Every day in Scotland, an average of two people die from suicide.
It is the leading cause of death among people aged 20-34 in the UK – with the rate considerably higher among men.
Sadly, it’s an issue all too familiar to many in Dundee – so much so that it’s led to intense scrutiny of local mental health services and an inquiry being launched. All last week, events were held to highlight the issue for Suicide Prevention Week. As part of that, the Tele has spoken to four people who have attempted to take their own lives, about their experiences and how they came through them.
They’re all members of the Blue Wings group, set up in Dundee by Robbie Russell after his frustration grew at the “underfunded” mental health services on offer in Tayside.
The group previously led calls for patrols to be introduced to the Tay Road Bridge, following a number of incidents involving people contemplating suicide or taking their lives on the crossing.
Dave Johnston, 43, from Claverhouse, became aware of suicide in a previous workplace.
He said: “Part of my day-to-day work involves taxying when my other operation is out of season so I quite regularly meet people in the taxis who experience mental health problems and suicidal tendencies. My own personal belief is that people are let down by the system.
“Right now if someone goes up to Carseview, they’ll be turned away on the vast majority of occasions without any treatment at all.”
Although the issue is common throughout Tayside, Dave said he has seen people around him being afraid to admit their dark thoughts to the authorities, calling for more effort to bring understanding to the system.
Dave said: “I’ve got experience from speaking to somebody very recently who had attempted their own life and were taken to Carseview.
“They were taken overnight and their only experience the next morning was that a police surgeon spoke to them and asked if they still felt suicidal. Nobody in their right mind would say yes because they don’t want to be kept in police custody and they were released that morning.”
He said including people who have experienced suicide themselves is needed in the system.
He said: “The folk that deal with these issues day in and day out may have ideas about it but perhaps the best people to talk to them and give them advice are the people that are suffering from the problems themselves.
“We still live in a very macho environment where it’s seen as a weakness to speak about these types of things. It’s not a weakness, it’s an illness.”
Robbie Russell, 28, from Arbroath, said he became angry and lonely during his teenage years, eventually attempting suicide at age 16 for the first time.
He said: “I was fine when I was younger, but when I got to my teenage years, I was quite angry.
“I was seen as a bad kid.
“I was never recognised as someone with mental health issues. It followed me into my late teens – I started getting arrested and turned to drugs as a shield to get out of it but it didn’t work.”
Robbie said he struggled to open up about the way he was feeling.
He added: “It was instilled into me about pride. You’re a man, you’re not really supposed to have feelings.
“That’s not the case – we’re all human and everyone feels an emotion and everyone should be allowed to express it.
“The first person I told was my mum. She’s always been my rock, I have always been a bit of a mummy’s boy. She has talked me out of a lot of situations.”
At his most vulnerable, Robbie started hiding under his bed and felt like he was not being taken seriously.
“I was let down by the system. Back then, there was far too much ignorance – everyone was just playing you off like you’re an attention-seeker,” he said.
Robbie later founded the Blue Wings group to help others who were feeling suicidal with the hope of developing the Facebook group into a charity.
“I started getting a lot better and opening up a lot more than I used to,” he said.
“I started accepting things a lot more.”
Aged 13, Tina Grant, from Douglas, tried to take her own life for the first time. She said she would do anything to get the pain she was feeling out of her head.
Tina said: “I felt dead for such a long time. I tried to do pills, slit my wrists, drink, everything.
“I didn’t know how to deal with it all so I thought that was the only way to do it.
“When you’re in a dark place and have so many bad things going on in your life, you just want to escape it.”
Tina, now 35, went through her suicide attempts for two years before telling her mum.
She said: “I hid it from my mum and stepdad for a long time and when they actually saw the razor on my wrists, that is when they got the help for me when I was about 15.
“I never really had anyone to talk to and speaking to someone is such a helpful tool.”
Although Tina admits she has not fully recovered from feelings of suicide, she is able to face the day more easily after opening up to other people.
She said: “I still deal with it now but I’m dealing with it a lot better because instead of turning to drink, I talk to my friends and family and that makes me feel so much better.
“It was like a weight had been lifted off me and I felt like a new person.
“I felt happier, freer and alive.”
Now, Tina is looking to get into care work and help others who are feeling suicidal.
She said: “If nobody knows of the groups available to you, go online and talk to people – it’s the best thing to do. Nobody is alone.”
Gavin Elliot, 20, from Broughty Ferry, has been on the edge of the Tay Road Bridge three times and still feels like he has not overcome his suicidal thoughts.
He said: “I was in care since I was about seven. Life was tough from the beginning.
“I tried multiple times to kill myself – whether it was sticking scissors to my throat, jumping off the bridge, trying to hang myself, trying to suffocate myself.
“Anything that I could try, I tried it because I thought the only way out was to end myself.”
He added: “Last time I tried was two years ago when my father passed away.
“I was at the edge of the Tay Road Bridge on the other side of the barrier when police came and they pulled me away.”
Gavin said he kept himself hidden from the world and only started talking to others when his support workers noticed.
He said: “Every day I’d wake up in the morning and think, why? What’s the point in me waking up when it is the same old routine every day? I would spend months on end in my house alone with no visitors – no physical contact, nothing. I sat alone and blocked everyone out.”
After ending up on the bridge, he was taken to Dundee’s Carseview mental health facility but said he did not receive much support.
“People at Carseview would look at me, say I was OK and send me home without any treatment whatsoever,” he claimed.
To get his life back on track, Gavin said he turned to BMXing which has helped him through his difficulties.
Almost half of young people in Scotland have experienced a mental health problem and regularly feel stressed, a survey has found.
Research by the Prince’s Trust highlighted body image, finances, educational results and “not being good enough in general” as the main worries for people aged between 16 and 25.
The survey found that 43% of young Scots have experienced a mental health problem while 53% regularly feel stressed.
The Prince’s Trust said it offers free counselling service to young people and called on the Scottish Government and employers to promote support and positive mental well-being in Scotland’s Year of Young People.
Finlay Laverty, senior head of partnerships at Prince’s Trust Scotland, said: “This is a generation rapidly losing faith in their ability to achieve their goals in life, who are increasingly wary of and disillusioned with the jobs market.
“Scotland is at real risk of leaving a wealth of untapped potential to go to waste.
“One of the most important things we can do to change this picture is show young people that it’s worth having high aspirations, that opportunities to earn a decent living and progress in a career are out there, and that they’ll be supported along the way to live, learn and earn.
“For this to happen, it is vital that government, charities and employers across Scotland invest more in developing young people’s skills and in providing opportunities for them to progress in fulfilling, sustainable careers.
“Commitments to initiatives that promote positive mental well-being should underpin this to help create a culture of openness, where young feel supported and listened to.”
The Prince’s Trust surveyed 2194 16 to 25-year-olds across the UK and 267 in Scotland at the end of last year.
With increased financial, academic and social pressures, there’s arguably never been a more stressful time for students – and that can have a big impact on their overall mental well-being.
Nearly five times as many students as 10 years ago disclose mental health conditions to their universities, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), resulting in an increase in the need for access to their institutions’ mental health services.
However, an increase in demand means that many services are only able to offer students short-term solutions, such as brief counselling sessions or medication. Some students are also having to wait over four months for treatment at some universities.
Andrew, 19, a second-year history student at the University of Warwick, says he has been on the waiting list for his university’s counselling programme for over a year.
He said: “I didn’t want to sell myself as a suicide risk and I may have underplayed that to the extent that they thought ‘oh well, he’s fine, we’ll leave him’.
“Because I have a diagnosed condition, it means they’d have to commit to me every week for three years. I think they were looking more to help people with short-term issues.
“Being put on a waiting list alienates you from seeking help, this is the problem. It’s painfully clear when you talk to someone from the university counselling programme that they just didn’t have enough staff for the number of students.”
University counselling services are struggling to meet the overwhelming demand. The results of an IPPR survey of 58 UK higher education providers shows 94% have experienced an increase in demand for counselling services over the past five years, while 61% have seen demand increase by over 25%.
Dr Martin Cunningham, a GP and member of the Student Health Association, said: “The services are working at full stretch. The number of students presenting themselves with mental health issues has shot up and the services are working very hard, but they are funded in such a way that it is really short-term work.”
A lack of resources can mean that when students do receive counselling, it is sometimes not focused on long-term solutions.
Former physics and animations student Bertie, 25, who attended the universities of Kent, Sussex and UWE, said: “I’d receive counselling once every week or once every other week. I’d feel a bit better that day or for a few hours afterwards but apart from that, it was just back to the same.”
Other students report being offered medication as a form of treatment, without any strategies for dealing with mental health issues in the future.
One University of Kent student, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “They recommended I take SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) but I didn’t want to take any medication.
“I wish I was offered alternatives to medication and counselling that actually advised me on steps I could take in the future.”
Alan Percy, chair of the Heads of University Counselling Services, a specialist group of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), stressed that university counselling services are facing pressure to have their students’ needs met immediately.
“This means that many student services offer short-term fixes which are less helpful in the longer term,” he said.
“However, there is no magic solution. The danger would be for all the emphasis to be on services to offer speedy appointments but not to be able to offer the appropriate level of professional counselling for those who need it.”
Levels of mental illness, mental distress and low wellbeing among students in higher education in the UK are increasing,and are high relative to other sections of the population.
The University of Kent says it is working with the NHS to enable easier access to mental health services.
“When a student requests counselling, they are asked to complete a self-assessment form which then enables us to triage clients, where those with the most urgent need are given the highest priority,” it said in a statement.
“We also offer a daily crisis drop-in centre and self-help services such as Big White Wall, a 24/7 online mental health and well-being service.”
The University of Warwick also said it provides an extensive range of mental health services for its students, adding: “We have recently committed over £500k extra to support Well-being Support Services, including additional outreach workers alongside an enhanced range of services available to students.”
Jackie Doyle-Price, minister for Mental Health and Inequalities, said her department spent £11.6 billion on mental health services last year and is pledging to work with Universities UK to make sure students feel supported.
She said: “University is a pivotal time in people’s lives, which is why we are working closely with university leaders to make good mental health central to their student services.”
“Every day we get calls to our Parents Helpline from parents whose children have been waiting up to 18 months for treatment,” chief executive Sarah Brennan says.
Chloe is now getting help with her mental health.
“I now see a psychiatrist on a fairly regular basis and it helps to be able to be open about how I feel now.”
“As this report shows, we need to see urgent action across the board,” says Claire Murdoch, the national mental health director for NHS England.
She says the CQC is right to highlight the need for there to be “better cross-sector working” involving health providers, schools, regulators and government – as well as children and parents.
Scotland’s mental health minister Maureen Watt says the government will “continue to support the improvement of mental health services through the £150 million of extra funding we’re providing over five years to help deliver our Mental Health Strategy”.
The Everton winger was detained under the Mental Health Act in May after suffering from a stress-related illness.
Aaron Lennon has opened up about his mental health problems in an emotional New Year’s Eve message.
The Everton winger was detained under the Mental Health Act in May after suffering from a stress-related illnes
England international Lennon returned to pre-season training in the summer and has made 17 appearances for the Toffees this campaign.
And he wrote on Twitter: “2017 has been a year I’ll never forget and there’s so many people I wanna thank for making the year end in such a special way. I can’t name everyone individually but a lot of you know who you are.
“Again I want to thank my family and friends, everyone at Everton Football Club, the fans and everyone at the hospitals.
“I’d especially like to thank every at The Priory for being there for me through some tough, tough times and everyone who send me get well messages.
“With all your help I’ve managed to get myself in a great place and [I’m] loving each day like you should, and learning so much about myself and learning how important the mind is and what I need to do to look after it.
“Also I want to say again that anyone needing help or not feeling right, there’s so much help out there; you are not alone.
“Please seek this help and believe the tough times are not forever. I’ve also been asked a lot why I haven’t spoken out or done more things on the situation. I will be doing in the near future, I just haven’t yet as the time hasn’t been right.
“Lastly, I just want to wish everyone a happy and healthy 2018, it’s going to be a great year.”
Lennon, 30, joined Everton from Tottenham for £4million in September 2015 after a successful loan spell at Goodison Park.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article you can freephone the Samaritans on 116123 at any time of the day or night.
The programme, which supports parents and children where one of them is experiencing mental health problems, has helped 79 people in the past year alone.
The sessions focus on coping with mental health, parenting and “building resilience”.
Two days after her son was discharged from hospital in May, Sonja sought one-on-one support from Newport Mind.
“You’re hurting for your child and you don’t want them to go through that, you would rather take the pain away from them and go through it yourself,” she said.
“It was so distressing because that night in question I had to physically restrain him from trying to kill himself and I just didn’t know what to do other than pile him into the car and take him straight to A&E.”
Sonja, who has suffered from depression and self-harm, said she could not show how she was feeling because “I didn’t want my son to pick up on my own mental health issues”.
“The sessions with Mind started very quickly for myself, it was two days after we left hospital. The continuing support has been amazing,” she added.
She now wants to volunteer with the charity, to help other relatives facing a similar experience.
Simon Jones, head of policy and influencing at Mind Cymru, said people’s health and wellbeing can be impacted by looking after a relative with a mental health condition.
He said this can include stress, anxiety, isolation or depression.
“What we try and do is provide them with an environment where they can talk about some of the challenges they face, talk about how they’re feeling but also get advice and support from others maybe that are in the same situation as them or from our own practitioners,” Mr Jones added.
“It’s absolutely crucial that people in caring positions are seeking support and recognise when they are coming under pressure as well.”
If you are feeling emotionally distressed and would like details of organisations which offer advice and support, click here or you can call for free, at any time to hear recorded information on 0800 066 066.