mind was racing but now I feel calmer,” he said.

“It is their calm voice and they give me time to talk and helped me understand my feelings and explained how trauma can affect people.

“I feel my brain would have exploded as I hadn’t heard from them.”

The man, who has asked to remain anonymous, said he had suffered mental health issues for many years but believes the new service is a real life-saver.

Synergy Essex First Responders has now supported almost 300 rape and sexual abuse victims helping them get specialist, life-saving care.

The project is believed to be the only one of its kind in the country which gives victims access to vital support within 24 hours of reporting an offence.

The responders are specially trained to provide emotional support.

They also share detailed information about the criminal justice process and provide access to specialist counselling and advocacy services.

The rape victim said: “From reporting to police to the Synergy Essex First Responders contacting me was very quick.

“It was hard talking but it was good, because I was able to get a lot of things off my mind.

“I thought the Synergy Essex First Responders was brilliant, I knew they were helping.

“I never realised this support was available. I don’t know what I would have done without the service.

“From our last conversation I also had the courage to tell my sister. She was very shocked and asked me if that was why I have taken overdoses. I told her it was.

“It feels better that I have now told her and she is going to support me too.

“I think everyone should know that there is brilliant support for people like me.”

The project is the result of partnership work between Essex Police and the Essex rape and sexual abuse partnership Synergy Essex.

The scheme is also being supported by Essex’s police, fire and crime commissioner Roger Hirst.

The pilot project started earlier this year and within the first three months had already helped 279 people with more than 150 people going on to engage with services.

The service is funded by a £136,110 grant from Mr Hirst to help Synergy Essex respond to the increase in demand and offer specialist support from the moment victims report the incident to police.

The grant is in addition to the £680,000 funding provided before the rise in reported incidents.

From April 1 2018 to March 31 this year, Synergy Essex supported 6,974 people affected by sexual violence and abuse.

The group received 23,117 inbound calls and delivered 25,514 face-to-face specialist support sessions.

Rebekah Brant, from Synergy Essex, said: “Already we’ve had really positive feedback with victims and survivors telling us that having this support really early on has helped them understand the criminal justice process and what to expect in terms of the investigation.

“This has helped them engage with the police and continue to support the investigation.”

“We’re seeing reports of sexual offences increasing which indicates people are more confident in reporting them but means specialist rape crisis services are stretched to capacity.

“This initiative goes some way to increase the capacity here in Essex to meet that demand.”

Det Supt Jason Hendy, of Essex Police, said: “Victims of sexual offences have been through a traumatic experience and if they don’t get the right support it can leave them feeling isolated and unsure of what’s happening.”

To contact Synergy Essex call 0300 003 7777, email support@synergyessex.org.uk, or visit synergyessex.org.uk.