This blog contains suicidal themes.
Please read with care.
Suicide is a growing epidemic in this country and we’re finally starting to talk about it, but still not enough. In 2018 there were 6,507 registered deaths by suicide in the UK, equating to an average of 18 suicides per day in the country. It is the biggest killer in men under the age of 45 and the rate of suicide for females under 25 has increased by 93.8% since 2012, to its highest level in 2019. Shocking isn’t it? We still need to be doing more to remove the stigma by educating people and helping those in pain. We’re still uncomfortable talking about death let alone suicide.
In 2018 I watched a powerful and uplifting documentary called Stranger on the Bridge, in which Jonny Benjamin, MBE, tells his story about his own attempt to take his life by jumping off Waterloo Bridge and the heroic passer-by, Neil Laybourn, who talked him down. It was this programme that inspired me to share my story and then go on to launch my mental health blog, Saving Sarah earlier this year. I found it so refreshing to hear Jonny talking so openly and honestly about his struggles living with schizoaffective disorder and his suicide attempt.
For years Jonny has been campaigning tirelessly for mental health awareness even vlogging about his own mental health experiences on his You Tube channel. Jonny bravely opened up a couple of weeks ago on Twitter about a relapse he was having. He wrote that he hoped that by sharing how he was feeling he was helping others to not delay speaking up and that the “right time to talk is always right now”. He’s currently spending some time in hospital recovering and I really hope he takes all the time he needs to heal and feels better soon.
I have attempted suicide three times over the years and can still to this day get very real suicidal urges as a result of my bipolar and anxiety. When you are in that very dark and dangerous headspace you feel so hopeless and full of despair that the smallest problems are magnified and appear insurmountable. You feel a total and utter failure and you just don’t want to feel guilty any more for the pain you feel you are constantly inflicting on those around you. You genuinely think that everyone is better off without you and that you are an incredible burden on your loved ones. When we resort to dealing with this level of inner pain and turmoil in silence, we over analyse every tiny thing and because we’re ill we enforce beliefs that aren’t true. Therefore it’s hardly surprising that we can come to the worse conclusion. I even thought that suicide would prove to my family how much you love them. I have never really wanted to end my life as such I have merely wanted to end the pain and have believed every time that suicide was my only solution.
You feel so defeated and trapped you just cannot think of any other way to escape. It’s kind of like having emotional tunnel vision once you have decided to end your life. You literally feel like you have found the solution to all your problems. I think you are just so exhausted from the relentless negative thoughts racing around your head that the idea of just no longer having to think is so inviting. I did feel a weird sense of calm and relief which can be why so many people report not having seen any warning signs. I once spent the day laughing and drinking out with friends before taking an overdose. Nobody had a clue has bad I was feeling.
I want to share with you something I wrote during a really difficult period of my life some years ago. I lived in London and at that time had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar so I used to spend months in a very high (hypomanic) state where I just partied, drank and took drugs after which I would usually come crashing down and experience a very prolonged low mood. However I used to put on a brave face and drank more and more to mask my feelings with disastrous consequences. I came across this recently and had forgotten that I had kept it. After I read it I realised that I had created this front that was so far removed from my true self as I didn’t have the courage to be the real me. I was so lost I don’t think I even had a clue who the real me was. All I knew was that there was a side of me that felt so vulnerable and uncomfortable that it was just easier to get drunk and perform for people. That was the Sarah that was fun and made people laugh. After all who would want to be with the sad, silent, tortured Sarah? I didn’t that’s for sure. This is what I wrote: –
- Another night, another drink
- tired of smoking, tired of these sad songs
- tired of sad laughter
- what it must be to live freely
- to laugh and laugh filled with happy thoughts.
- I’m so so tired
- When will it be someone else’s turn to make me laugh?
- When will the pain stop?
- With every sip, with every line I go deeper and deeper into my own despair
- So desperately trying to reach out to someone
- So desperately trying to reach out to me
- To the me that can’t bear to see me like this
- It’s not my fault, please tell me it’s not my fault
- Now tears and more tears, why?
- Still more and more tears
- This is ME
- The me that no one sees when everyone’s gone home
- No longer the joker, the exhibitionist
- Just ME
- Have to pause for more drink, it will help
- I want to shout it out to the world
- It’s not meant to be like this
- Oh for something much stronger that means I don’t even have to think any more
- I dream all the time of just slipping away unnoticed
- Selfish? Yes
- But when have I ever been selfish?
- It’s not so easy though is it?
- I can’t even bear to think about that without feeling guilty
- Beers finished
- Go on have another it’ll help.
It still hurts me reading that and remembering such a painful time in my life.
If you are in secondary care like myself then you will probably have a care plan that was drawn up by your psychiatrist and CPN (community psychiatric nurse), if you have one. It will have on it the contact details for who you can call in an emergency. It’s important that you give a copy to those closest to you, preferably someone you live with. They need to be familiar with the drill should you need urgent help. Sometimes just voicing how bad you feel can really help too. Please see the information at the end of this post for details of who you can contact. Failing that should you feel really unsafe then if you can take yourself or ask someone else to take you to A&E. I have in the past taken myself to hospital after a night of heavy drinking because I became suddenly overwhelmed with strong suicidal urges and knew that if I went back home I would be very likely to take an overdose. For me alcohol was a definite catalyst for these urges. The combination of alcohol and cocaine proved particularly dangerous for me as it fuelled my impulsiveness and fed my paranoia. There’s always that myth that drink relaxes and can help you to sleep, but for someone with mental health issues it not only worsens depressive symptoms but it also increases the risk of suicide by up to 8 times.
If you don’t have a psychiatrist then you could of course write out your own care plan with useful numbers on it like your GP, local hospital, contact details of friends that you would feel comfortable talking too, Samaritans, Mind etc. You could just print off the list at the end of this blog and then just add your own contacts to it.
Since becoming a Mum, the responsibility of caring for my son has really helped me to overcome suicidal urges. If I ever feel like that I straight away picture my his lovely little face. I imagine in great detail his smell and the feeling of his hand in mine, his amazing smile, kissing away his tears when he’s hurt and the look of panic on his face when he can’t find me. You could come up with a similar distraction technique. Write it down if need be.
Something really useful I have found is to make your own calming kit to use when you’re struggling. Obviously you put in it things that will help you but some examples are: photographs of loved ones, lavender oil/your favourite perfume/laundry smell on some fabric, something soft to touch, chocolate or your favourite sweet and maybe also include a note with an uplifting quote written on it or a treasured message. The idea is to have something that stimulate all your senses which can be enough to shift your mindset if you’re feeling triggered. Keep the kit as small as possible so that it will fit discreetly in your bag or pocket even so that you’ve got it to hand wherever you go.
For anyone who knows someone or who is living with someone who has expressed wishes to end their own life or who is so depressed that they have withdrawn completely from every day life please try to get help for them. It is no good telling them that things will get better or to be grateful for what they have. They need help urgently. Please please don’t pussyfoot around depression it’s a life threatening condition. Try if you can to just listen and reassure them rather than ask lots of questions. I always hate talking when I feel really low. There’s no need for any big speech as such. Sometimes even just cuddles if possible can help you to feel that little bit less isolated. Just telling someone that you believe in them and have their back can mean so so much. Remind them gently that how they are feeling won’t last forever and that they will get better.
There is that old school mentality of not talking to someone about suicidal feelings because it may give them the idea to end their life. I believe the opposite is true. I just think knowing that the people around you love you and understand just how bad you are feeling is such a comfort. Remember not to leave anyone alone in crisis and to remove anything from the house that they could harm themselves with such as knives, sharp objects, belts (including dressing gowns) phone chargers, excess alcohol and medication etc.
If you worried about your child or teenager and they have shut down and seem unable to talk encourage them to keep off social media and try if you can to go out for a walk together. It can be easier for them to talk this way rather than face to face. It’s crucial during this pandemic that we keep talking to our kids and we don’t just brush off moods as ‘terrible teens’ for example. It’s very possible that kids are internalising their fears over coronavirus and isolation, feeling like their world is closing in, but because they’re battling to conform to social norms they won’t talk about it. If they’re unable to open up I would even advise looking around, without them knowing, for clues like phone messages, diaries, social media posts, internet browsing history and checking to see if any medication has been stockpiled. If possible you could speak in private to your child’s friend or teacher and see if they have noticed any unusual behaviour. It may feel like an invasion of their privacy but it could save their life. If you child is a gamer then you could download their platform’s app, like PS4, so that you can keep an eye on the messages they’re sending to each other. Don’t just assume that everything is OK because they’re talking to their friends while they’re gaming. If they are wearing extra clothing such as a thick hoodie on a hot day or always have their sleeves pulled down, check that they’re not trying to conceal self-harm injuries.
I think for some people, especially men, there may be very few signs. Be vigilant for anyone who is experiencing any kind of stress like debt, divorce, marriage/relationship difficulties, exam worry, family, housing or health problems, bereavement, job loss etc. Are they acting slightly out of character (e.g. eating/sleeping problems)? Do they seem to be putting their affairs in order? Giving their possessions away? Are they contacting a lot of friends out of the blue? Are they thanking you out of context for your love/friendship etc? Are they drinking a lot/using drugs excessively?
I personally think people who have experienced a severe trauma like rape or the death of a child/a murder or suicide in the family should be red flagged by mental health services. A few years ago I was so moved by the brilliant BBC documentary Mind over Marathon. All the participants were amazing but I was so touched and inspired by Rhian Manning’s story. Her baby boy tragically died at the age of 1 from a seizure and then just a few days later her husband took his own life. Rhian is sure that her husband would still be alive today had the right support been there for them, which is why she set up the brilliant charity 2 Wish Upon A Star, to help other bereaved families dealing with the sudden death of a child or young adult in Wales. They have helped countless number of families and Rhian was awarded a well deserved MBE last year.
I think men still have this terrible added pressure of feeling that they will look weak if they open up about their feelings or ask for help. Sadly a large percentage of men in this country think it is not OK to cry in public. It’s no surprise then that generations of men have grown up suppressing their emotions, which must be the reason why abuse of drugs, sex and alcohol is seen at a much higher percentage than women. That horrible outdated phrase ‘man up’ has got a lot to answer for. We need to bring our children up, especially our sons, to know that it is good to cry and talk about how we feel whether it’s good or bad. I think it’s important that we are also open with our children about our feelings and how we feel when we’re upset rather than telling them nothing is wrong.
In the media the growing list of celebrities that have taken their own lives proves that suicide, like mental illness does not discriminate. It frustrates me when I hear people react by saying ‘how selfish’ or ‘why would they do that?’. One comment that really winds me up is when people say ‘I don’t understand they had all that money and seemed so happy and looked so well’. I can’t believe that some people still believe that if you look OK then you must feel OK too. It’s so frustrating! Without a doubt the devastating impact that suicide has on the families left behind is heartbreaking. But far from selfish I think it shows just what unbearable pain the person must have been suffering who felt that they had nowhere else to turn.
It was the death of TV presenter Caroline Flack that really rocked the nation last year. It felt so intrusive and uncomfortable seeing those images of her in the news attending Court, surrounded by dozens of paparazzi, as if she were at a red carpet event. You could clearly see that she was not in a good place mentally. I also thought it was disgusting that such a personal and upsetting photograph of her blood stained bed should have been allowed to be printed in the press. I think we honestly forget sometimes that these are real people with real feelings.
I signed the petition, along with hundreds of thousands of others for Caroline’s Law, calling for an end to harassment and bullying by the British press and to change the way the media sensationalise the misfortune of individuals. I’m sure her death could have been avoided had she felt able to deal with the situation and get help without the worry of press intrusion. It’s bad enough dealing with the pain you’re feeling but I cannot begin to imagine the sheer panic and paranoia she much have been going through having her every move played out in the public eye. I imagine even the strongest of person would have crumbled under that kind of extra pressure, never mind someone as vulnerable and as at risk as poor Caroline. Sadly she didn’t stand a chance. I always wondered how come Ant McPartlin was able to keep his recovery under wraps from the press and then return to our screens as if nothing happened? It’s heartbreaking that the same level of privacy wasn’t afforded to Caroline in her time of need. I really hope that the Caroline’s Law gets the go ahead soon to avoid the same thing happening to someone else and for her death to have not been in vain.
Personally, I felt like Love Island should have been axed following the suicides of Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis. I know most people love it, but for me their deaths highlighted the lethal hunger for fame these shows, in my opinion create. The contestants on these show gain instant ‘celebrity’ status, but all too soon we’ve forgotten most of their names and moved on to the next show. The reason why I think this type of celebrity culture is so dangerous is because I’m sure a lot of the contestants come on to shows like this to find fame in order to overcome their own insecurities. Success and public approval must lull them into a false sense of security and then the consequences should they lose this, as is often the case, must be huge leaving them only with a deep sense of loss and failure. I’m sure had social media been around for most of the Big Brother series then there would have been many contestants who would have paid the price mentally, as a result of this kind of fake popularity.
What’s so sad is that when a celebrity takes their own life we all go into shock at the tragedy of it and speak up about the need to be more open. After Caroline’s death we had the ‘Be Kind’ campaign, inspired by her poignant Instagram post, before her death, reminding us all that ‘in a world where you can be anything, be kind’. This was a great way to raise awareness but all too soon it vanished into the background. I don’t see much kindness on Twitter at the moment. It seems so vicious and I see so many people coming off it as a result of all the hate they get.
I think because we grew up in a society that tended to blame those who died by suicide, it causes those of us affected by it to feel shame. I think it’s the shame that is what needs to end. We have to start speaking honestly about depression and suicide. Not just when a celebrity dies but always.
If we talk about depression and suicidal thoughts more then it might give people to confidence to approach someone dealing with either or both. This in turn would then help the people dealing with them to feel comfortable talking about it themselves.
I feel so encouraged now to see so many brilliant books dealing with these subjects and being discussed more on TV. Books I would highly recommend are ‘The Unwelcome Visitor’ by Denise Welch, ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ and ‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig, and ‘Back to the Boy’ by James Arthur.
As well as Jonny Benjamin’s ‘Stranger on the Bridge’ that I mentioned earlier, there are some other brilliant documentaries out there including ‘Odd One Out’ by Jesy Nelson about the effects that cyber bullying has had on her mental health. Also Angela Samata’s ‘Life After Suicide’ (Angela co-authored the award winning #SeeSaySignpost training, to help us all play a more effective role in suicide prevention) and ‘Suicide and Me’ by Professor Green both explore important discussions around losing loved ones to suicide and challenging the stigma surrounding it.
Joey Essex moved viewers to tears when he discussed his Mum’s suicide on SAS Who Dares Wins. He has since taken part in a documentary called Joey Essex: Who Am I?, to be aired soon, in which he discusses further the impact losing his Mum so suddenly at such a young age had on his life.
Tyson Fury’s: The Gypsy King 3 part documentary is such an incredible boxing comeback story, telling how he fought back from the brink of suicide and then went on to win the WBC heavyweight title in February. He talks so honestly about how he manages his mental health on a daily basis, having been diagnosed with bipolar and OCD. I am sure this programme must have given so many people, in particular men and sporting professionals, the courage to speak up and ask for help. Especially considering boxing is thought of as such a ‘masculine’ sport. Tyson has since gone on to set up The Tyson Fury Foundation, with boxing, football and gym facilities, to help kids achieve their dreams in Morecambe Bay where he lives. His wife Paris Fury has also done so much also for raising mental health awareness by talking both in the documentary and also in further interviews about living with someone who has mental health issues and about the impact that can have on a family.
‘What’s the Matter with Tony Slattery?’ follows comedian Tony Slattery trying to find answers about his own mental health, including speaking to one of the world’s leading experts on bipolar disorder Professor Guy Goodwin. Being bipolar myself I was fascinated to learn more about my condition and to hear about his research into developing new treatments. Stephen Fry also speaks on the programme about the dangers of attempting to self-medicate mental health issues.
I watched a brilliant new docu-drama on Netflix yesterday called ‘The Social Dilemma’. Tech experts reveal the terrifying pitfalls of social media making it a really important watch for everyone. What disturbed me most was the idea of this kind of persuasive technology having the ability to manipulate and dig deeper down into the brain stem of kids and ‘take over their sense of self-worth and identity’. I think it speaks volumes that these experts don’t allow their own children any screen time!
They looked at graphs showing the spiralling teen suicide rates, linked to social media use. It’s not surprising when you see selfies now that are so heavily filtered it’s like looking at cartoon characters. Kids simply cannot compare to such unrealistic standards of beauty. Only last week I noticed two girls separately referring to themselves as ‘ugly’ in my son’s WhatsApp messages. I asked my son about it as he told me that they are always putting themselves down and calling themselves ‘ugly’ and ‘bitches’. These are 10 year olds so something needs to be done to avoid these figures escalating further. The documentary’s website, thesocialdilemma.com has resources for parents and more information regarding ways in which we can sign up to demand that these social media products be designed humanely. Please watch this and encourage others to do so.
Loose Women and their Lighten the Load campaign has always been good at discussing a wide range of mental health issues on TV. Denise Welch has been a great mental health advocate for a long time and has always been really open about sharing her experiences of depression. Her new book ‘The Unwelcome Visitor’ has gone on to be a best seller.
There are also some great podcasts out there too. My favourite right now is Openhouse by Louise Rumball. We hear Clinical psychologist Dr Helene Laurent-Oliver guide Louise through a series of live therapy sessions exploring all aspects of life, giving us the opportunity to self-reflect, learn and grow with her. Louise is such a genuine, positive energy and is passionate, like myself, about helping to change how we approach mental health. By bravely putting herself out there she highlights so well the importance of having these real and honest conversations together. I think she’s such a great role model for young girls for showing us that there is real beauty in being our authentic selves and not just in ‘perfect’ Instagram posts. For those of us unable to access therapy this podcast gives us a good insight into the amazing impact that it can have on so many areas of our lives and not just in times of crisis.
Others podcasts that I really like are Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s ‘Feel Better, Live More’, The Speakmans’ ‘Making the Change’, Fearne Cotton’s ‘Happy Place’ and Deliciously Ella.
I was really moved recently to Dr Alex George speaking on TV on Lorraine about sadly losing his younger brother Llŷr to mental health. I have so much admiration for him talking about something so painful and raw and I’m so grateful to him for doing it because it’s talking about it that saves lives.
What’s so inspiring is that Dr Alex now wants to see a ‘mental health toolkit’ introduced in all schools and universities. This is such a brilliant idea that we all need to get behind this and give him all the support we can. It is this kind of positive action that is going to bring lasting change at how we look at mental health. This ‘toolkit’ can teach children how to take control and manage their own mental health by giving them the tools they need to cope with difficult feelings instead of masking them and suffering in silence. This type of education is vital in preventing them from ever feeling like there is no way out.
If you are struggling and you’re feeling like you can’t go on please know that you matter and that there is help out there for you. You are not alone. Once you start to talk about it then you’re no longer dealing with everything on your own.
I really hope that I have helped in some way. It has been very difficult for me to open up about this but we all have to stop treating it like a taboo subject and keep talking about it. Unless you’ve experienced suicidal feelings then we tend to think of it as something that can’t possibly happen to our loved ones but it does.
Thanks for reading this and to all the people I have mentioned who have given me the courage to speak out. Sending love to those of you who have lost loved ones. My heart goes out to you all.
Let’s end the stigma not our lives.
Lot of love
- (Open 24/7)
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Call : 116 123
- (Open 24/7)
- Text: Shout to 85258
- Mind Infoline
- (Open Mon-Fri 9am-6pm)
- Call: 0300 123 3393
- Text: 86463
- Papyrus (aimed at teenagers and young adults)
- (Open Mon-Fri 9am-10pm and weekends 2-10pm)
- Call: 0800 068 4141
- Text: 078600 39967
- Email: email@example.com
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
- (support for men particularly young men under 35)
- (Open 5pm-midnight)
- Webchat: www.thecalmzone.net
- Call: 0800 585858
- ChildLine (for children and young people)
- (Open Mon-Fri 7.30am-midnight and weekends 9am-midnight)
- Website: www.childline.org.uk
- (see ‘Calm Zone’ under the ‘Toolbox’ section for great resources to help with stress, like breathing exercises and games)
- Call: 0800 1111
- SOBS (Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide)
- (Open Mon-Sun 9am-9pm)
- Call: 0300 111 5065
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 2 Wish Upon a Star(for Welsh residents only)
- (bereavement support for those affected by the sudden death of a child or young adult)
- (Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-4.30pm)
- Call: 01443 853125
- Email: email@example.com