**Trigger warning: contains references to suicide**
For World Suicide Prevention Day 2020 we are sharing some very brave stories from our Champions who emphasise the importance of speaking out about your mental health in order to remove the stigma around seeking help if you have suicidal thoughts.
On 1st February 2018, I sat in the library staring at a half-finished essay and seriously contemplated taking my own life. Of course, it wasn’t the essay that was the problem. For a long time, I had been juggling a masters’ degree, bereavement, poor mental health, caring for my elderly grandparents and the effects of trauma and that insignificant piece of coursework was the last straw. In that moment, it didn’t feel like I would ever feel better.
Depression is devious. It can make you think that not only has the light at the end of the tunnel gone out, but that the tunnel is boarded up. It deludes you into thinking that everyone would be better off without you, even when they are telling you otherwise. Depression can also make you forget what it feels like to be well. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to laugh, to feel proud, to feel relieved, to look forward to something or to enjoy my favourite meal. I couldn’t remember how good it felt to sing along to the radio on a road trip with my friends or to walk through crunchy leaves on a crisp October morning. I couldn’t remember how it felt to, well... feel. In that moment, I had such an urge to harm myself that I locked myself in the library toilets and phoned my mum. I explained how I was feeling, and she came and picked me up and took me to the GP.
I dropped out of university for the year, went to see a counsellor, went back on antidepressants and slowly, the colour started to seep back into my life. I learnt techniques that helped me manage my mental health. I reconnected with friends and with the hobbies I had forgotten to enjoy. I trained as a Time to Change Wales Champion so that I could use my story to help others and to smash the stigma associated with mental-ill health. I went back to university, completed my masters degree and now I’m about to start a PhD in suicide prevention. It took time, and it certainly wasn’t a linear recovery, but I got better and now in 2020 I am healthy and happy.
"Together we can smash the stigma and shift the culture. I truly hope that one day we live in a world where nobody feels it is easier to end their own life than to ask for help."
The culture around mental health and wellbeing has changed for the better in the UK, but there is still work that needs to be done to eradicate the stigma. It is still very difficult to speak openly about mental-ill health, and there is still a lack of education about where and how to seek help. Stigma is deadly, as the harder it is to talk about mental health and suicidal thoughts, the harder it is for somebody in need to pick up the phone and get help when they are at their most vulnerable. We simply must correct this culture of ‘keep calm and carry on’, so that lives may be saved.
Finally, to those who know somebody who is struggling with their mental health, don’t let the fear of ‘saying the wrong thing’ stop you from starting the conversation. Ask people how they are, wait for an answer and listen. You don’t have to give advice, pass comment, know how to solve their problems or understand what they are going through - just listen. Talking about mental health or suicide can be draining, so always be sure to set boundaries to protect your own health but understand that it is a privilege for somebody to trust you to listen and know that one conversation could well save somebody’s life. Together we can smash the stigma and shift the culture. I truly hope that one day we live in a world where nobody feels it is easier to end their own life than to ask for help.