David Armitage: If you are in a dark place find hope, seek help and please carry on
A year ago, David Armitage, a former Alliance member of Belfast City Council, found himself in a dark place. A year on, he talks about his battle with depression and the support that has pulled him back from the brink
I never wanted to die. That day in August 2018 was the final battle as I falsely believed that I could not fight any more and no-one cared.
Now I know I was so wrong; as my Church, Belfast City Vineyard, the Alliance Party and countless citizens of Belfast were out looking for me.
This showed me that people cared and I meant something. Being stuck in between not wanting to live and not wanting to die was my reality last year.
Now, I want to live. My circumstances have changed a lot, but I am still mentally ill.
Hope is the reason why there is a turnaround. Hope means that even though I have depression, circumstances can change for the better and, more importantly, I can change.
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Around the world people will be taking part in events and campaigning to prevent suicide. I know many in Belfast will be going to events or taking time to remember. The painful memory of someone loved lost to suicide, or a quiet reflection to acknowledge that they are still alive.
There are many reasons why people become suicidal: health, circumstances, relationship breakdown. Society has a part to play in providing answers to the complex reasons, so your burden needs to be shared by all and the sense of guilt you carry may not be valid.
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As I have mentioned before, mental health was the reason for me and the chronic underfunding of the NHS compounded this. I went through some traumatic experiences growing up and it was not until I was in my 40s that I received any meaningful help.
Teenagers don't get mentally ill, I was told, and I was instructed to 'pull my socks up' and get on with life.
At the penultimate time I was at casualty whilst actively suicidal, I was discharged with a leaflet which I interpreted as my 'death warrant' as it said there was nothing new they could offer.
Hope came in various guises.
Taking time from work whilst being kept in the loop was important. Friends from church sitting with me, going for walks and drinking endless coffees and removing the pressure to attend church on Sundays, but still being part of the family, was invaluable.
East Belfast Survivors of Suicide have done more to help. Practically, with applying for benefits, encouraging me to move house and finding help within the health service.
Friends who let me stay with them, and other friends who shared bad jokes and spend time with me.
There are two special people who have been the main focus for me to carry on. My children. Without them, I would have given up a long time ago.
My faith provides hope too.
The external aspects have influenced my internal process.
Knowing Belfast was looking for me, and the many messages sent to me, made a massive impact and instigated a search for hope within.
The biggest internal question I struggled with was whether I would allow my trauma and mental illness to dictate my life, or could I overcome? I chose to overcome and, through medical help, counselling, practical support, I have achieved a lot. But every day I have to challenge myself and decide to overcome.
It's a daily battle, and some days it's easier than others.
Faith asks me to look at what is bigger, my God or my mental illness.
Mindfulness has helped me bring myself away from the negative thoughts and into the present.
There is some practical stuff I have learnt that helps me and brings more energy to carry on hoping, including exercise, eating well and knowing it's okay to take time out and rest.
Getting rid of toxic influences, doing something enjoyable and learning to say no to others when you need space can all help.
There is a shed load of resources, groups and support on offer. No one is an island, we all need each other and if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, you are needed.
I have a 100% success rate in defeating suicide and so do you.
Find your hope. Ask for help.
Suicide has been described as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. My plea to those going through a tough time is to find your hope.
If I can, so can you. Please carry on. Today is another new hope.
π East Belfast Survivors of Suicide can be contacted on 028 90460201 or email@example.com