World suicide prevention month - Sidonie's story (with photos)
This is 17 year-old Sidonie. She is a bright young lady, and is feeling very positive about her future. Although she says she still has days where “I just stop functioning - I can’t get out of bed, I can’t eat, I can’t shower. It’s like your body just shuts down on you.”
Like Lauren, who I met recently, Sid has a rock-solid relationship with her incredibly supportive mum, Sarah.
Although Sid’s story has turned out well - in fact she describes herself as ‘ridiculously happy’ now - she recently went through a horrendous year, involving multiple suicide attempts. She is now on a range of medication to help manage the symptoms of her condition, which has been diagnosed as bipolar depression.
Her story highlights the massive human problems that come from underfunding of public services, and the lack of joined-up thinking between them.
“Mental health services are supposed to focus on preventive care, but really you have to be in crisis in order to get any attention, and by then it’s usually too late,” says Sid. “It was only when I told the school counsellor that I was going to kill myself that they actually started to take me seriously.”
Her mum describes how one night, after a harrowing anxiety attack, there was literally no one who could help. Aged 17, she was too young to be taken in by adult mental health services, and the children’s ward didn’t want her because she was over 16.
“The individuals in the health service are brilliant. But the system is broken,” she says.
And it’s not just the public services that struggle to cope. There is still huge misunderstanding about mental health. “People think that mental health is all in your head, but the physical pain is unbearable. Your whole body aches and hurts,” says Sid.
For example, the condition of anxiety might just sound to some people like vague worry, or preoccupation - but when Sid and her mum talk about it, you know you’re dealing with a potentially terrifying illness.
Her mum compares anxiety to cancer, as a ‘thing’ that grew inside Sid, and which turned into a form of paranoia that sounds like the stuff of nightmares. It was around the time of the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, and Sid became convinced that she was being attacked by poisoners.
“I was in the corner of my room with a baseball bat. I was ready to get them, or kill myself, if needed,” she says. Needless to say, it was impossible for her family to know how to help her. Sid spent that night alone in a hospital room, while outside she heard medical staff trying to figure out what to do, on the phone to colleagues elsewhere who were also unable to help.
“That side of mental health - the paranoia - is often brushed under the carpet. It is really not understood or accepted, it is so far outside of people’s understanding that is ends up being frightening, or laughable,” says Sid.
Once again, I am struck by how open this young lady and her mum are with each other, and how in the end it is this hardcore of family love that gets people through. But what if people don’t have that family support? If you’re on your own and suffering, you’re the last person to seek help for yourself. While the politicians are wasting their time on fucking Brexit, it is clear that the system won’t reach out for you.