Every year, more than 800,000 people die by suicide and up to 25 times as many make a suicide attempt. Behind these statistics are the individual stories of those who have, for many different reasons, questioned the value of their own lives.
Many of our social workers and healthcare professionals see this on a daily basis, but you don’t have to work in healthcare to notice this or do something to help.Below, HCL Compliance Officer Leyla shares her personal story of dealing with periods of low mental health and suicidal thoughts, and the small things that you, as a colleague or friend, could do to help.
If there is anyone you are concerned about, take a minute to check in with them. It could change their life.
I have thought long and hard about whether I want to share this story but I realised that talking and sharing plays a big part in my recovery. I would like to apologize in advance if anything I say may serve as a trigger for some, but it is equally important to raise awareness so we can help each other.
At work, only those closest to me are aware that, unfortunately, I had recently been on sick leave for a few months. I was ill; I was unable to move and I was weak. Physically I was fine and able to go out jogging and taking private swimming lessons; my sickness was due to my mental stability. People talk about hitting rock bottom, and that’s exactly where I was. I was trapped in the bottom of my mind – unable to breathe or control what I was saying, doing or how I was feeling.
Inside I was fine and thinking about what I wanted to have for dinner but, on the outside, I was crying and shaking and being comforted by those around me; yet, I had no control or understanding of why I was crying. This is what it is like to suffer from severe manic depression and bipolar disorder at the same time. The only comfort I felt was in my own bubble with a sharp blade and planning ways in which to end my life. I am forever grateful for the love and comfort of those around me who love me and care for me unconditionally – they prevented me from doing things I would never be able to take back. It was also my belief in God that reminded me to focus. I accepted that I needed help and realised that it was ok to admit that I was struggling.
For over a decade, I have been an active humanitarian aid worker – visiting various warzones and organising many aid convoys, as well as being active in the public speaking circuit, and I’ve never had any trouble maintaining and controlling my emotions. That is until, however, a recent trip to Bosnia where I met numerous women who had been (and still are) victims of severe sexual violence. Despite this, they are the strongest and most courageous women I have ever met. As a victim of sexual abuse as a child, I thought I had dealt with my situation and was confident within myself, but meeting these women made me realise I had not dealt with anything at all – this was my trigger.
I lost all control of my emotions. Like a volcano that had been dormant for years, I erupted with no control over the consequences. This is what it is like to live with a mental health condition. There is no way to distinguish who suffers from a mental illness and who doesn’t. We all look completely ‘normal’ from the outside. This is why it’s imperative to ensure you look after your own well-being because, most of the time, nobody knows that silently you are suffering.
Writing and speaking is my form of therapy. Sharing and raising awareness is my way of coping; to help people understand and be more aware.
One thing I have struggled with is ‘banter’ in the work place. Before, I could laugh with colleagues and participate in the ‘bants’ – I can no longer do this. Sometimes when I hear certain jokes, I start to shake. My brain processes it as a personal assault and I start to lose control of myself again. Despite knowing my colleagues have nothing but love and respect for me, at that moment the tiny voices in my head begin to convince me that I am worthless. After five minutes of breathing alone, I’m ok again.
Mental health and the workplace can be a struggle, but it’s manageable with the right support. Helping colleagues understand what it’s like to be you can be a great relief, not everyone has the same experiences and not everyone understands when you are having a ‘moment’. I used to be in control of myself but now I am not. I do not know why I feel certain things at certain times for no reason whatsoever.
What can you do as my colleague/friend to help me recover?
You can just read this and understand what it’s like to be me; to understand the importance of looking after your mental state. To be supportive and give me space when you see I am stressed. To answer my question for the tenth time, despite having told me the answer many times before, because there are moments when you’re talking, my brain drifts off to a dark hole and I’m struggling to get back in to the light. To understand that I have changed as an individual and I am no longer the person I once was because I took my mental state for granted and now I live with the consequences. But I’m on the road to recovery and everyone around me, including strangers on the street, are all a part of my journey to help me be the person I once was.
“It’s the broken ones with shattered hearts that are the perfect work of art – appreciate them”
HCL supports World Suicide Prevent Day in partnership with Rethink Mental Illness.