Mental Health Literature: A Review of “Untamed”

Following my post that gave a snippet into my life with anxiety, I was contacted through Twitter from my supervisor from my masters dissertation with a book recommendation. If you haven’t read the post, it focused on the trepidations within anxiety, which cause you to feel you are doing everything wrong. So, Rachael felt I would enjoy Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, as the feelings, thoughts and emotions I had been struggling with was a common theme throughout the book. Come pay day, I ordered it and there it sat very impatiently waiting for me to finish The Man In The High Castle by Phillip K. Dick. Literally, you wouldn’t believe how many times I walked past my bookshelf and Untamed’s gorgeously colourful cover caught my eye, begging me to read it.

After a week or two, I finished my previous book and could finally take Untamed out from its place on the shelf. Five days later, it was completed. I couldn’t quite believe how addictive the book was, which is ironic once you read some of the topics within the books. Within the first night, I powered through sixty pages like it was nothing. Another night, I kept trying to put the book down and would find myself reading another page, and another page, and then another chapter, and then just one more chapter.

Untamed is a book, wherein the author Glennon Doyle reflects on her life throughout childhood through to her forties and how her perception of her life shifts towards a more realistic, settled and positive light. It isn’t necessarily a ‘mental health’ book like my previous post on Seconds to Snap, but I found many elements within this book which I related to in my journey within mental health.

Glennon, herself, has recovered from an addiction to substances such as alcohol and drugs, as well as bulimia. She also is diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety to which she is medicated for these conditions. She has some tough experiences within her childhood and within her first marriage. Now, married to the ex-soccer player, Abby Wambach, she has a different outlook on her mental health and wellbeing, particularly her coping mechanisms. I was recommended this book, because I’ve been reflecting introspectively on my mental health and wellbeing since I was eighteen or nineteen, after many years of poor mental health being a mainstay within my life. However, as evidenced by that post which triggered Untamed’s recommendation, I am able to be introspective, but I am not quite able to be as introspective and reflective as Glennon achieves during the book.

Interestingly, I noticed that I disagreed with the way she expressed some instances in her life. I encountered what I would describe as a cognitive dissonance whether that was a way she interacted with her child who wanted to play soccer (Abby changes her opinion, however) or there were ways she dealt with anxiety that I didn’t agree with. However, as I got towards the end of the book, she mentioned that, now she is in her forties she sees things differently, and life and the interactions within it have moulded how she sees her life. As she goes through her journey throughout the course of the book, the reader observes Glennon figure out new and more adaptive ways to react and recognise when she reacts according to her maladaptive yet instinctive mechanisms.

I, in my mid-twenties, although aware of my mental health journey and trauma, am still reliant on less than perfect, and often damaging coping mechanisms. While my eating disorder is not wholly one of the coping mechanisms anymore, I still harbour the bad thoughts and I let them take over and play into other parts of my life. I am still trying to figure out that part of my life. Therefore, the experience of reading this book is different to someone who is a few years older than me than it is to me. I enjoyed the cognitive dissonance I encountered when I read something I didn’t agree with immediately. As I went on, I learned that the cognitive dissonance was likely a case of: I am not quite at that part of my reflections, or: I am not Glennon and Glennon is not me. She is very understanding throughout the book that we have our similarities as humans so often do, but we are different.

Untamed often features contradictions. Initially, this irritated me, because I felt Glennon was saying one thing is right and then she would fall back on something she said was wrong, something she didn’t agree with and saw as less healthy in others and in her past-self. It was a common theme in parenting her eldest daughter. However, the cleverness of these contradictions is that you see how the human brain works in real time (or the time it takes to write a chapter and then make edits.) Glennon brilliantly lets you into her insight, wherein she jumps back and forth, changing her opinion, falling back onto old mechanisms, realising new ways of thinking were not as great as she believed them to be. She reflects and summarises, and sometimes tackles similar subjects with chapters in between to give a different view on how she coped with a situation at this age in her life.

This, I believe, is the real essence behind being ‘untamed’, citing the title of the book.

When you are deemed as someone who has a good grasp on your mental health, it can be hard to be vulnerable. You’ve spent so much of your life being exposed and being vulnerable that people now think you are able to climb upwards. You’ve achieved half the battle of openness and honesty. You’re in therapy, maybe, you’re medicated, and you’re about to have some insight in your mental health, so people develop this well-meaning but false idea that you are invincible to any further stressors and upsets. Glennon brilliantly deals with this throughout the book, as she fights with her tamed side, her destructive side, which may come from trying to regain control of her untamed side, and then her untamed side that she wants to be at forefront often. However, she understands in herself that it can be hard to uncage yourself and be free to explore your untamed side. She is so transparent within her journey. Something we need more of, because we need to end this falsehood that the minute we are aware of what triggers our mental health that it’ll go away.

Generally, I found this book to be real and relatable. Yes, at times, I was reading things she had said in conversation, and thought “no way, would I say this to my mum or my friends in normal day-to-day conversation.” But, it was the things I would think upon on reflection, or it would be what I wanted to say or should have said. Things I would say in moments of deeper conversation. I always appreciate whenever I read or hear the stories of others who experience similar things to myself. It makes you feel less alone, and it makes you feel like you can always experience an up no matter how many downs there are.

Untamed is chock full of advice, and while there are some things you can put into practice such as her Reset Buttons vs. Easy Buttons (something I am going to put into practice), there are more moments which involve you reflecting and normalising the way you are being made to feel due to your environment. That ability in itself is very powerful. Once you normalise your reactions and gain the ability to dissect them then you can begin to make progress in developing an insight in your mental health and wellbeing. It is not the cure. I don’t believe there is a cure, to be honest, but it is a way to cope and a way to learn.

I highly recommend this book. I adored it.

Learning to unlearn, learning how to become untamed – it’s a process. I am a different stage in my life than Glennon Doyle is so I know I may think differently to some of the things she discusses, but, all the same, it is fun to become untamed.

Let Them Be Heard

Disclaimer: I am a white Scottish woman and this post comes from a white, Scottish, female perspective therefore I do not speak for people of colour. This is my attempt to use my privilege to highlight the injustices within mental health awareness. This post mainly deals with people who are black whether this is Caribean American, black-British, African American, South African, Caribbean, Nigerian etc., It touches on many different things, as there is a lot I learned about online. Some topics are discussed more in detail than others.

Over the years, my attitude towards Mental Health Awareness Weeks, Months and Days has changed. Recently, I have found myself more conflicted with such hashtags and campaigns. While I speak about my story with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, suicidal ideation… and gradually opening up different doors that lead to different avenues of my mental health journey, I am aware of the lazy attitude we all adopt in that we post about this hashtag when it’s ‘hot’ and then don’t really speak about mental health again. Politicians, royalty, celebrities; they adopt this hashtag when its popular and beneficial to their popularity. I read, listen and watch as MPs and PMs, MSPs and FMs talk about how good it is to talk about your mental health and raise awareness for mental health for this week, or day, or month. There’s lots of talk, but little to no action. And, this is the issue with mental health awareness events. There is too much talk, and not enough action. It can be used as a cover up for lack of real movement and progress within the mental health support framework. Awareness weeks can be a way for the people who can make systemic change to act like they are.

So, for a while, I wasn’t sure if it was there any real value in mental health awareness events. I felt conflicted when I took part in them. Was I screaming into the void? I would see numerous tweets and other social media posts denouncing Mental Health Awareness events. What is the point in these days? They mean nothing. It’s like sticking a novelty yellow smiley face plaster on a bullet wound. People were asking for it to be eradicated. People felt stories had been heard enough. Enough talking, time for action.

However, this concept of “enough talking” didn’t always sit right with me. The idea of: you’ve heard our stories, wasn’t something that felt appropriate somewhere at the heart of it. It felt absolute. It felt excluding. It felt finite. I couldn’t figure out why. It wasn’t until I was participating in a livestream for the National Lottery Community Fund, that I found the words to describe how I was feeling. Or rather, I heard it on the other side of the camera. A Muslim woman who represented Glasgow Association for Mental Health (GAMH) said that she believed mental health awareness events were still needed for people like her. She believed that people who said mental health awareness was not needed were people whose stories were heard all over the world and were the typical cases. I knew that looking at her, she looking back at me, that I was one of the people.

That’s when it hit me squarely in the face. That feeling of discomfort was clear. People who say we should move on are perhaps unaware that it is only their stories that have been heard. We have opened the stage to men, but we have not opened the discussion to all men. The stories from mental health that we do not hear are from the groups that are currently out protesting their right to not be killed in the street, protesting their right to not be demonised, to not be ignored. Right now, they are being ignored within the mental health community.

The people we are ignoring are people of colour.

Yes, your story has been heard. Of course, it’s been heard. The cold hard fact is that white people, namely white people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety (hi, that’s me), are the ones that are heard. And once they feel they have been heard enough then they want to move on and not think twice about passing the mic on, or sharing the stage altogether.

Don’t get me wrong, action is important. Action should be advocated. But action does not just mean legislation, expanding services. Action means expanding research. Action means listening to marginalised voices. Action means learning. Action and awareness should go hand in hand.

Unfortunately, they don’t, which is the reason why mental health campaigners are frustrated with the weak words of the people who can make systemic change. Even then, these people will only hide behind the comfort of white stories, because they are the ones that are pushed out there. We have discomfort when we discuss mental health, but we’re beginning to get used to the discomfort. Now, we’re in the comfort zone, we share our typical stories.

This is where we get trapped. This is where we begin to think we’ve solved mental health awareness. This is when we think we’ve covered all the bases. This is when we start to ignore the people who have yet to speak out.

Your story has been heard, yes, but their story has not.

In hearing the woman from GAMH tell me that she, as a Muslim woman, did not feel heard, I realised we still need mental health awareness events. I remember nodding so much at this statement that my neck ached, and this has stuck with me to this day. In her words, she still faced stigma with the Muslim community, and she did not see anyone within mental health campaigning who she could relate to. Anyone who was at the forefront of the campaign, anyway. Anyone who had the light shone on them the way people like me would.

It has been shown that there is a level of stigma that remains at a higher degree in communities under the BIPOC and BAME labels. Often their mental health does not get talked about, because for some cultures it carries a stigma of weakness. They are taught not to ask for help. There is a common thread of toxic masculinity within black culture, which prevents men reaching out. Black women have to grow up quicker and feel as though they can’t be seen as weak. Scientific racism and psychological racism used mental illness as a way to keep slaves under bondage, as they were “psychologically unfit for freedom.” Mental health becomes vilified when it is diagnoses within ethnic minorities with research in America changing its perception of schizophrenia as a docile mental illness to an aggressive and dangerous mental illness – when black men and women began to get diagnosed, perhaps mis-diagnosed. Mental health does not get acknowledged within BIPOC and BAME communities for reasons that range from cultural stigma to colonial racism.

The reluctance to step forward with lived experience is a factor in the predominantly homogenous demographic within mental health research. Homogenous is not used in a good way either here. The WEIRD (Western/White, Educated, Industralised, Rich, Democratic) phenomena is a demographic that makes up the majority of studies out there. Unfortunately, this breeds more WEIRD participants and more WEIRD studies. As a result, people who fall outside of the WEIRD demographic experience an exclusion, and they don’t participate in these studies, because they are falsely taught these problems just don’t affect people like me. If all they see is white people, if all they see is western people, if all they see is richer people, then they believe that mental health only affects this demographic.

The findings of research with WEIRD participants then go on to formulate new therapies and new criteria for mental illness. Each mental illness becomes westernised, particularly in its trigger. An example of this is a study in which college students are given a diary entry of a young girl with some being told she was black, some told she was white, and some told she was Hispanic. The entry described eating disorder behaviour and they were asked to diagnose her behaviour. If she was white, she was more likely to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. Additionally, eating disorders carry strong ideology in what purges look like, what body image ideals are sought after. Purging methods and body image is found to be different in ethnic minorities.

Overall mental illness is deeply rooted in western terminology. Some western ideals may consider non-western (or culture-bound syndromes) mental illnesses as ‘crazy’ or ‘fake’ or ‘this is just some weird witchcraft, shaman-type crap.’ No offence to witches. For instance, the cultural endemic psychiatric illness known as Wendigo Psychosis. Although this diagnosis is now considered rare and thought to be myth, people may brush this off as an excuse to gloss over brutally violent and savage crimes. When in reality, this could be a mental illness exemplifying itself through culture. When in western-reality, people who have psychotic episodes have been violent to themselves as well as others out of pure fear from the terrifying thing that is psychosis. As mentioned above, psychosis, particularly schizophrenia, an already heavily stigmatised diagnosis, becomes even more vilified when it’s attached to black people, especially black men. Often, traumatic events can lead to psychosis being triggered; one in which is solitary confinement within incarceration (see Kalief Browder).

Additionally, there is not a great deal of understanding or an attempt to understand the differing levels of trauma within communities of colour. Different cultures, races, and ethnicities have shown symptoms of transgenerational trauma from black slavery to indigenous clearances and genocide to Holocaust survivors. Many of them are in a state of survival mode, because they have known their families and communities to suffer horrendously. This can lead to anxiety, shame, eating disorders, attachment disorders, emotional neediness, PTSD etc., It can lead to parents becoming authoritarian and over-protective of their children because they don’t want their children and their children’ children to suffer the same fate. This can also go the other way with parents being the overly-protected ones.

This is not helped by the dismissal of the people who were the oppressors when this trauma first formulated. Statements like “slavery happened a long time ago“, “you’re not in the camps now“, “look at the rights you have!” This leads to generations being forced to relive their trauma, while being made to believe that their stories do not matter, that their trauma does not matter, that it does not exist. When they are told that mental health awareness is not needed while they haven’t been given the chance to speak, they may feel like their story does not deserve the spotlight. My story is not something people will be interested in. The stories that matter have been told, and this world does not think my story doesn’t matter. Maybe my mental health doesn’t matter.

They are also made to relive this trauma and they don’t get a real chance to heal. For example, PTSD can only begin its healing process when the climate feels safe. Effectively, your trauma should be in the past. But for many it is not. Look at what is happening in America right now. You tell me how African Americans are meant to heal when they see their people being part of a mass incarceration, their votes are being suppressed, black people are being killed in the streets, in their homes, jogging… They live with this trauma from the days of slavery, the days of Jim Crow, the days of segregation. They are not allowed to heal. They don’t receive the appropriate help to heal. They must be strong in the face of adversity. This adds to the numerous amounts of stigma within different communities of colour and mental health.

You watch on the news as they discuss the rising levels of BIPOC/BAME youth in prison for something that has stemmed from an untreated and ignored mental health difficulty or illness. This only worsens as their sentence continues RE: Kalief Browder. They become stuck in cycles of trauma. They are not allowed to tell their story because they may carry a different culture. A culture that is different to many white people who, if they don’t relate, will not listen.

Mental health action and awareness needs to take place, and it needs to be intersectional. It cannot just rely on the research out there right now. That very WEIRD research. There is a lot to unpack, and I have touched base on it, and I have actually began to learn a lot around mental health and communities of colour. It’s time we shared the stage and allowed the spotlight on marginalised communities within the mental health community.

Yes, your story has been heard. But, now it’s time for their story to be heard.

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If you want more information in how you can donate or help in the Black Lives Matter movement then click the link here.

If you are someone who identifies as BIPOC, BAME, or POC, and would like to share your story of your mental health journey or experiences, then please don’t hesitate to message me and I will happily share your story here with your consent.

Methods For Mental Health: The Good Samaritan

Disclaimer: This post involves a conversation about suicide, suicidal ideation, and suicidal thoughts and actions.

Around 3am, my knees hugged tight to my chest, the small of my back pressing against the frame of my bed, I stared at the number I had just dialled into my phone. My fingers trembled over the green call button. I willed myself to press call. My breath was caught in my chest as though my lungs were being crushed by my ribs. I pressed the call button. The dialling tone rang in my ear, daring me to hang up, but before my nerves got the better of me, the call connected.

Hello, you’re through to Samaritans. How can I help?

This is my experience with the Samaritans helpline.

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While the number of completed suicides has generally decreased, there are still increases within the male demographic and across different cultures and countries. Samaritans launched their freephone helpline in 2015. Over 5.7 million people called Samaritans within a year. This number has been increasing steadily throughout the years. People are reaching out for support more and more, but there remains a stigma, and a genuine fear around calling a suicide helpline.

For me, the fear and anxiety lay around: I am going to have to admit that I am seriously struggling; struggling so much that I want to end my life. You don’t want to be that person who calls a suicide helpline. It makes you feel nuts and helpless. But, I was helpless and I was feeling completely out of my mind.

I was at a point in my life where my mental health was so bad, and I was so, so alone that I felt the only way for the suffering to stop was to kill myself. To make it all go away by making myself go away. Essentially. I couldn’t breathe for suicidal ideation.

However, there was something in me trying to swim to the surface to save me. And that’s when I googled the number for Samaritans.

When the call connected, a soft and polite female voice greeted me. I don’t know what I was expecting exactly when I rang. But, I didn’t expect to connect automatically. I mean, there was nothing else it was going to do. Did I think it was going to take me to a menu? Press 1 if you want to kill yourself now. Press 2 if you don’t know if you want to kill yourself. Did I think I was going to be put on a waiting list? You are number 7 in the queue; please hold if you want to talk about the fact you are very suicidal and thinking of the ways you end it. Nope, it connected pretty much automatically.

This jarred me. I had built up all this courage to phone and, within a few minutes, I was faced with it. On the other side was someone who was waiting to hear about my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t know what to do. What could I say?

I had run the word suicide through my mind several times so much so that it was just another word. However, thinking a word and saying a word can carry very different weights. Additionally, saying a word out loud to yourself and saying a word out loud to someone also carry very different weights. The fact I hadn’t said it out loud either to myself or to anyone else… that rested very heavily upon me the second the phone call connected. For many, this is the first time they discuss their suicidal thoughts and feelings. Connecting straight to an operator, therefore, can be extremely surprising.

However, while it frightened me, it didn’t give me the option to hang up. If there was an exceedingly long time to wait, you’d probably have a lot of people overthinking their decision to phone and soon hanging up the call. You can’t ‘run’ if the call connects straight to an operator. You have to face the suicidal thoughts head on. I had to speak about it. This was the moment I had chose to speak out against my suicidal thoughts. Sure, you can hang up if the call connects and you really don’t want to talk about it, but, for me, it created a sense of: you can do it now or you can continue to let the suicidal thoughts torment you. So, I stayed on the call and spoke about the fact I was considering killing myself.

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It wasn’t until I did an elective class in clinical psychology when I was in my fourth year of university that I learned about the power of silence. However, I was first exposed to the act of using silence in counselling and in Samaritans. Samaritans use it very effectively. The woman I spoke to was very calming and patient. And she used silence as a method to get me to talk. Silence is used in therapy and in psychological practices to do exactly that. Think about times where there were awkward silences in your life. You may have felt obliged to keep talking to fill the silence up. This is the idea behind leaving an intentional and deliberate silence within conversation. However, it’s not a deceitful and wholly ‘manipulative’ act. It actually benefits the individual on the other side of the phone.

When I called Samaritans and was faced with a lot of silence, it gave me an enormous opportunity to speak. That was what I needed. Samaritans is a helpline that gives you the chance to talk. And that is one of the most important steps towards improvements and a better understanding in your own mental health. A lot of people involved in my life did not want to listen to me at that time, or they would jump down my throats with well meaning but ill timed solutions. At that point, I just needed someone to listen. For me, someone dismissing me or trying to solve my problem only made me feel that no one cared, wanted to listen, or give me the time of day. It’s not that I didn’t want to solve the problem. I just wanted to talk about my situation and how it was making me feel.

For someone to give me a chance to talk, give me a chance to vent… it was unnerving, but it was welcomed. Initially, I didn’t know what to do. I was waiting for the worker to butt in, to offer some kind of solution, but it didn’t come. I’m not going to lie, I was confused and I actually became a bit frustrated. I remember thinking: just have an input, moan with me, please talk back… But now when I think back on it, I can see it was because I was so used to people butting in and offering me solutions that I was not ready to commit to. Plus, Samaritans was not going to bitch and moan with me over one of my issues that was amounting to my suicidal ideation. Because that’s not what they are there for. They were there to give me a safe space so I could finally let everything out.

Although I was hesitant, especially with the silence, in speaking out loud, I eventually began to let everything out. I didn’t cry. Mainly because of the environment I was in when I was on the phone. I was whispering the full conversation. However, throughout I carried feelings of embarrassment trying to tell the worker I was suicidal. Because I was so naturally ashamed I had been feeling so incredibly down that I was almost ready to take my life. Because I had people dismiss me and tell me I was overreacting so I convinced myself that maybe I was overreacting and maybe I was the bad one. I should be ashamed of myself. Why don’t I just get rid of myself because I am so embarrassing? Then the more I wanted to speak about it the more I remembered how embarrassed and ashamed I felt about wanting to kill myself. See, the vicious cycle…

I apologised several times and continued to tell her: “this is really stupid… Please don’t think I’m an idiot… I’m really sorry… I know this is daft… I sound so ridiculous and stupid … maybe I’m the idiot… I know I shouldn’t act this way…

I made every attempt to downplay how I was feeling. The worker did not agree. She highlighted how important it was that I was speaking about my feelings. She created a sense of trust and made me feel appreciated and like what I was saying mattered. Someone finally heard me and someone finally put me in my place. And that was place was: you are phoning this number because you are in a crisis and I want to help you. She finally made me understand that what I saying was important and it was serious. And that my life mattered. Even if I didn’t think so.

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They have a lot of people to speak to so you can’t really stay on the line for hours. However, I think I was on the phone for around 30-40 minutes. They don’t aim to have you on and off the phone within a certain time. But they have a lot of people who call them. Particularly at the time I called, which was at 3am. They have to get these people on the line. They have to catch them before they hang up. That being said, if they feel you are still at risk at the end of conversation, they will phone you back.

Samaritans did this for me.

I was going to a party the next night, where there was going to be alcohol and there was also going to be a few reasons that triggered my suicidal ideation to begin with. I had talked out all my problems, and was in a stage of repeating myself therefore the conversation was becoming ‘stale.’ And that’s my opinion. Not the Samaritans worker. I knew myself that I had talked myself out, and I was getting tired. She would check in occasionally to see how I was feeling now throughout the conversation and when she got the feeling that I was getting tired and feeling at least a degree better she believed it was a good time to bring the conversation to a close.

Because I was going to this party, the worker asked my permission to have someone phone to check in and see how I was feeling. The next night, I was getting ready at a friend’s, and an unknown number came in. My friend suggested it may be Samaritans. I answered and a soft, male voice asked: “hello, is this Adrienne? This is Samaritans calling. Is it a good time to talk?” I disappeared to another room, and spoke quietly to them. This worker asked me how I feeling, did I get a good sleep… They also reassured me that I had done the right thing to phone. They asked where I was, how I felt about going to the party, and who I was going to the party with. The worker relayed the importance of my feelings and my safety. He helped me to understand that I should remove myself from a situation if it was bringing up these suicidal and bad thoughts. I should have a good support system around me. By asking me who I was with, and who I was going to the party with, he told me that I should reach out to these people (if I felt comfortable to) and ask them to keep an eye out on me. It was a short call. It was only meant to be a check up. But, it made a world of difference.

The fact they kept their promise to call me the next day made me feel incredibly safe and appreciated. It made me feel important. I rarely feel important. It validated my feelings. It made me feel like I mattered. I don’t often feel like I matter.

Later that night, I attempted to kill myself. I was stopped by a friend. My friend saved me physically. I was still very suicidal. But, Samaritans allowed me to open that gate. Just like therapy, you will not be cured immediately. Everything will not be magically made better with one discussion. But the minute you talk you begin your journey to recovery. Samaritans is not just for crisis’ moments. It’s a first step. It’s a way to understand your feelings and feel listened. Feeling listened and opening a dialogue is an important start. Samaritans was a first step for me. They took hold of me when I reached out for help.

Samaritans helped me to start my path to saving myself.

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Whether you are in crisis or just need to talk to someone, whether you are lonely or your mental health has become too much, Samaritans is a step in the right direction. I know the NHS is bursting at the seams. I know mental health help is so hard to come by. So, try your very, very hardest to utilise Samaritans as a resource. I know how hard it is, especially when you’re in the depths of despair and so trapped with feelings of suicide and hopelessness. But trust me, ring that number, and hold on. They are patient. A patient ear is what we need at that time.

They are listening.

If you are feeling suicidal, or need to talk, ring Samaritans on 116 123. If you don’t want to talk and you’re in Scotland, Breathing Space are piloting a web chat service. Their phone helpline is also available Monday to Thursday 6pm – 2am, and weekends 6pm – 6am. Call them on 0800 83 85 87.