When I said that I wanted to set up a Suicide Crisis Centre, few people thought it was possible. It was the summer of 2012 and I had recently been in suicidal crisis myself and under mental health services.
We have now been running the Suicide Crisis Centre for three years and have never had a suicide of a client under our care.
This week we are giving a presentation about our work to the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Group, at the request of the Government's adviser on suicide. It's something I could never have anticipated happening in the early days, when I faced so much scepticism.
There are a number of reasons why our Crisis Centre has achieved zero suicide and we think it's a combination of the way our services are set up, our approach and our ethos.
However, we have rarely looked closely at the fact that the Crisis Centre was set up and is run by a person with lived experience of a crisis and whether that has contributed directly to its success.
In March 2012 I had an extremely traumatic experience - an event so destabilising that psychiatrists believed that I had a psychotic episode in the days afterwards. During the event itself I felt fear, shock, horror and intense emotional distress. In the days that followed I was convinced there were malevolent forces in the house, and had clearly temporarily lost touch with reality. I was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a post-traumatic syndrome, and psychiatrists feel that the traumatic event triggered both.
That event profoundly changed me. I am not the same any more. For a long time that was a source of regret to me. I was no longer the optimistic and contented person that I had been previously. However, I am starting to recognise that the event changed me in a way that made it possible for me to achieve something which was considered so improbable and unlikely.
I developed an inner strength, tenacity and determination which meant that I would never give up on my plans, however many barriers were placed in my way and whatever resistance I encountered.
Other people talked in terms of "if the Suicide Crisis Centre is set up...." I talked in terms of "when" because I knew it would be set up somehow. If we came up against a barrier, it was simply a question of finding a way round it, over it or under it. I simply wasn't like this before - but then I didn't need to be. I think you find qualities within yourself when you have to. Perhaps they are always there, waiting to surface if they are required.
I seemed to develop more courage - not just in fighting to set up our Crisis Centre in the face of scepticism and incredulity, but also in finding a voice. Before 2012 I hated speaking at meetings. I never really felt that I had anything that people would want to hear. Now I am confident to speak not only in meetings but also in front of large audiences and I find this the most powerful way to explain our work. I am so passionate about our work and that overrides any fear.
I think the experience of trauma does change you and my new-found tenacity can be explained in part by that. However, my determination was also fired by a realisation that the Suicide Crisis Centre was needed so much that I had to find a way to create it. I couldn't find the help that I needed when I was in suicidal crisis and I felt sure that I was not alone in this. It felt like there was a gaping hole in terms of provision for people in crisis.
I think many people would recognise that if you have experienced something yourself it can give you a particular empathy for other people who are in a similar situation. I have an understanding of what it is like to be at the point of suicide and to have attempted suicide - but I have also experienced mental health services and other statutory services in the same way that many of our clients have. Everything I experienced, including every distressing or unhelpful experience, had an impact upon the way I set up our services. In many ways, I set up the opposite of what I experienced.
The qualities I gained after experiencing trauma helped me to set up our Centre. But they continue to impact upon the way I work, too. The tenacity I developed extends to the way we work to ensure that our clients survive. We fight for their survival at a time when they cannot, because their distress or mental ill health is impacting upon them so much.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last year, some people advised me not to reveal it publicly. I didn't want to keep it hidden, though. It is part of me. It may indeed have contributed in some ways to the success of the charity. In my hypomanic episodes I can work extremely long hours, and have real clarity of thought and am very creative and productive. The downside is the depressive episodes which mean I need to take time off work.
In the spring of this year I had a severe depressive episode and was sectioned. It took everybody by surprise, including me. Many people wondered whether I could come back from this and whether our charity would be affected by it. I needed time to get well again but I have come back stronger than ever.
If anyone doubts that a person with significant mental health challenges can run an organisation such as ours, then I hope that my experience serves as reassurance. What many people saw as such a severe disadvantage has been a strength. If I had not developed mental health issues, our charity and our Suicide Crisis Centre would not exist.
Contact the Suicide Crisis Centre at http://www.suicidecrisis.co.uk
or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/SuicideCrisisCentre
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)