S&C’s community reporter and reviewer, Emily Priest, returns from her recent break to give an unflinching and brave account of her own experiences and explain why we all need to start talking about mental health.
The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 800,000 people commit suicide every year. That’s one person every 40 seconds. Research indicates that for each person who died of suicide, at least 20 others have attempted it.
I am one of these people. On the 9th October, I took an overdose of pills and if my friend hadn’t called the ambulance, I would be dead.
I had collected every pill in the house – paracetamol, contraceptive pill, codeine, anti-depressants – and had started to swallow them, one by one. After 8 or 9, the ambulance arrived and the paramedics stopped me from taking any more.
A week later I was placed under the care of Portsmouth’s Crisis Team and prescribed an anti-depressant called Mirtazapine. The doctors saw me every other day, at home or at The Orchards to monitor my progress and check my stability. Since then, I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder or Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) and referred onto DBT (Dialectal Behavioural Therapy).
It’s been an uphill battle trying to ‘get better’ and nearly two months on, I still have suicidal thoughts. I’ve struggled to find hope and motivation but perhaps the biggest obstacle has been how to talk about it.
When I opened up to my friends, many told me they ‘didn’t know what to say’. Family members, particularly my mother, couldn’t understand the terms ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’ and told me ‘to try and not be sad.’
I don’t blame anyone for not knowing how to talk about mental health and what happens when things go wrong. This experience has taught me that as a society, we are not teaching people how to talk about this subject, or encouraging the conversation to happen in our social groups, families and communities.
That’s why two weeks after my suicide attempt I decided to start a conversation with my networks on Facebook.
On 20th October, I wrote:
It’s about time I came clean about a few things so I’m writing this post to make you all aware about an issue that needs talking about. This post isn’t a cry for help but rather a reflection and confession and I would rather you all take in what I have to say rather than commenting ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘get well soon’.
So, two Monday’s ago I attempted suicide and since then I have been in and out of the hospital for various reasons including therapy, medical assessments and group work shops. It’s a shocking truth but everyday people take their own lives.
I’ve been contemplating whether to tell people this and I find it very difficult when I do. There’s a stigma around mental illness but not rather that it’s wrong or I get shunned but rather people don’t know what to say and I understand that.
There isn’t much to say and that is the truth but we should all listen and be aware. I want people to know I am not okay and that is fine. I don’t want people to gloss over the truth or to ignore it. But at the same time I don’t want you to walk on eggshells so to speak.
There was no real reason why I tried to kill myself and I don’t think I’ll ever know and although I am seeking help it is so so hard. It’s an everyday uphill battle and I still get urges and thoughts. And I probably still will for a long long time and that’s fine.
I am coming to terms with a lot but right now I need to put things on pause, step back and start building myself up again.
So if I haven’t been in touch or seem to not be doing much then I am sorry and I am also sorry for not being honest sooner. I have paused my food blogs and much of my writing and although it upsets me, it needs to be done. Just as I will be stepping away from my other duties and jobs.
I know many other people out there struggling like me and if you are one of them, then know you are not alone and you are strong no matter what you are doing.
One of the reasons why I told people was to try to help them to understand. I had cancelled plans and retreated into myself. I didn’t want to keep pretending that I was fine, I wanted people to listen when I told them I wasn’t.
It’s easy to mask sadness behind social media posts and fake smiles, but it’s so exhausting. Pretending wore me thin emotionally and I was tired of hiding. I wanted everyone to understand that even though I was working, studying and socialising, I was still not okay. It felt to me that the people close to me had a right to know what was happening, and that by talking about it, we could interact, break the silence and provide me with some space.
Suicide and mental health are hard issues to talk about, especially when struggles are affecting a loved one. But, let’s look again at that WHO statistic: someone in the world takes their own life every 40 seconds. It’s time to make mental health part of everyday conversation, no matter how upsetting it may be.
Because if we can’t, how can any of us support friends, family members or colleagues suffering from mental ill health? And when it affects us, how will we know how to talk about it?
In the weeks that followed my suicide attempt, I discovered there is no right – or wrong – way to talk about suicide. It is always a very scary thing to do. The first thing many people told me was that they were sorry, and that everything was okay. I was touched but after a while I came to realise this wasn’t what I needed. It’s not okay that I tried to take my own life, and it never will be.
I quickly realised most people had no idea what to say.
Instead, there were a few friends who asked me what I needed, met me for coffee and offered helpful advice. I felt that sharing their knowledge, positivity and experiences showed me thoughtfulness, consideration and love.
Mental illness is not as visible or easy to understand as a broken leg but it as painful and debilitating. We cannot see who is suffering but at least 1 in 4 of us will experience a form of mental illness at some point in our lives.
With the prevalence of mental ill health, it’s long overdue that we all start talking about mental illness, particularly suicide, head on. We need to start normalising the conversation and eliminating the stigma by showing and sharing our support, before it’s too late.
A recent campaign by The Samaritans in partnership with Network Rail ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’ focuses on interrupting suicidal thoughts, advising us all to ‘make small talk and you could save a life’.
Of course, preventing suicide isn’t simple but talking really helps. Someone being there goes a long way. Something as simple as going for a walk with someone, a phone call or having a coffee can be the little change that makes a whole world of difference.
Honesty, patience and understanding is key. Don’t pass judgements, just listen. If someone cannot open up to you, don’t pressure them, just calmly reassure them that you are there, and you can and will help. They will talk when they are ready.
The moment we all start to create a safe environment to discuss suicide is the moment people will stop feeling alone and start feeling comfortable. It will also be the moment we all have more confidence to tackle these issues, spot the warning signs, share resources and help one another.
It’s time to stop saying ‘I don’t know what to say’ and time to start saying ‘enough is enough’. Let’s stop suicide, not alone, but together.
If you are feeling suicidal, there are people you can talk to who want to help:
- speak to a friend, family member or someone you trust as they may be able to help you calm down and find some breathing space
- call the Samaritans 24-hour support service on 116 123
- go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department and tell the staff how you are feeling
- contact NHS 111
- make an urgent appointment to see your GP
Read more on the NHS website about getting help if you’re feeling suicidal.