I Tried To Take My Own Life At 12 Years Old – Now I'm A Positive Psychologist

"There's promising research in positive psychology as a tool to help reduce the risk of suicidal behaviour."
SrdjanPav via Getty Images

I was so severely bullied at school that I tried to take my own life at just 12 years old. Subsequently, I’ve lost multiple friends over the years to suicide, including Love Island’s Sophie Gradon.

Each year almost a million people die by suicide, with suicide being the 4th biggest cause of death in the 15-25 age category. Linked with the incidence of mental illness, poor coping strategies for stressful life events, and strongly linked with previous suicide attempts, suicide has become a social issue that is no longer taboo to talk about, and can no longer be ignored.

There’s a phenomenon that happens with suicide, called suicide contagion, where suicide as a behaviour can, tragically, become more normalised. The good news is, positive emotions are also contagious, and there’s substantial evidence to support the preventative effect of boosted wellbeing, on moderating suicide risk.

This means that by getting intentional about committing to our wellbeing, we’re able to support ourselves and others to create positive change that not only means more people can feel happier more of the time - but that we can also prevent suffering and save more lives too.

I’ve now made it my life’s mission to reduce and prevent suicide via my work as a positive psychologist.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology is the evidence based science of happiness and studies how individuals, communities, and businesses thrive. The body of work was invented in the year 2000 as a counterbalance to “psychology as usual” and focuses on what goes right with life and people, rather than what goes wrong.

How then, does positive psychology link with suicide prevention?

For many years now positive psychology has primarily focused on moving moderately mentally healthy people into a state of what’s known as psychological flourishing.

This is where you experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, gratitude and love, have more engagement with the activities and experiences in your life, develop positive relationships, deepen your sense of meaning and purpose, and feel accomplished and that you’re making progress.

As well as this, the research is now indicating that positive psychology tools have the power to prevent suicidal thinking too…

Take social connection, as an example. We know from positive psychology that positive relationships support a sense of thriving, and that as humans we need to feel we have somewhere we feel we belong.

What might be possible when we connect more with each other and support each other in community and relationships to feel more equipped to cope when times feel tough?

To help someone who may be suffering right now, simply reach out and instead of asking, “how are you?” to which we are conditioned to respond with, “okay”, or “fine”, you can ask instead, “how are you feeling today on a scale of 1-10?”

As well as coming together, we’re able to see that when we find more meaning and purpose in life, we’re able to build psychological resources and find more reasons to not just get through the day, but to start to truly live.

Choosing a growth mindset which looks for the value within the process, rather than just focusing on the outcome can help you find the silver linings within tough times. Within every challenge is a lesson, a blessing, and a way in which we can grow, and reminding ourselves of the growth we are experiencing can help us dig deep and access new levels of hope and resilience.

This sense of hopefulness - where we have something to live for, and a sense of knowing that not all is lost, can help you keep going when things feel hard. It can also help you help other people who might be struggling, by offering something to look forward to in the future, whether that be a simple plan to get together, or seeing from another person’s story of overcoming adversity, it is indeed possible to survive, and feel better again.

I know when I was struggling with my own suicidal thoughts after working through PTSD after being sexually assaulted in my twenties I found it hard to think about getting through one more day, never mind think about my big goals and dreams.

What helped was picking up simple tools like meditation, connecting with one friend, and reminding myself that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it didn’t feel like it was shining so bright right then.

Whilst visioning a best possible future can be too challenging when you’re in the depths of suffering, the positive psychology tools offer a way to bolster your wellbeing and enhance coping mechanisms so you have the opportunity to prevent suffering from reaching such depths in the first place.

In this way, positive psychology might just offer a new opportunity for suicide prevention as a path filled with more belonging, more psychological resources, more relief, and more hopefulness too.

When life is difficult, Samaritans are here – day or night, 365 days a year. You can call them for free on 116 123, email them at jo@samaritans.org, or visit www.samaritans.org to find your nearest branch.

Niyc is a multi-award-winning positive psychologist, best selling author of Now Is Your Chance, a book dubbed ‘the bible for happiness’, and one of the leading business mentors for women in the world.

Named a ‘Legendary Entrepreneur’ by Forbes and recently championed by Sir Richard Branson, Niyc is making it her life’s mission to help people live more joyfully and create Unstoppable Success in themselves, with a bigger mission of reducing and preventing suicide.