“I am so sorry I was not able to win this battle for you. I know this is the most selfish act anyone can commit, and I hope you are able to stay strong with the peace of mind that I am finally at peace and at rest. I hope you can all move forward knowing I’m in a better place now and there’s nothing you could have done.”
These heartfelt words were written by my client, Will, to his family just one year ago as he battled with depression and feelings of suicide. His personal story of hope and recovery highlights the importance of talking about mental health, which can be particularly difficult for men. Will’s story, below, is a powerful message and one he hopes will inspire others to seek support.
These are the words I had written just days before I planned to take my own life. My name is William, I’m a 23 year old student, and I have experienced what I believe many young people are currently going through, either consciously or perhaps subconsciously. I am writing this to increase awareness of the importance of our mental health and to improve awareness of the silent killer that is tragically taking thousands of lives every year. I hope with the following words I am able to show that anyone, even someone in complete despair such as I was, can start to turn their lives around. Everyone is entitled to their mental health and it can be achieved with support.
Leading up to writing my suicide note, I was seen by others as a larger than life character, always smiling and laughing and socialising regularly with friends. What could I possibly have to complain about in my life? I was studying for a masters degree, had a family who supported me in every walk of life, and was seemingly breezing through life with very few obstacles in my way. But for anyone who understands mental illness, what is seen on the surface is often hiding the reality; the thoughts and feelings that attack beneath the surface every day. Mental illness does not discriminate, and the potential for the brain to harness negative thoughts and block out the positive aspects of your life can be overwhelming for anyone, however strong you may appear.
In my case, thinking the worst about social events, trying to please everyone and assuming what every single person thought of me became totally debilitating. In social situations, the only way to block this out was to turn to drink, and succumb to peer pressure in order to feel accepted amongst my peers. I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, as it felt the easiest way to get by. I know that these thoughts and feelings are experienced by many, but for me pretending to be someone I wasn’t became exhausting and unsustainable, but if I have learnt one thing, it’s even more exhausting trying to get by, suppressing feelings that are crying out to be heard. From my experience, the sooner you are able to come to terms with who you are and how you feel, the greater chance you are able to find peace, and your true friends will become more apparent than ever.
My troubles continued to spiral, and I would wake up every day with less and less will to live. The sadness and depression that I felt is difficult to explain in words, but it’s a certain heaviness on the brain, I felt so dull that nothing I did filled me with any happiness. I was drifting by in a state of unawareness about how unhappy I was. It didn’t matter where I was, or who I was with, the feeling was the same. It had become the norm and I was dangerously used to it. However, my pride, the need to be strong, to “man up” as a young male, meant I didn’t share my feelings with anyone, and those around me had no idea. And sadly, Ihad no idea just how unhappy I was. Instead it became a normal way of thinking, and I couldn’t understand how I would be able to see my life in any other way. After more months of despair, I wrote a suicide note which remains difficult for me to think about, even now.
I write this in the hope to connect with others who have felt as low as I did, and to provide some assurance that help can be found. I had reached the lowest of the low, contemplating suicide on a daily basis, and I know that even the thought of telling others how you feel can become overwhelming in itself. It took standing over a suspension bridge staring at the river bank 250 feet below, on the brink of taking my life, to finally make a crying call for help to my family, in what was the beginning of a new life for me. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience what I experienced that day, and I know so much can be done to ensure mental health can be discussed as openly as a physical health. This, in my opinion, holds the key to preventing anyone from feeling the need to end their life.
The importance of Counselling
In the months that followed standing on the suspension bridge, I have slowly gained clarity and increased self-awareness, and have tools that will help me for life. From the moment I called my family for help, I was determined to take every step necessary to repay their support and get better. I began counselling which started to transform the way I thought about myself and others, and how I approached situations. As a young 23-year-old male, having counselling is not something that’s often brought up at the pub. But this may be part of the problem we face as a society. I cannot stress enough the incredible impact that counselling has had on my life, and I have no doubt many more can benefit greatly from it. Counselling has enabled me to identify when I am being too harsh on myself, to challenge some of my thoughts that might be inaccurate, to be less self-critical, and to know why I think certain thoughts, and feel certain emotions. Having self-awareness and a presence of mind to challenge a potentially critical/self-detrimental inner voice is an incredibly powerful tool.
I became aware that I was either worrying about the future and creating stories based on this worry, or reflecting on the past, regretting and analysing things in a way which just made me feel increasingly worse, formulating ideas of what the future may hold, all the while not living in the moment. I was spending too much time in my head, thinking about scenarios in the past or yet to come, but learning to be more present has been transformational, this why I believe counselling should be part of the school and university curriculum. I believe that many young people may not be able to discuss their thoughts and feelings with others. Having someone to talk to who will not judge these thoughts and feelings, and will listen without question, can be the start of something transformational.
My passion for counselling as an aid to restoring mental health is simple. It has saved my life. I walked into my first meeting with no self-confidence, dreading every aspect and unbelievably anxious. Within 6 months, I have reframed many of my negative thought patterns, reconnected with my values and have a passion to help others around me. That’s not to say it’s been the easiest 6 months of my life. It hasn’t. I still have negative thoughts and low moods, but I have some tools now that I wasn’t aware of previously, I have learned it is natural to have down days, and it’s important to challenge your feelings and acknowledge them, almost embrace them. We have feelings and they must be listened to. Counselling has enabled me to turn to healthier coping mechanisms, and to be kinder to myself. I have introduced healthy and maintainable schedules into my life based around fitness and things I really enjoy doing. I am achieving more now that my wellbeing is in balance. This is why it is so important for me to encourage this balance for others, as every one of us deserves it. I stood on the edge of a suspension bridge 6 months ago with the aim of taking my life. Now I have the confidence to share this experience, and I want everyone to know that there is help out there. There are so many fantastic professionals in the mental health industry who can help to turn your life around. I accessed help very quickly, but I know that’s not always the case for others. What I have learned about the mental health industry is that there are many avenues available to get help; charities, helplines, volunteers and low-cost counsellors are just a phone call or email away.
I know it can even be difficult to read anything when feeling so low but I hope I have been able to inspire you to seek help. Something stopped me on the day I planned to take my life.
I opened this piece with the comments “nothing could be done” and that “I’d found peace”. That could not have been further from the truth. There is so much that can be done, and I have now found peace knowing that this is the truth. My journey has just begun, and I am more determined than ever to make mental health a priority in every aspect of my life. Crucially, the more we talk openly about our feelings, the more we will save lives.