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Former hostage Waite recalls day he thought he was going to be killed in city conference on mental health

By Staff Reporter

Published 01/04/2016

Terry Waite was held as a hostage in Lebanon for five years
Terry Waite was held as a hostage in Lebanon for five years

Terry Waite, who spent five years in isolation as a hostage in war-torn Beirut, was in Belfast yesterday to share his insights into coping with extreme psychological stress.

Mr Waite was visiting the city as guest of Aware, the mental health charity.

It came after the organisation, which organised a conference to discuss mental health issues, said Northern Ireland had the highest rates of depression in the UK, and that the illness costs our society £31m every year.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster, former hostage Waite, who has family in South Belfast, said he had been able to take his experience in captivity and use it creatively, setting up Hostage UK, an organisation that gives support to hostage families and disseminates information about the crime across the world.

Speaking of what he called "the dark times", Mr Waite recalled facing a mock execution in his Beirut cell - something which he said he had been able to use in his work with a British family who had to watch their son being beheaded on an IS murder video.

"It's been tremendously useful to be able to discuss with those families my feelings at the point of what I thought was going to be my execution, and what their son may have felt," he said.

Mr Waite also told Aware's volunteers and conference delegates that depression should be treated as an illness.

"We all suffer from depression from time to time, often brought about by the insecurity of modern living," he said. "I think what you have to remember is that all these things need not be a total negative.

"You can somehow turn them round and get something creative from the experience.

"Suffering is always painful, but it need not destroy. Something creative can emerge from it, but you need to enable something creative to emerge from it."

His message to those suffering from depression was don't give up. "It won't be easy, but it's not the end of the world," he said.

Siobhan Doherty, Chief Executive for AWARE said, “It was great to have Terry’s support and his personal story, although harrowing made a real impact on the day’s events. We need more high profile advocates for mental health as 1 in 4 people in Northern Ireland will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives, so the more we do to raise the profile and break down the stigma the better.

"As the leading charity in Northern Ireland that helps sufferers of depression and mental illness, AWARE is committed to ongoing development and support. This is why we have a full calendar of events taking place during this our 20th anniversary year so sufferers feel they are not suffering in silence.”

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