I was a very happy girl growing up. I had a great family, fantastic friends. I was smart, I was popular. I was genuinely very happy. I was never educated about the importance of positive mental health.
My mental health journey
I’m not sure if I can pinpoint exactly when my mental health began to change. I think it was very much a series of unfortunate events that contributed. Having to deal with loss, friendships, stress.
I was 15 when I first began to self-harm. School got tougher, friend groups changed. I had broken up with my first boyfriend. I wasn’t prepared. I was totally unaware of what I was doing, totally unaware of why I was doing it. I just felt I needed to somehow punish myself for the situation I had gotten myself into.
The situation? Sadness. Very quickly after beginning to self-harm, the situation escalated into something so much bigger. I developed an eating disorder which took hold of me for quite a long time. I tried to take my own life when I was 16 years old. I had fully accepted the fact that I would not be alive for another day. I had made my peace with the situation, I had thought the whole thing out.
Fast forward a few years, I find myself leaving what I thought was my dream college course to return back to retail and alcohol. A lot of alcohol. I hated myself on a much deeper level than ever before. Money was a problem, relationships were constantly breaking down and I was drinking constantly.
My main problem was the feeling of sheer isolation and separation from the rest of the world. Depression has a tendency to pick your mind up and drop it into a strange, unfamiliar lonely world. Your body is present but your mind is elsewhere. I didn’t reach out, I didn’t ask for help because I didn’t know how. I had wandered so far into the darkness of loneliness that there seemed like no help was possible.
One of the most vivid memories I have of my past is the walk I had down the psychiatric hospital in Cavan General for the very first time. I remember I was wearing a denim dress, I holding my Mam’s hand and knew that things weren’t good. I didn’t want to be there. It was scary and overwhelming and could have been so easily avoided if I had of spoken out sooner.
Finding help and support
To be quite honest, I’ve really only fully recovered recently and I’m 23.
Sadly there are still so many negative misconceptions surrounding mental illness and suicide. I do believe the situation is getting better but it’s going to take time.
As a country, I think we’ve lost our togetherness. We all have become so used to dealing with problems alone that we see ourselves as a burden if we reach for help. There is absolutely nothing wrong if you ask for help. There’s nothing wrong if you reach out. We are losing so many people to suicide on a daily basis. It affects everyone, regardless of your gender or age. Suicide is affecting everyone at an alarming rate.
To anyone reading this feeling particularly sad or low, I wish I could give you a magic remedy to instant happiness. And to anyone who happens to have a magic remedy, make sure to let me know! The truth is, there is no miracle cure. There is no quick fix. Happiness is a journey, an education system in itself and a destination. Life is hard even at the best of times.
One of the best pieces of advice I can give to anyone feeling down is to remember what it is you really love and learn to love it again. I know how easy it is to fall out of love with things when the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Things you once loved tend to be pushed aside, forgotten about, locked far away in that unknown world of happiness.
Consider carefully all the things you would leave behind if you were to go any further with you plans. As personal as suicide is, countless lives are affected as a result. Families are broken, hearts are shattered. Questions are never, ever answered.
Talking about suicide
I was never really asked any questions about my suicide attempt. I think a lot of my friends at the time were scared. They didn’t know how to ask the questions and were in fear of the answer. It’s important to remember how important the initial conversation is. Never leave it on the long finger.
When you’re talking to a friend or family member about suicide, here are some important things to think about:
Listen to what they have to say
Take the time to listen to what they have to say, rather than trying to speak and find solutions. A lot of the time, if someone is feeling suicidal, it’s extremely difficult for them to find words to explain how they’re feeling. Allow them time, try not to put words in their mouths for them. Just sit and listen. Try not to be angry or shocked. Be calm, cool and collected.
Mental health affects everyone
Remember that poor mental health can affect everyone. It’s not a sin, it’s not a shame. Just as important and relevant as physical health, mental health plays a huge part in our day to day lives. Treat it with respect.
Open up the conversation
If you think your friend of family member may have suicidal thoughts, bring it up in conversation. Chances are, they’ll be glad you asked regardless of the answer. It’s best to bring it up in conversation as soon as you can. Otherwise it could be too late if left for too long.
Find a suitable place to have the conversation
Try not to overwhelm them by asking them straight out on a night out, in work or at college. Make sure you approach the situation with care and do it in a calm environment where there’s no panic or rush.
If you personally are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help. Make the first step to a brighter, lighter life. There are people everywhere who will help and love you. I know it’s scary but believe me, it’s worth it.
This is the first part of Leanne’s article. You can read part two here.