50 Years 50 Voices "If I can survive, you can. I like to give people the hope that I needed years ago." TJ's Story I didn’t learn how important it is to look after your mental health until later in life. Now I know it’s vital to step back and take care of yourself. I was sexually abused from the age of four, and that set the precedent for my life. This meant that I had no idea about boundaries, and it led to abusive relationships later in life, and an unhealthy work ethic. I never wanted to let people down. Mental health wasn’t talked about when I was younger. It just built up, like a pressure cooker. I kept pushing it down, but it inevitably blew up. I first started drinking as a coping mechanism age 12, and I first tried to take an overdose at 13. I don’t know how I managed when I had children, looking after them and holding down a job. Sometimes I look back, astounded. I didn’t know where to turn. My last suicide attempt was six years ago now. After that I was put on a recovery programme. That’s not to say I’ve fully recovered. Recovery is a journey. Now I live by the knowledge that it’s possible to lead a life while living with mental health challenges; you aren’t written off just because you have suicidal thoughts. If I can survive, you can. I like to give people the hope that I needed years ago. There was a bit of a switch in me when I became pregnant and started work in an old people’s home. I found my feet. The caring role came so naturally. I knew from then on that would be my future. I was never listened to when I was younger, and I wanted to be that listening ear for others in need. Over the years I have worked in women’s refuges and in mental health supported living. Now I’m a Recovery Worker at Hestia’s first mental health service in Kent, the Folkestone Haven, supporting people experiencing a mental health crisis. I used to hide my mental health but now I’m open and honest. It makes me better at my job as I can connect with the people who visit us. I know what it feels like to think you’re a burden, or to feel like you’re drowning. I have been there. I understand. It’s about actively listening and not forcing people to find an immediate solution. People don’t want a pity party; they don’t need sympathy. Sometimes, all people need is someone to listen as they explain what is happening inside their head. You can see it has built up – after someone tells you how they are feeling, there is such a palpable relief. Simply by being listened to, by being heard, they can begin to work out what they need. When someone says they are having suicidal thoughts, the worst thing you can do is panic. There doesn’t need to be a big dramatic aftermath when someone says they are suicidal. All you’ll do is scare them into thinking you’re going to call the police or social services. That was my biggest fear – having my children taken from me. I don’t react, just encourage them to talk openly. It creates a space to identify triggers. Otherwise, they will just shut down. This work around suicide prevention has put a fire back in my belly. I am helping others, but I am being heard too. I have recently been part of a suicide prevention project, Living Warriors, formed by people who have survived suicide attempts. We have made a song, a book, held conferences and, most recently, short films. I’ve just had news that the film I made sharing my story will be shown in cinemas. The BBC would like to use it too. I do this to get the message out there: it’s OK to talk frankly about suicide. I am so passionate about it. I want to make a change. It’s taught me to be kinder to myself too. I used to not know when to take a step back, but now I acknowledge when I’m having a bad day and I’ll sit around in my pyjamas. I’ve also incorporated little things into my day, like starting the morning with a cup of tea in the garden – even if it’s raining. These little steps have been big for me. They help keep my head clear. When I was younger, I thought I was worthless. Now I know I’m not. I matter, and I can make a change. Please reach out and talk. I know from experience that it really does help to be able to make sense of things and put them into perspective. You've got this. If you need immediate support, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, 24/7. Which film impacted me the most? A Beautiful Mind with Russell Crowe had a large impact on me, as well as The Theory Of Everything, about Stephen Hawking. It gave me hope that no matter what disability or diagnosis you have, you can achieve things that are important to you. Which book impacted me the most? True life books such as A Child Called "It", The Lost Boy and A Man Named Dave by Dave Pelzer were inspirational, as they gave me the strength to begin writing my own story. Which song impacted me the most? Papa Don't Preach by Madonna, as I had become pregnant at a young age and wasn’t allowed to keep my baby, which added to my shame as I believed I was a killer for years. It was a traumatic experience. I had no support and it was not spoken about.