This week we saw the broadcast of a new documentary called 'Horizon: Stopping Male Suicide' on BBC Two which addressed the biggest cause of death for men under 50. There are many reasons for us all to contemplate just what that means but the truth is that this is still one of the biggest issues our society faces today.
It has been 20 years since my first suicide attempt. That’s 20 years I may not have had if I had given into my need to end my own life.
The issue of male suicide is one that is still strong in our society, especially here in Wales where about 20 in every 100,000 men take their own lives. But across the UK, around three quarters of all registered suicides are from males, according to the Office of National Statistics figures from 2016. I don’t have to quote the stats and research for you as you may be aware of many high profile male suicides such as the brilliant Robin Williams, Chester Bennington from Linkin Park or more recently, the apparent suicide of 28 year old DJ Avicii just a few months ago.
I was quiet about my issues with suicide for years, hiding it from my family and friends. Thankfully, I got better and the scourge on my teenage years is now just a powerful, poignant memory. But after working and campaigning around mental health for over a year, I feel that now is the time to open up more about my experience.
Telling my story is not about myself. I do not share this for any sympathy or concern, I do not seek any personal gratification from doing this. The last thing I want is for anybody reading this to think “he’s only doing this for himself”.
Although I will admit that at the time, I was being selfish. I saw suicide as a way out, an escape from the demons inside me. Who cares what other people might think or feel? As a teenager, I did not understand what was happening or why I was feeling the way that I did.
Depression can be just a foggy lens over the world, blurring and distorting truths and realities into monsters and obscure emotions. Everywhere I turned, there was misery.
In my case, there was nothing wrong with me. By that, I mean that I was lucky enough to have good health, a loving family, excellent prospects. The world was not broke, I was (in some ways that was worse).
I turned friends against me, making my company an endurance not a pleasure. I think it was particularly hard as a young man; I did not want to appear weak or inferior to other guys. Maybe I had watched too many movies and TV shows as a kid to think that it was okay for a man to be anything other than strong, cocky and powerful.
My life of 20 years ago was bleak. I have honestly never hated anyone or anything more than I hated myself at that time. Rational thought was just a blunt weapon, hope only a fantasy. I would sit alone by day or endure sleepless nights just inwardly arguing and berating myself for how I felt.
Imagine holding a conversation with yourself and replacing every neutral or positive thought with a desperately negative one. Nothing was wrong but nothing felt right. When I say that I "needed" to end my own life, I was in such a hopeless place at that time that I honestly saw no way out except one.
By the end of 1998, I had made two suicide attempts.
What happened was deeply embarrassing and I do not see the value in sharing details. The good news is that I was unsuccessful. The bad news is that I was not fixed despite counselling and loving support of my close family. In fact, I spent 15 months in therapy before things started looking up. I thought that I needed to end my life but really, I needed to start living it and loving it.
Now I am pleased to say that I am much better. I see the value of my life, the potential of what I can bring to the world. It is not always easy, anyone who has brushed swords with depression will know that its shadow is always lurking around a corner somewhere, waiting to strike.
But today I am more aware and equipped to face my demons, learning so much from so many people who have been through what I experienced and so much worse. There are amazing, courageous individuals out there championing mental health awareness all over the world and I am always in awe of their bravery.
Okay so why am I telling you this?
This is not just an excuse to write another blog. This is not therapeutic for me, honestly. I am inspired to share my story with only one hope…that someone reading this realises that there can be a happy ending to a dark story.
If you watched that insightful programme on BBC 2 this week or you read this blog and was left thinking “that sounds like me” or “I know how he feels” then please take one thing away from my tale. You can beat it. It can be done. I understand that it may not feel like that and you may need a lot of help on your way but if I can do it, so can you.
I hope you find the "need" to fight back against these dark thoughts and the strength to turn the tide in your mental health battles.Maybe it starts right here, maybe you can begin by asking for help or talking to someone. But you are more than capable of coming through these dark days and making your life something amazing.