Due to the recent spate of suicides in North Belfast I feel compelled to write this letter. Let me begin by extending my deepest sympathy to all the families in North Belfast and further afield who have been touched by suicide. My own family have had their brush with suicide. It was me who was suicidal, it was me who spent several days on a locked ward in a psychiatric hospital and it was me who was so close to ‘ending it all’.

I am not looking for pity but merely attempt to raise awareness surrounding the issue of depression and suicide. We must, as a community, recognise that one in four people is affected by a mental health illness at some point in our lives. It is not uncommon.

I myself began suffering in late 2008. I felt feelings of worthlessness, extreme boredom, failure, and I could not see the point in living any more. I was confused and I chose alcohol and cannabis. They became my comforts. False comforts. In fact, abuse of some substance or other is not uncommon and most people with a mental health issue will try and use some substance as a ‘coping mechanism’.

In 2009 I crashed. The drinking and the cannabis abuse had caught up with me and I finally went to my GP who put me on a very low dose of antidepressant. That did not work and shortly I found myself in a psychiatric hospital. Little did I know that this was to be the first of three admissions in two years.  It was during my third admission that I became suicidal. Believe me, it is a very scary feeling but one that makes so much sense when you are in that state of mind. It becomes the only option left, the only way you can get some peace from the demons that are torturing you mentally. It is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign that you have been too strong for too long and your body cannot cope any more. However, it is not the answer and there is hope.

I am one of the ‘lucky’ people. I reached out for help and I received it. I urge anyone who may feel depressed to reach out. Today I can say that I survived. Life is still not easy, but it gets slightly better with the passing of each day. Now my coping mechanisms are my psychiatrist and my counsellor and I am getting better. I have spent almost three years travelling through a very dark tunnel but finally I can see that light at the end. That light does exist. Sometimes it is only a very distant flicker, but I refuse to let it go. I fight each day and I get stronger each day.

I urge anyone who may be experience emotions and feelings that they do not understand to contact an organisation that provides support for anyone with mental health illnesses. I urge you not to let these emotions  build to the point that you may become suicidal.  I urge you just to speak up. Once identified as a person who may be suffering from mental health issues, there are countless options for help.

I also urge the families of those affected by mental health issues to be supportive. Admittedly, it is a difficult illness to understand if you have not or do not suffer from it, but just be there for them. Listen to them. Comfort them. Console them and ultimately assist them on the road to recovery.

Together we can beat depression. Together we can beat suicide. Indeed, together we can overcome.

T. O’Neill,