Sui­cide or Sur­vive: light at the end of the tun­nel

Af­ter a sui­cide at­tempt, Car­o­line McGuigan re­alised that com­mu­ni­ca­tion opened the road to re­cov­ery

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Suicide - Ar­lene Har­ris

Men­tal health prob­lems may not be vis­i­ble to the naked eye, but more than 450,000 peo­ple are liv­ing with de­pres­sion in Ire­land and 45,000 with bipo­lar dis­or­der.

Car­o­line McGuigan is very aware of how im­por­tant good men­tal health is, as dur­ing her 20s, she reached a very low point in her life and be­gan to think that life was not liv­ing.

“I have al­ways been a per­fec­tion­ist and wor­ried so much about what peo­ple thought of me,” she ad­mits. “I be­gan to feel in­creas­ingly de­pressed and anx­ious and my thoughts be­came more and more neg­a­tive so I knew I needed help.

“I went to the doc­tor, who wanted to pre­scribe me with med­i­ca­tion, and although I re­sisted at first, I de­cided take them as I felt like this was the only thing that would fix me. So be­ing, as I thought, bro­ken, I agreed to the 16 tablets I was told to take each day as I wanted the neg­a­tive thoughts to go away.

“I wasn’t of­fered any sort of talk ther­apy, but it was sug­gested that I went for psy­chi­atric treat­ment. I de­clined ini­tially as I thought I could cope on my own.”

How­ever, as the years went by, Car­o­line did agree to psy­chi­atric day care (for eight years in to­tal). Her con­di­tion, though, didn’t im­prove and she sank lower and lower into de­spair – un­til she fi­nally at­tempted to take her own life.

“As time went on and the neg­a­tiv­ity stayed with me, I be­came more and more fa­tigued with life,” she ad­mits.

“When I first thought of death I got such a fright that my mind would even sug­gest such a thing, but un­for­tu­nately it didn’t frighten me enough, as I be­gan to think about it more fre­quently and even­tu­ally at­tempted sui­cide.

“I was found quickly and taken to hos­pi­tal where I did ac­tu­ally die – but doc­tors man­aged to bring me back. Ini­tially, I was not happy to be here, as I was still in a very dark place. But I knew I needed a dif­fer­ent kind of help and de­cided to do some re­search of my own to try and find some way of fix­ing my­self.”

The Dublin woman, who is mar­ried to John and has two teenage chil­dren, says she felt very alone dur­ing the early years of her de­pres­sion, but since tak­ing the de­ci­sion to learn more about the con­di­tion, has re­alised that one of the most im­por­tant meth­ods for deal­ing with any sort of men­tal health is­sues is com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

“So many peo­ple go through de­pres­sion but at the time I felt like I was go­ing crazy,” she says.

“Ev­ery­one has mad thoughts and dips in their mood, but no one told me that these symp­toms were com­mon­place.

“I was only of­fered med­i­ca­tion and it was only when I be­gan to look into other treat­ments that I dis­cov­ered firstly that I was not alone and se­condly that talk­ing was the way for­ward. I also re­alised how per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity was vi­tal, as was the right sup­port. And one of the most im­por­tant steps for my re­cov­ery was anger as it en­er­gised me.

“I was an­gry and frus­trated at the sys­tem, the meds and the lack of ser­vices and also the feel­ing of help­less­ness and not be­ing heard. But when I started hav­ing talk ther­apy, I be­gan to open up and really un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing to me and how to deal with it.

“For the first time I re­alised that lots of peo­ple have thoughts that are neg­a­tive or even sui­ci­dal, but the most im­por­tant thing is to learn how to not put those thoughts into ac­tion – in­stead to un­der­stand that they will pass.”

En­cour­aged by her find­ings, Car­o­line – who used to work for Amnesty In­ter­na­tional – de­cided to set up a sup­port group for other peo­ple suf­fer­ing with de­pres­sion.

“I un­der­stand what it feels like to want to kill the de­spair that is grow­ing in­side of you, but the dan­ger with these feel­ings is that if they are not dealt with prop­erly, they can end up killing you,” she says.

“I know from bit­ter ex­pe­ri­ence how im­por­tant talk ther­apy is to peo­ple who are suf­fer­ing like this and af­ter com­ing out of de­pres­sion my­self, I trained to be a ther­a­pist, as I wanted to be able to re­as­sure peo­ple that these neg­a­tive thoughts will pass and there is light at the end of the tun­nel – and so Sui­cide or Sur­vive (SOS) was de­vel­oped.”

Founded at Car­o­line’s kitchen ta­ble, the char­ity is fo­cused on break­ing down the stigma as­so­ci­ated with men­tal health is­sues and en­sur­ing that those af­fected have ac­cess to the best re­cov­ery ser­vices pos­si­ble.

“We are work­ing to build a so­ci­ety where peo­ple em­brace their men­tal health well­ness and those with dif­fi­cul­ties are treated with dig­nity and re­spect,” says Car­o­line (51).

“We want them to ex­pe­ri­ence a ser­vice which of­fers hope and a pos­i­tive fu­ture. SOS is lead­ing the way through ac­tive col­lab­o­ra­tion which we be­lieve will drive pos­i­tive so­cial change.”

Her years of suf­fer­ing now firmly be­hind her, the mother of two is keen to help oth­ers reach the same level of pos­i­tiv­ity and through the char­ity, she and her col­leagues of­fer a num­ber of ther­a­pies in­clud­ing WRAP (Well­ness re­cov­ery ac­tion plan), Well­ness work­shop, Sup­port­ers Pro­gramme and The Eden Pro­gramme, which pro­vides a safe place for peo­ple who have had sui­ci­dal thoughts and a weekly sup­port group to help peo­ple ‘de­velop tools to man­age their own well­ness’.

“The Eden Pro­gramme is led by a group of like-minded peo­ple who have been there and un­der­stand what it feels like to be rock bot­tom,” says Car­o­line.

I was found quickly and taken to hos­pi­tal where I did ac­tu­ally die – but doc­tors man­aged to bring me back. Ini­tially I was not happy to be here as I was still in a very dark place

“So the pro­gramme is driven by ex­pe­ri­ence – we lis­ten, learn and then help peo­ple to im­ple­ment change. We are very pro­fes­sional, very heart­felt, very in­formed and all have ex­pe­ri­ence so it al­lows us to really un­der­stand what peo­ple are go­ing through and be the best placed to help them to step into ev­ery day.”

As well as talk ther­apy, Car­o­line also cred­its a num­ber of other life­style changes with help­ing her to keep on top of her world.

“I love med­i­ta­tion and do at least 20 min­utes, twice a day – it keeps me sane,” she laughs. “I also eat lots of pro­tein, as it gives me the en­ergy I need to get through the day. And I also do a lot of talk­ing about walk­ing, but don’t really get enough of it, so I am work­ing on that one.

“But I’ve come to re­alise that I have to be mind­ful of my ex­pec­ta­tions and cut my­self a bit of slack.

If you have an is­sue with men­tal health, it’s not go­ing to dis­ap­pear overnight, in­stead it needs to be tack­led in small steps – so, for ex­am­ple, if 100 is the best place to be and you are cur­rently at 20, you need to set a re­al­is­tic goal of some­thing like 22, which could be achieved by sim­ply meet­ing some­one for a cof­fee. Then, take it from there, mov­ing up­wards, one step at a time.

“Men­tal health is messy – we all need to re­alise that and most im­por­tantly to un­der­stand that it’s okay – ev­ery­one is here for a rea­son and each one of us need to re­mind our­selves that the world wouldn’t be the same with­out us.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DARA MAC DÓNAILL

Sui­cide or Sur­vive founder Car­o­line McGuigan: the char­ity is fo­cused on break­ing down the stigma as­so­ci­ated with men­tal health is­sues and en­sur­ing that those af­fected have ac­cess to the best re­cov­ery ser­vices

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