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Updated: Sep 18, 2022

Updated: May 12, 2019

TRIGGER WARNING This morning I attended a final preparation meeting for a very significant event I have the privilege of being involved in on Thursday. It's being organised by the Cwm Taf Mental Health Partnership Board's sub committee for Suicide and Self Harm Prevention, on which I am currently serving as a Service User Representative. It comprises other reps from lived experience background alongside prominent members from the public & local health boards, local councils, Mind, Samaritans and voluntary council representatives.

The event is aimed at looking at ways that we can collaboratively work in preventing the current epidemic of suicide within our communities and encouraging openness on a subject that has been considered taboo for too many years. Instead of it being considered a 'dirty secret', it's rightly being identified as a serious illness. I believe that by talking about it, we are gradually the breaking down the shame and guilt that once surrounded it and actually learning what we can all do to help. We are all trying to pull our resources together within these times of economic austerity, which is being extensively researched by many organisations. According to the linked Samaritans report 'there is evidence of a strong link between socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour' Our underfunded NHS services are overwhelmed and struggling to cope, which is why WE ALL need to look at ways of spotting the signs and reaching out to people around us who are struggling with these powerful and consuming feelings.

It's also being intelligently covered by the media; only last month I watched an evocative documentary called Stopping Male Suicide, which looked at the shocking statistics in the UK, that suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 50 (in 2017, the rates increased in Wales by 37.3%), and for every completed suicide, there are 20 other 'reported' attempts. It's way more than a cry for help, it's an epidemic. During the programme they found that if more people reached out to others in their moments of crisis, it could actually save lives and many of them. They looked at the Zero Suicide work being achieved in the US and the encouraging initiatives being replicated in the UK. Research has proved that the power of a simple conversation could not be underestimated.

People who know me personally might be aware that September and October are difficult times of the year for me because of birthdays and anniversary of the loved ones I've lost. My interest in the prevention of suicide and also my commitment to spread awareness, is because I have lost three family members to suicide, two are not my story to tell, but have affected and shaped my views and continued work in this area. I have also been suicidally depressed as recently as two years ago, which thankfully, was a failed attempt, and has made me more determined than ever to help other people understand how they can help someone who might struggling and not able to say the crucial words 'I need help, I need to talk'...

Here is my Julie's story, from my point of view, which is difficult to tell and probably to read, but I hope will help someone. (Warning actual details of suicide)
Approx summer of 1973
Julie and Mags

On the day after World Suicide Prevention Day is 11th September (9/11), which was my beloved niece, Julie's birth date. She was 4 years my junior and for few years after she was born, she was brought up with me in our family home in the Isle of Man. I was closer to her in age than my own sisters who were much older than me and had left home, so I always felt like she was more like my sister, particularly when we squabbled like typical siblings. Although she moved away when her mother married, we used to spend most of our school holidays together during our teens, but in our early twenties our lives went in different directions and although we saw each other a family events, we just kind of drifted apart. That was until 1995 when I received a phone call to say that she was found unconscious and taken to hospital in Halifax with a suspected overdose. When I got to the hospital she was strapped to loads of machines that were keeping her alive. From the evidence they found at her flat, it looked like she had taken about 200 paracetamols, and she had written a note. She had been found about 18 hours after she had taken the overdose and it was too late for a stomach pump as the over-the-counter pills had taken effect and were killing off her liver. She didn't have very long left to live, but was miraculously offered a life saving liver transplant which of course, we as family, accepted on her behalf as she was unconscious.

Despite her best efforts to leave us then, the liver transplant worked and after a very long period of convalesce in St James hospital, Leeds, she gradually came back to us, although she never felt like she deserved the second chance. That's the thing with someone who wants to take their own life, they think they're a burden on the people around them and that we'd all be better off without them, they are consumed with self-hatred that they are completely oblivious to anything good happening to them. It's totally debilitating and wholly consuming and too overwhelming to see past the emotional pain.

I was always surprised that she was released from hospital without any mental health support, although the psychiatric services had consulted with her in hospital, they seemed to accept that she not in need of any psychiatric or psychological treatment. I had tried to talk to her several times to try and understand what drove her to that point, but I never really got to the bottom of it as she was unwilling to talk too much about it. I personally suspected she was physically abused when she was much younger and was not able to come to terms with it. She said she felt as if there was something better 'on the other side' as if she was in too much emotional pain to consider that she could be happy again. There didn't seem to be the awareness and availability for help back then, even 22 years ago, it wasn't the done thing to talk about the 'S' word.

Of course, I beat myself up that wasn't around for her when she was struggling the most. However, I have always felt blessed that she had another 12 years, which I cherished and became closer to her again. We even still bickered as much as we always had, but she was my best friend and my sister by choice; infuriating and stubborn as much as she was a kind and beautiful person.

She moved to Wales to be nearer to my family and I in 2005, and got to meet and fall in love my son; we made some really precious memories, before she eventually died in 2008. The anti-rejection drugs had killed off her kidneys, which caused too much damage on her other organs, and her body just couldn't cope. Her eventual death was recorded as suicide because it was her attempt 12 years earlier that had caused her premature passing. It's 10 years since she passed and she would have been 47 next week, I miss her every day, so I had a stylised version of her tattooed on my inner arm so that I can still feel as if she's still close by, and because it helps to remind me of how fragile life actually is. Fundamentally, being suicidal is the feeling of hopelessness, the feeling that our mental pain has no other way out, but it is just that - a feeling - a set of thoughts. The feelings are not real and nothing stays the same forever. The feeling WILL pass. It did for Julie and it did for me and when you talk to other people who've been through it, it does for them too, eventually. Never underestimate how much you are loved and valued by people around you - they might struggle to show it, or find it difficult put into words, but believe me, in the spirit of REM's classic Everyone Hurts, some of us just struggle with it more.

If you know of someone who might be showing any of these signs and feeling this way, then please reach out and let them know they're not alone. Tell them there is always someone who will listen. Just a chat and a cup of tea could be enough to make that person feel the glimmer of hope they need. It might just save them.

If YOU are feeling like this then please reach out for support - you are not alone and you will find help. These are only feelings and they will pass. Hold on there...

If you are on the edge of the abyss, don’t jump.If you are going through hell, don’t stop. As long as you are breathing there is hope. As long as day follows night, there is hope.Nothing stays the same forever.(Douglas Bloch)

Helplines and Support Groups We know it can be difficult to pick up the phone when you are feeling so desperate, but please reach out to somebody and let them know how you are feeling ... Samaritans (116 123) 24-hour service every day, or write/email: Childline (0800 1111) for under 18s. a supportive online community run by Mind. PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) support for teenagers and young adults. Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) helpline (0800 58 58 58) is an excellent resource for young men. Community Advice & Listening Line (C.A.L.L.) Mental Health Helpline based in Wales Tel: 0800 132 737 or Text HELP to 81066 Contact your local GP or call NHS Direct 0845 46 47 (Wales) There are helpful articles on pages 22 and 23 that you can read freely here, along with other stories of hope.

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. (Khalil Gibran)

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