11 September 2020 | Guardian stories | Back to Blog

Spotlight on: Stuart – Changing Horizons

The 10th September 2020 marked World Suicide Prevention Day, an important time to reflect that in the absence of face-to-face interactions, keeping human connections alive wherever we can is more important than ever.

Today we are sharing Dot Dot Dot guardian Stuart’s story, in which he speaks frankly about his own mental health challenges, and how this eventually led to setting up his charity, Changing Horizons. Read Stuart’s story below to discover how he has been able to help thousands of people access the help and support they need to improve their mental health – himself included.

Did you know that the leading cause of death men under the age of 50 is suicide? That the same is true of women under the age of 35? Suicide is word that makes people feel uncomfortable. It’s steeped in stigma, myth and misunderstanding. One if five people in the UK will experience suicidal thoughts at some point in their life. It’s highly likely that one of your family members, friendship circle or colleagues are wrestling with these thoughts right now. Sadly, most of us experiencing these thoughts will suffer in silence; too afraid or too ashamed to speak out and ask for support. Tragically, the act of suicide becomes a reality for far too many with one in fifteen making an attempt on their life. It’s terrifyingly common with the devastation of a single act of suicide felt far and wide.

It’s not as though I wanted to die when I attempted suicide. I was lost in a sea of desperation, burdened with feelings of hopelessness, sadness and loneliness with no end in sight. I had been struggling with for over ten years with depression, a common illness where rates among people in the UK have doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, with one in five adults struggling with symptoms. Suicide wasn’t new to me having lost my best friend to suicide at the age of 21. It came as a complete shock. I had no idea he was struggling at the time which wasn’t unsurprising given that I had never revealed my struggles with depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts. We’d shared our hopes and dreams together, but clearly kept our woes and worries to ourselves.

Unlike Mark, I survived my suicide attempt but I still felt like I had nothing to live for. Depression had robbed me of my career, my relationship and all the plans I had envisaged for a happy future.

I became embittered by the reality that mental health was very much a taboo subject in a society where talking about physical health is almost part of our daily ritual. It felt like most people dealt with mental health by not acknowledging its existence at all. It seemed so unfair and so unjust. Why should we have to hide how we feel? Due to the stigma of mental health, many of us choose not to speak out. When we do open up to those that are around us, so many are afraid of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing that they just do nothing. Wanting to find a reason to live, I decided to make it my life’s mission to normalise conversations about mental health. I’d achieve that by setting up a charity that provided courses to equip participants with the knowledge to recognise symptoms of mental ill health and install them with the confidence to start a conversations about mental health.

Armed only with an idea, I applied for funding from the National Lottery in 2011 to train as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and run a pilot project training people in Mental Health First Aid. Remarkably, my bid was successful and my organisation ‘Changing Horizons’ was granted charity status. I’ve never looked back. Through my charity, I’ve gone on to train thousands of people on how to start conversations about mental health. I’ve had participants find solace in the courses I provide and finally access the help and support they need for their own mental health. It fills me with pride knowing that participants have used the knowledge they’ve learnt to start conversations about suicide and ultimately, save a life. Being a Dot Dot Dot property guardian and the inexpensive housing it affords has allowed me to run a lot more fully funded courses and deliver life-saving courses to a greater number of people. It’s why I find being a property guardian such a privilege and am grateful to Dot Dot Dot for that.

Life is really tough for many of us at the moment. Myself included. The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on my mental health. I’m finding life a challenge, but my life is very different now. I’ve built a network of support so that I don’t have to suffer in silence anymore. I speak to counselor on a weekly basis. I take medication to help me manage my mental health which provide stability so I can meet life’s challenges head on. I’ve got friends and a partner I can be open and honest about my mental health with. I still have suicidal thoughts but I now know how to beat them. It is okay not to be okay. However, it’s not okay to suffer in silence like I did. A conversation can be enough to start someone on a journey to recovery. If you see someone struggling with their mental health, stop and have a chat. You could help save a life.

If you need someone to talk to then you can call the Samaritans on 116 123, or email jo@samaritans.org 24/7. Check out more of our guardians fantastic volunteering stories here.