Trigger Warning: This is a first-hand account of suicidal despair. If you’re going through something similar it may help remind you that you’re not alone in how you feel, and I will do my best to answer any questions and support you if you get in touch below. But please remember that you can immediately talk with a trained professional any hour of the day or night, anywhere in the world, for free. These guys know what they’re doing and choose to do it, so I promise you won’t be wasting their time. Here is an international suicide support directory.
On Thursday, March 20th 2014 I had a mental breakdown and I’m not supposed to tell you that.
Think of the damage it would cause: the way people would look at me; the whispers of “be careful around him, he might snap”; the potential friends, lovers and employers I’d scare off. That’s how dialogue around mental health goes: you might be comfortable enough telling people you’ve “experience of depression” or “know what they’re going through” up to a point – after all, everyone has some emotional baggage – but it’s talked about in manageable terms. The odd sick day or excuse for missing a social occasion. What you don’t talk about is when it gets so bad you need to be hospitalised.
If you’re off work with a broken arm you’re off work with a broken arm. There’s probably a story behind it that gets passed around the office and you can expect visitors and Get Well cards filled with friendly jokes about the injury. But if you’re off work with a broken brain you’re just “ill”. There’s no story. There’s not even a specific problem. The few members of staff who need to know more are told in hushed tones and feel they ought to keep the details secret from the rest of the office. If you get a card at all it’ll be humourless; no one’s going to add a quip about you being crazy or joke about moving your office chair away from the window when you’re back.
But why? Why are people so averse to talking frankly and openly about health the moment we stick the word “mental” in front of it?
I believe we need to end this culture of attaching shame and embarrassment to talking about mental illness, thus ending the discrimination, misinformation and stigma such an attitude breeds. We’re making progress, thanks in no small part to celebrities speaking publicly about their personal battles and the great work of organisations like Time to Change, but we’ve still a long way to go before calling in sick because you want to die is as easy as calling in sick because you have a migraine.
That talking about mental health can invite awkwardness is undeniable. Suicide in particular makes people very uncomfortable and many prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist. But I believe the damage of not talking about things is potentially far greater, even lethal. That’s why I’ve decided to tell the story of my breakdown. It won’t be pleasant and it certainly won’t be a quick read. I won’t sugar coat it or dot it with uplifting messages like “things will get better” which I know all-too-well fall on deaf ears to the depressed. I’m telling it to show that you can talk about mental health issues and that there is no shame in doing so. That these issues are actually quite common; you’re not as alone as you might think. And, perhaps most importantly, that such experiences – no matter how painful – might just save your life.