“I was scared to ask for more help”: EMT Vicky shares her story on World Suicide Prevention Day

World Suicide Prevention Day 2016

Today (10th September) is World Suicide Prevention Day. Vicky, a technician from Cambridge, bravely shares her story.

Early on in my career when I had only been on the road for about six weeks, I went to a job that affected me.

It wasn’t the typical big trauma job so I felt I would be seen as weak or not cut out for the job if I was seen to be affected by something so early on. I did go through the TRiM process though but, with hindsight, I probably masked how much it was all getting to me.

From then on, a combination of in and out of work stressors began to build. This was something I just didn’t recognise for myself but not long before Christmas my manager sat down with me in the office and said she had noticed something wasn’t right; she knew I was acting out of character.  She offered me a referral for support, something I was reluctant to use as I saw it as a failure.  I felt it made me look weak and I would have to admit to myself and others that I had mental health issues. I was scared of the stigma that surrounded that - what would my colleagues think?

After a few chats with my manager I eventually admitted to myself and to her that I was struggling with anxiety and depression.  I agreed to the help she was offering so she put the appropriate referrals in place. I had two or three phone sessions with a counsellor and visited my GP and started taking antidepressants

Despite this help, in my mind I knew things were getting worse and the help I was receiving wasn’t enough. I was scared to admit it, scared to ask for more help, scared I would lose my job if I did.

After this long build-up of not admitting how much I was struggling I found it more difficult to go to work. I woke up one day and decided I didn’t have the strength to go to work, to put on that brave face or to pretend anymore. I phoned in sick saying I had D&V and I then switched my phone off. It was at this moment I felt that work was the only thing I had, it was my life, my passion and what I lived for. If what was wrong with me was now stopping me from doing that then I didn’t want to be in this world anymore. I decided to take my own life.

Rachel was my DLO that day. When I booked sick, she recognised something might be wrong. She tried to call me and when my phone went straight to answer phone her instinct told her that something was badly wrong. A crew were sent out to me immediately and I was taken to resus to be treated.

Rachel saved my life that day and today I can stand here and say I am eternally grateful for that.

What I didn’t realise is that would be the start of some of the hardest times of my life. If I thought the stigma around mental health was hard, I now had to physically and mentally come back from attempted suicide. At this point my colleagues, management, friends and family knew the extent of my troubles and I now needed to manage my personal guilt of putting everyone through that.

Statistics show suicide risk increases after the first attempt and I can very much relate to why this is the case. Again, Rachel knew this. Recognising I was still very high risk, she liaised with Debra and I received counselling through an organisation called Red Poppy.

After a number of sessions I began to feel a lot better. I learnt coping mechanisms and dealt with some of the underlying triggers. Recovery has not been quick or easy and I certainly couldn’t have done it without the excellent support of my managers and the wellbeing team. I can honestly say, looking back I now feel like a completely different person.

A lot of people think if you’ve got mental health issues, they’re there forever. That simply isn’t the case. I had never considered suicide before this and, although today I still have the occasional wobble, I have not planned or attempted suicide again since my sessions with Red Poppy.

What I’ve learnt from my experience is that I hit crisis point. This never should have happened. I was new to the career. It is my dream job and something I’ve worked hard for but I lacked confidence and was scared of risking it all if I spoke out. If I had got more appropriate help sooner, this crisis point would not have been reached.

There is still a problem in society and institutions surrounding stigma for mental health that leads to additional personal pressure on sufferers at a time when they are least equipped to deal with it. Our organisational rhetoric is all positive but individuals still struggle to understand the similarities between mental and physical health.

My best analogy is my appendicitis. A month ago I began to feel abdominal pain. I recognised the signs and symptoms. After a day and half of toughing it out, I got checked out and a few days later left hospital without my appendix.

It’s been a rough year, but I can assure you this isn’t typical!  I’m now just coming to the end of my appendectomy recovery. This is something I am not ashamed to talk about. It is something colleagues understand and can relate to. I am universally supported and not judged. I had a number of colleagues visit me in the hospital and at home. This has all aided my recovery and my return to work sooner than the date the doctor signed me off for.

If I had treated my appendicitis in the same way I treated my mental health I would have delayed seeking treatment, symptoms would have worsened until my appendix ruptured - the equivalent of a mental health crisis. At worst this, equally, could have proved fatal and at best would have led to a much longer recovery time.

The reason I have chosen to tell my story and take the risk of explaining the worst time of my life involving a subject which has huge stigma around it, is to highlight that employees are all people with human frailties. We all need support from time to time. I got mine from Rachel, Red Poppy and the wellbeing team and it made a huge difference. I bounced back and ignored advice to postpone achieving my technician status. In spite of separate mental and physical health scares, I am now fully back on track and I qualified as a technician at the start of July. This is something I could not have achieved without Rachel and the wellbeing team.

Whilst my primary purpose here is to use my example to endorse the expertise and compassion of the wellbeing team and personally thank everyone for the help I have received, I would like to exploit the opportunity to appeal to the leaders, managers and influencers in this organisation.

My appeal is that mental health needs proactive interventions and ongoing commitment to removing stigma. The time is ideal now to link in with high profile, national campaigns so that the statistically next ‘one of four of us in this room’ who needs it doesn’t have to rely on someone as skilled and emotionally intelligent as my manager to intervene. I hope people seek the excellent support that’s available much earlier than I did.

If you are feeling suicidal or you are very worried about someone the Samaritans are available to talk 24/7, you can call them free on 116 123.

Alternatively, please contact The Staff Wellbeing Team on 01234 243060.

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