“We’re not having the same conversation around suicide as we are around mental health”
Updated: Jan 29, 2022
A few months ago, I read a post on LinkedIn written by a devastated father who sadly lost his son Jordan to suicide in 2019.
Steve Phillip’s detailed account of his son‘s battle with clinical depression resonated so strongly, that it made me want to reach out and support him in his mission to help other sufferers.
I have no idea how I have survived my own horrifying battle with the multiple bouts of severe depression that plagued me for months at a time over the last twenty years.
I pretty much lost everything to the illness including my independence, and I endured weeks, months and years of brutal suffering, often clinging on by the fingernails, and surviving by only the smallest of margins.
I find it difficult to say this because I am grateful to be alive, but the suffering was so extreme that I still feel as though I should have taken my own life – such was the extent of the suffering.
This is what people need to understand – depression is a terrifyingly horrendous and brutal illness which in many cases isn’t survivable and we need so much more than the pathetic messages that we’re getting through the media if we are going to see a reduction in suicide rates.
Challenging the current system
I really believed that the NHS would be able to help me to get better but (and it has taken me a while to pluck up the courage to say this) the current system for mental health in this country is appalling and it is failing people time and again.
I have only recently begun to discuss the situation openly because I felt as though critisising the NHS was sacrilege, and I thought I’d be attacked and vilified for doing so. But having heard so many other people’s horror stories (some of whom have lost their children whilst under NHS psychiatric care), I feel compelled to speak out now and share my own experience in an attempt to highlight the issues of a broken system.
Men and suicide: the horrifying truth
Suicide is the main cause of death for men under the age of 45. Read that sentence again and now think about how horrifying that really is.
Now think of the ripple effect that runs through family and friends in the aftermath of a suicide; the grief and devastation, the ‘what ifs’ and ‘whys’ that they will have to carry along with them for the rest of their lives.
The knock-on effect is absolutely devastating for those left behind – we have got to make more of an effort to address this terrifying problem.
Being in the male under 45 category myself and having lost a close friend to suicide makes me even more determined to try and do something about this through my own lived experience. I hope that with a collaborative effort, those that have been profoundly affected like Steve and myself can begin to get our voices heard so that we can do everything possible in our mission to prevent future tragedies.
Please take me seriously – I’m dying to stay alive here!
In one of Steve’s recent LinkedIn posts he spoke about how Jordan had returned to his GP again in the run up to his death, yet even though he was clearly distressed the doctor had not thought him at risk of suicide.
I’ve witnessed what happens here so many times because there have been multiple occasions when I’ve been to NHS GP’s and psychiatrists, often sobbing my heart out, clearly in terrible pain and suffering yet nothing has ever been done about it. You leave after ten minutes feeling completely unheard and with another packet of antidepressants which do nothing but worsen your symptoms - it’s a diabolical situation.
As Steve pointed out in his recent post – how much more of a warning do we need when a young, capable adult man is crying in pain in a doctor’s surgery over the state of his mental health?!
It wasn’t until I’d spent nearly two decades going round in circles on the NHS that I finally went privately, filled out the depression mood scale and was immediately informed that:
“This is a very serious situation, and you are very seriously ill.”
What a relief that was to finally have the gravity of my situation acknowledged and be being taken seriously when I said that I didn’t think I could survive this suffering any longer.
It was the appreciation of the severity of situation and the reassurance that my feelings were valid which made all the difference, and it was the first positive step that myself and my new doctor took on our road out of illness and into recovery.
The problems of the current system
Although I think it’s fantastic that people are beginning to become more comfortable when it comes to mental ‘health’, when it comes to mental ‘illness’ and suicide, things are not given quite the same focus.
There is a distinction between mental ‘health’ and mental illness which isn’t currently being made. This is partly because there is still so much stigma around the two words ‘mental illness’ that people are hesitant about even saying it.
I always make sure that I do say ‘mental illness’ when I refer to my own experience of depression and bipolar disorder because I want to normalise the term so that future generations become more comfortable about using it.
This is a vital aspect when it comes to differentiating between the normal ebbs and flows of mood (mental health) and a horrifying, crippling, and life-threatening disorder (mental illness) - the two things are completely different and have to be treated and tackled that way too.
Steve Phillip identifies this point in the article when he says that:
“We're not having the same conversation around suicide as we are around mental health.”
This point is crucial because the advice of ‘walk’, ‘talk’, ‘fresh air’ and ‘exercise’ that we are getting in the media are like putting a plaster on a broken leg when it comes to severe depression and bipolar disorder. I mean - I’m not stupid, don’t you think I’ve tried those things already?! I still feel absolutely horrific! I need medical intervention that works and then I can do those things to help my mental health!
The messages in the media are utterly useless for those of us suffering with severe illnesses and they only do more harm than good because there is now a notion that those who are ‘dying to stay alive’ with depression are in some way to blame for their condition because they’re not looking after themselves properly.
This is completely untrue, and the point needs addressing because it’s really not helping those of us out here with legitimate mental health conditions and horrifying life-threatening illnesses.
The nightmare of my NHS psychiatric ‘safari’
I was convinced that the NHS could help me with my illness, so I kept persisting with it but when I look back at the mistakes, and lack of support I am continually baffled by the fact that I am still here. There were multiple failures, catastrophes and disasters, all of which could easily have contributed to my death.
There were the unanswered phone calls, the uncommunicated messages, and the complete lack of aftercare that I had to contend with, on top of the brutality of the terrifying illness which just made it even more impossible to survive.
There were the hideously unsettling and damaging psychiatric hospital admissions that I had to endure and recover from as well – the most horrifying of all being the ketamine infusions fiasco which landed me in hospital for three months and very nearly cost me my life – is it any wonder I left the NHS after all of that?! When I write these things down, and look back at the care and support I received, I’m continually left wondering:
“How the hell am I still alive after all of that?!”
Thankfully going privately did save me and I have now managed to reach full remission from my disorder and have reclaimed a fully functioning life but how is this ok for other people?
When you combine together the brutality of the illness, the side effects, withdrawal problems, hospitalisations and failures, lost career, degree, relationships and opportunities PLUS having to bankrupt myself to get better AND fight the stigma of mental illness, then you begin to realise that what I’ve been through isn’t really survivable.
I know that none of this is ok, and I cannot now sit back and not at least try to do something about all of this, which is why I’m going to be campaigning for my successful treatment to be rolled out and for massive overhauls and improvements on the current NHS system for mental health.
The amazing people who are trying to help instigate change
Since connecting with Steve on LinkedIn I was invited to join an online seminar organised by The Jordan Legacy CIC, the foundation he set up in Jordan’s honour.
I was so impressed by the drive and ambition of this small group of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to do something proactive about the high rates of suicide that we are witnessing in the U.K.
These amazing people are creating centres or ‘places’ where people who feel suicidal or vulnerable can receive the support and help that they so desperately need.
Unfortunately, it seems that it is going to come down to the profoundly affected who will have to do something about the situation, (which isn’t right either), but I hope that these foundations will be the start of a movement which will in time be supported by the government because surely the facts and figures can’t be ignored for any longer?
There is already a James’ Place (London and Liverpool), Sean’s Place (Liverpool) and Steve Phillip hopes to be able to follow this with a Jordan’s Place in the future too.
I know that these places can make such a difference in the effort to reduce suicide rates and it’s exactly the kind of thing I needed when I was ‘dying to stay alive’ with depression. This is why I will be doing everything I can to support these foundations in their vital mission to provide support and save lives.
My own mission
I really hope to be able to raise funds to support or create a ‘Tom’s Place’ in memory of my friend and namesake ‘Tom’ as well as for myself, a survivor who wants future Tom’s to get better treatment and support than this one in 2021.
Whether I can do this or not remains to be seen, and it really depends on whether I can create a following from these posts and articles, so I’m asking people to please spread the word about what myself and others are doing so that we can reach and help more people.
I have written a book which is jam-packed full of survival strategies, support, and guidance and offers massive amounts of hope and encouragement around a difficult and often misunderstood illness.
I really hope to be able to find a publisher, create a following and then fundraise to show how committed I am to improving the system for others – I’m not going to be accused of just sitting here critisising and complaining all of the time – I genuinely want things to be better for other people!
If you would like to read the article from The Telegraph featuring Steve Phillip and his son Jordan then you can find it here.
More information about Steve’s foundation - The Jordan Legacy CIC can also be found here.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,