‘I felt there was no way out’: mental health advocate urges others to reach out - and full list of resources

In 2021, there were 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales

This World Suicide Prevention Day, charities, mental health experts and those with first-hand experience are urging those who are struggling to seek help - as well as offering advice for friends and families of loved ones through what can be a “very frightening” time.

Paul Thompson, 42, from Devon, is someone with first-hand experience of struggling with suicidal thoughts.

He had “a difficult time growing up”, with an abusive step-dad and his mum having her own mental health challenges.

Paul then struggled to cope with the effects of going into foster care as a teenager, with things coming to a head in his 30s, when he tried to take his life.

He said: “I had gotten to the end of my own strength. I felt there was no way out – I couldn’t talk to anyone.

“It was a time where there was still a lot of stigma around mental health – the internet wasn’t widely available at that time and conversations weren’t had as openly as they are today.

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“I felt trapped. I couldn’t see my GP and I worked in a male dominated environment. It was very much a ‘man up’ process. My only way out, I felt at the time, was to take my own life.”

However, Paul called the charity Samaritans during this period of time and said it was only when he began getting support from the mental health team that he understood what was going on in his environment and “started to accept that something wasn’t quite right”.

He then started “on the road to recovery”, with counselling and therapy for around two years.

Paul said he was also able to tackle what happened in his childhood, which took about three to four years, and also changed his environment by getting a new job and leaving an industry he was unhappy

After going back into full-time education and studying counselling, Paul is now a mental health advocate and has set up his own men’s mental health charity to reach out to others who might be struggling to cope as he was.

“I can put my hand on heart and say Samaritans saved my life,” he added.

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‘How and why suicides happen is incredibly complex’

In 2021, there were 5,583 suicides registered in England and Wales, which is equivalent to a rate of 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people.

Around three-quarters of suicides were males - equivalent to 16.0 deaths per 100,000 - with the rate for females being 5.5 deaths per 100,000.

Tracy Herd, director for global program implementation, mental health and suicide prevention at the men’s health charity Movember, said: “Globally, one man dies from suicide every minute. That’s over half a million fathers, partners, brothers, and friends each year. It’s one of the biggest public health challenges of our time. In the UK, almost three out of four suicides are men.

“How and why suicides happen is incredibly complex. However, what we do know is that helping men establish better social connections can improve their overall wellbeing and reduce the risk of suicide.”

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As part of the charity’s mission to make lasting change and dramatically reduce the rate of male suicide, Movember funds community-based early intervention programmes aimed at men and boys.

Paul said his mental health today “is in a very different place,” he has “great support” in place, is “more self-aware” and “can see my own triggers and make plans to help me manage”.

He has found a love for nature, as well as practising meditation, regularly walking, running and taking his dog out.

Paul said talking to his partner and people close to him also helps, and although he wouldn’t do this before because he was scared to do so and felt there was a stigma around it, he now makes sure his support network is there, and feels he now can be more honest and have a “real conversation”.

He added: “To anyone that might be struggling with their mental health, I’d show empathy and take them seriously. I’d assure them they aren’t alone and offer a coffee. Talking at their own pace and reassurance that there isn’t any judgement.”

Paul also suggests those struggling talk to their GP, encourage conversations with friends and see if there are any practical ways for your work environment to help.

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Professor Rory O’Connor, director of the Suicidal Behaviour Research Laboratory and MQ Mental Health Research Trustee, said: “It can be very frightening if a loved one is experiencing suicidal feelings. Knowing that there are sources of help, where you can speak to someone without judgement, is very important.”

He said if you are worried about a friend, colleague or family member who may be struggling then do reach out, check-in with them and ask them whether they are okay, as it can be “really helpful just to let them know that you are there for them.”.

Similarly, if you are struggling yourself with suicidal thoughts, “please reach out to a friend, a family member or health professional, like your GP,” Prof O’Connor added.

Where can I go for help with my mental health?

There are a wide variety of places where you can access help for mental health, with specific services depending on what you may need.

MQ Mental Health Research, a charity which invests in scientific research into different mental health conditions and treatments, including a better understanding of suicide to find effective preventions, has compiled a list of resources.

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For yourself:

In an emergency you should always dial 999. If you are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts you can always reach out to your GP or call NHS Direct on 111.

  • Samaritans- Samaritans are one of the most widely known helplines and are available 24/7 by calling 116 123. However, they offer more than just a telephone service. Their website offers advice and resources for people of all ages and you can email them on [email protected] at any time.
  • Papyrus - Papyrus offers targeted support for younger people through their ‘Hopeline’ which can be reached on 0800 068 4141, via email on [email protected] or via text on 07860 039 967. They also have a range of resources and advice on their website relating to dealing with young people at risk of suicide, including resources for mental health professionals.
  • SupportLine - Support Line offers confidential emotional support, particularly aimed at those who are isolated, at risk or vulnerable to abuse. They aim to help people develop health coping strategies through their telephone counselling service which can be reached on 01708 765 200.
  • Childline (for under 19s) -  Childline is a free, confidential service for anyone under the age of 19. Their website has advice for dealing with experiences, specifically tailored for children such as bullying and how to make friends. They can be contacted at any time for free on 0800 1111.

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  • Nightline Association (for university students) - Most universities in the UK have a Nightline service which is run by student volunteers for other students. This peer to peer support service gives students a chance to talk about whatever is worrying them in confidence. You can find your university’s Nightline details by searching on the Nightline website.

For someone else:

In an emergency you should always dial 999.

  • SANE - The SANE helpline is open between 4pm and 10pm 365 days a year and can be reached on 0300 3047000. They offer emotional support not just for people experiencing depression, suicidal thoughts or other mental illnesses, but also for friends and family who need support or advice.
  • YoungMinds parents helpline - If you are worried about your child’s mental health (up to the age of 25) and want to speak to someone about it then Young Minds offer a helpline just for parents where you can get support and advice. Open Monday to Friday between 9:30am and 4pm on the number 0808 802 5544.
  • Rethink Mental Illness- If you are looking for some face to face support for your loved one then Rethink Mental Illness run a network of over 140 local support groups, offering a welcoming non-judgemental space where people can talk about their feelings with professionals and others. Find a local group on the Rethink website.

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  • Samaritans - If you want to speak to a loved one because you are concerned about them, but are not sure how to do it, then Samaritans also offer online advice on how to reach out and the best way to support someone at risk of suicide.