Monday 14 May 2018

It could be you... #MHAW2018

This post is for Mental Health Awareness Week 2018 and carries trigger warnings.

For most of my life Mental Health was something I felt affected other people. Don't get me wrong, I've had my fair share of sobbing into my pillow, not wanting to leave the house, drinking a few too many because it made my reality further away. My life has not been plain sailing, but in general I seemed to skim round all the sinkholes and emerge relatively unscathed.

As a teenager I was a volunteer for MIND, spending my evenings playing pool and smiling yet again at photos of a stranger's family and great times, carried around as precious treasure. A reminder that life can be good, and a reason to carry on. I learned quite quickly about some of the realities of poor mental health.

When I was older I lived with someone who periodically took anti-depressants. My job was to let them know they were too low and take them to the Doctor, all the while not really understanding why it was they couldn't just be okay.

When I had my own young family to fill my time, my brother's ability to cope with the world faltered. He drank, I stopped. I waited for him to get better, and he didn't. I distanced myself from his day-to-day to protect my children and in a lot of ways that meant that mental health was still something that affected other people. I was still the bystander, watching someone else's illness from a safe distance. Away from most of the shrapnel. When he died I took on the guilt of not doing more, although I knew others never stopped trying.

Almost 4 years ago everything changed. In a single moment mental health was something that was very real, very big and would be a huge part of my life forever.

On August 15th 2014 we lost of our children to suicide. We had no clues or any way to try to prevent it, and my step-daughter became a victim to the biggest killer of children and young people in the UK. The shrapnel was mine and mental health has been my priority every single day since.

Despite the fact that if you are aged 5-34 you have a higher chance of dying from suicide than anything else, no-one really knows what to do. Friends have genuinely no words. Medical professionals and other people with titles stare at you with their big eyes, trying to work out what happened, and you hope beyond hope that maybe they will work it out and save some lives, but they just repeat that they are sorry.

Life becomes something that happens to you, and remembering to eat is a real thing. Sleep is your enemy, insomnia your closest friend. You can't face morning, you check your children during the night. Every little noise needs investigation.

Hours go slowly, but months fly past. Anniversaries, birthdays, there is always something. When someone says "I hope it was okay to say that", you weren't reminded, because you can never forget. Not for a second. A child in your care has died, and if you could only... if you could only have what?

Losing someone to suicide leaves a million unanswered questions and an infinite number of possibilities. You will never get through them all, but your brain tries. And when it isn't looking behind, you see ahead, and you see the space which was filled with potential...

Suicide leaves an overwhelming fear for everyone else you love. I don't really worry about some of those irrational things people worry about. My life is full of untameable monsters who have proven to be real. My children's lives are all full of monsters who are real. There is no magic monster spray to help them sleep, no reasoned argument to beat the irrational. I can only give them my word that I will see them in the morning, and ask the same of them.

They say you don't appreciate your health until it's gone. I know that's true. I know that I am not the person I was 4 years ago. I know I have found out so much more about mental health than I could ever have pretended to know or learned from a book. I know that 30 years ago when I worked with MIND, all those people who showed me their smiles were cleverer than I ever realised. 

Every grin my children show me gives me back some hope. Every smile means we can do it, we can keep going, we can find the next thing to make us giggle. We can have joy. Every time a stranger smiles in the street, I flash them my wonky teeth. When I make someone laugh, it's a pure win. Smiles are stronger than any written expression.

Sleep well. See you in the morning.


If you want to talk to someone you always can. Sometimes people don't hear and you need to talk to someone else. Keep trying, there is always someone to listen.

Childline Freephone 0800 1111 - for children and young people who are struggling and need to talk or need help
The Samaritans - for anyone who needs to talk or is struggling
Child Bereavement UK - for those who have lost a child, and for children who have lost someone. Advice for anyone spending time with bereaved children. 
Winston's Wish - the charity for bereaved children
Papyrus UK - Prevention Of Young Suicide
SOBS - Survivors Of Bereavement By Suicide

I collect my family's smiles and share them here on the 15th of each month. If you use Instagram then you can share yours with me and the rest of the community by using the hashtag #TBCSmiles - I share 9 of the brightest on Instagram and here each month. Anyone is welcome to join in - just tag your grins. 


  1. It's the unanswered questions which I find most difficult... but at some point you have to push them right to the very back and ignore them. Huge hugs to you xx


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