Drowning — Swimming through the Crushing Weight of Suicide
What is the Problem? — a Mountain to Overcome but a Mountain Nonetheless
Breaking a bone is glaringly obvious and visible. Everyone signs your cast and asks, ‘how on Earth did that happen?’. They are sympathetic and attentive, making sure to ask if you need help.
Mental illness isn’t always visible.
As a consequence, poor mental health can often be overlooked by those around us and even ourselves and can therefore worsen over time and become severe and debilitating.
But mental health is equally as important as physical health.
In fact, mental illness can manifest itself in many physical ways, such as difficulty sleeping, severe headaches, muscle tension and lethargy.
Personally, I have always viewed mental health as physical health. Our brain is one of the most vital organs in our body. The stigma-charged statement of ‘it’s all in your head’ rings true here in a sinister way; our mental health should not be ignored. The state of our emotional, psychological and social wellbeing determines how capable we are of making the most of our potential, coping with life and playing a full part in our family, workplace, community and friendships. Our mental health is crucial to our overall wellbeing and happiness.
When we struggle to cope with the many challenges of daily life, our mental health deteriorates and sometimes these struggles can cause us to feel suicidal. After facing the catastrophic, burning train wreck that was 2020, it is clear now more than ever that suicidal thoughts and feelings can affect anyone, no matter your age, gender, occupation or background. Mental health should be a core focus in our communities and wider society, as a worldwide issue which requires attention and care.
In 2019 alone, 5316 people died by suicide in England, with around 75% of them being men. Suicide statistics, although staggering and daunting, highlight the need for interventions which can help prevent individuals from reaching a point in their life where they feel nothing can fix their situation.
My own experience of suicidal thoughts and feelings is an overwhelming one.
I have felt intense hopelessness and worthlessness, which has exacerbated my anxiety and depression. It has consumed me in the past, in a way nothing else has, plunging me into a dark place where I felt I had no control.
What helped me? Why am I still here?
I am very fortunate and grateful to have a strong support system of friends, colleagues and family members who have listened to my struggles without judgement and provided me with the space I need to address my feelings and negative thoughts. I have also found benefit within the resources available to me, attending counselling appointments at university and reaching out to relevant services when I found the energy and strength to do so.
The good news is suicide can be prevented.
If you know someone who is suicidal and want to help, there are various approaches, one of the most profound being an empathetic approach.
Demonstrating empathy and simply listening can be incredibly powerful. The living proof is the many institutions working towards alleviating the suffering of those experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings, one of them being Maytree, which I have had the pleasure of volunteering with for the past year or so.
Breathing Fresh Air — A Glimpse of Light at Maytree
What is Maytree?
Maytree is a unique residential respite centre based in North London, for people who are feeling suicidal, offering a free one-off stay of five days and four nights. Offers of a stay are made following a few phone calls with different volunteers, discussing the potential guest’s current situation and their experience with suicidal thoughts and feelings, and an assessment at the house with a co-ordinator, the senior and highly trained members of staff who make Maytree possible and support both guests and volunteers alike.
Inspired by the Samaritans’ approach, Maytree provides a non-medical, non-judgemental and safe environment for adults in suicidal crisis to rest, reflect and be sincerely heard in complete confidence. The alleviation of suffering, encouragement of re-engagement with life and the restoration of hope are all cornerstones of Maytree’s mission, one which deeply resonates with me and many others.
How did I get involved?
I first heard about Maytree at university from an ex-volunteer, whilst attending a talk exploring careers in mental health research.
I had never heard of a charity quite like Maytree. The concept of such a service was both remarkable and reassuring; I remember feeling so hopeful and itching to find out more. Having experienced mental illness and suicidal ideation myself, I firmly decided to apply to volunteer at Maytree in July 2019 and was offered a place on the training course to become a volunteer befriender.
The training consisted of five 3-hour thorough sessions throughout September 2019. I found myself in a room with a group of people who all wanted to help people who are feeling suicidal, regardless of our diverse reasons for venturing on our Maytree volunteering journeys.
The process was honest and whole, providing us with a comprehensive experience of supporting suicidal guests and callers. We delved into recent suicide statistics, how to listen effectively, how to handle challenging situations, recognising flashbacks and dissociations, and communicating with empathy. Despite the severity of suicide and the aspects surrounding it, we were able to bond over soothing cups of tea, delicious international treats and actively testing our newly gained knowledge through some good old roleplay.
Maytree throughout Lockdown
Unfortunately, the house is currently closed due to the pandemic. However, this hasn’t stopped everyone at Maytree providing support to those who need it over the phone and via email, where possible.
In March 2020, I took part in the Maytree Movement Marathon, alongside Alaistair Campbell, Joy Crookes and some fellow volunteers, in an effort to raise money for the suicide prevention work Maytree does. We were able to raise a whopping £5,640!
It was a perfect way to stay connected to my colleagues at Maytree, whilst supporting the life-changing work they do. I have had the pleasure of seeing the amazing work that Maytree does first-hand, and the hope and kindness Maytree spreads.
What is it normally like?
When you walk through Maytree’s celadon green door, a sense of serenity and calm instantly washes over you. The house, despite normally being pretty busy and full of guests, volunteers and co-ordinators, radiates a sweet stillness throughout the so carefully created cosy spaces.
My personal favourites are the kitchen and the garden. Whether I’m making a tea and grabbing a custard cream at the start of my shift or sharing a delicious soup cooked by one of the wonderful guests for lunch at the table, the kitchen is the heart of the house, a space for coming together and general warmth.
The floor to ceiling glass windows and door leading out to the garden make the kitchen feel open and welcoming, sometimes celestially embellished with raindrops (classic British weather) but always letting in the refreshing daylight, which elegantly spills and fills the room. The garden is full of blossoming vibrant flowers and plants, intertwining trees, with different spots to sit and chat, and occasionally homing a furry friend, the neighbour’s cat.
As a volunteer, I befriend guests over the telephone, email and face to face at Maytree. I also help with the running of the house, all of the day to day tasks which keep the house gently humming along. Speaking to guests and hearing their troubles, helping them explore the series of events which have led to them staying at Maytree, can be challenging at times but is also immensely fulfilling. Seeing guests grow and gain hope throughout their stay is an extraordinary experience.
And to me, and so many, Maytree is an extraordinary place.
If you are struggling and need support, you can get in touch with these services and organisations which offer help and support directly:
Maytree is currently offering email and telephone support between 8am and 8pm at the present time. Residential stays will resume at a later date when the house re-opens: 020 7263 7070 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Shout Crisis Text Line — you can text Shout to 85258 if you are experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support
Rethink Mental Illness — you can call Rethink Mon-Fri 10am-2pm on 0300 5000 927 (calls are charged at your local rate) for practical advice on therapy and medication, financial issues, police, courts, prison and your rights under the Mental Health Act
Get support from a mental health charity — Whether you’re concerned about yourself or a loved one, these mental health charities, organisations and support groups can offer expert advice: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/
Speak to somebody you trust