This is an interview with Britt (she/her). She has shared her lived experience of suicide with us. If you feel like you want to stop reading, there is Quick Exit button on the top right of this page.
You can read other lived experience stories here.
Why do you think suicidal thoughts started for you?
Suicidal thoughts started happening for me when I was sixteen after I was outed as being a lesbian at school. I was subject to relentless bullying as I walked through the school gate in the morning, all throughout the day, then again on the bus home and, as I got off the bus, homophobic slurs would be yelled at me out of the bus windows.
The thoughts would come and go into my adult life. And continue to do so.
Did you feel overwhelmed by these thoughts? Are they passively in the background of your day-to-day life?
Yes, I felt extremely overwhelmed as a teenager. They were so overwhelming I felt like I was in a black hole unable to climb out, especially because I did not have anyone I could turn to, and no services available at the time.
The thoughts were in the background during my time in high school, which made learning very difficult.
As I have bipolar disorder and complex PTSD, the thoughts and feelings come and go, though they tend to be more extreme when I am having an episode or after I have sessions with my counsellor for trauma. Sometimes the feelings can be disabling, and I just do not want to be here.
Are these thoughts always negative? Could they be a source of comfort? Are they always about death?
The thoughts were and will always be negative. Sometimes when I am at my worst there is a sense of comfort/peace because I feel that if I was not here anymore, I would not feel the overwhelming depression and sadness.
The thoughts were not and are still not always about death. Sometimes they can fall into a grey area where I do not want to die but do not want to be here anymore. I just want the pain to go away.
Have you accessed any crisis services, and what was that experience like? Have you accessed any mental health services, and what was that like?
Things got so overwhelming at one point that I was taken voluntarily to a subacute unit by my partner. My experience was life changing. In the unit there were mental health peer workers who had empathy, understanding and knew what it was like to have these thoughts and feelings.
They shared their experiences with mental health distress and helped me to get back on my feet as they walked along beside me and gave me strength as I no longer felt so alone. The experience was so positive that I retrained in mental health and became a Mental Health Peer Support Worker myself so I can also help those who experience mental health distress and walk alongside them in their recovery.
How do you feel about “suicidal” being a part of your identity?
At the start it was hard to open up about my feelings and experience with suicide. Now I have accepted it and use my experience to help others. Once I was ashamed of being stigmatised, but now I use my experience as a strength.
What are your thoughts about how stigmatised suicide is, and how stigmatised people with experiences of suicide are?
I feel that the stigma with suicide makes a person ashamed of their feelings, embarrassed, judged. This makes it very difficult to share those feelings and reach out when they are in a crisis.
Have your experiences with suicide transformed you?
My experiences have made me a stronger person, they have made me want to help others to show them that life is worth living, that they are worthy and not alone.
My experiences have made me into the person I am today. Without those experiences I could not support people in their dark times or give them strength and hope that although not every day is perfect, and there may be days that are very dark and hard to get through, putting one foot in front of the other, minute by minute, hour by hour, tomorrow can be a better day.
How have other people’s experiences with suicide affected you?
In my lifetime I have had a family member and a friend take their own life.
Having lost those people affected me deeply but has shown me that there is hope and light and what a wonderful precious gift life is. I want to try to live my life to the fullest, to live and celebrate my life for them, but for myself, also.
When I hear about suicide in the news I think about those people, sometimes I am overwhelmed with a deep sadness and wish that they would have held on and reached out so they could experience everything wonderful that life has to offer.
Is there any advice you would give to someone experiencing suicide?
Please reach out, your life is worth living, you matter, you are loved, you are accepted and not alone. There are people that want to listen to you, that want to help you, that validate you.
Is there any advice you would give to the people who are supporting someone experiencing suicide?
My advice would be to let the person know that they are not judged.
Sit with the person, just be there and sit with them in their dark moments. Do not brush their feeling off or take it as a cry for attention, they need to be validated and treated with kindness and empathy.
Is there any advice you would give to people who work in crisis and/or mental health services about how to talk to people experiencing suicide?
Talk gently, listen, silence is okay. Be empathetic, do not judge, give the person your whole attention and do not dismiss them because they have a lived experience of mental health distress.
What do you think of peer-to-peer support for people who have experienced suicide?
In my experience with peer-to-peer support with people who have experienced suicide I feel it is extremely beneficial, helping to keep people out of hospital. The peer worker has been in their shoes, understands their thoughts, feelings and can walk alongside them in their journey through ups and downs to recovery. They can show them there is hope and provide them with the tools that have helped them, and that they, as a peer worker, have dark days too.