Trigger warning: this story mentions suicide and distressing events
I grew up on a Leeds council estate for five years until our lives were turned upside down.
A week before my sixth birthday, my mum went out and never came back home. At 5.30am that morning, my sister and I went searching for her and soon her body was discovered not far from our house. She had been murdered by Peter Sutcliffe, who later became known as the Yorkshire Ripper. My mum, Wilma, was his first victim. She was the first of thirteen women to die at the hands of Peter Sutcliffe.
Naturally, this had a devastating effect on my mental health. My siblings and I were taken into care briefly but we were later removed from care and given back to my father, who was abusive prior to my mother’s murder and continued to be afterwards. By the age of eight, I was already struggling with suicidal thoughts. At the age of twenty, I was kicked out of the army which left me struggling with suicidal thoughts once again. These thoughts became worse at the age of 28 when I went to prison for six months on a drugs charge.
My sister Sonia attempted to take her own life that year, however I managed to save her life. She still silently struggled with her mental health and became addicted to alcohol. She was checked into a rehabilitation centre, seeking the help she needed. However, that year, at the age of 39, she took her own life, 32 years after the death of our mother.
I developed the courage to talk about my mental health at the age of 30, after my sister’s first attempt to take her own life. I knew I had to talk about our family story to encourage people to not hide their emotions but to be honest and try and get the help they need. Maybe if Sonia had chatted about how she was feeling, she would still be here today.
My story turned around – I am now a happily married man with three beautiful children.
My story turned around – I am now a happily married man with three beautiful children. This is why I want to share my story and inspire others to get the help they need. Since I have turned my life around, I have published novels detailing my journey so far, as well as starting iCan Academy, where I inspire businesses to communicate and look to the future.
Once we start having these open and honest conversations, the stigma surrounding mental health will slowly erode and hopefully we can prevent situations like my sister's.
The Curry & Chaat campaign led by the Mental Health Foundation is a great way to encourage people to get together and have those all-important conversations about mental health. It encourages a great environment to chat to like-minded, or perhaps not-so like-minded individuals, and talk about how you are feeling and to see how others feel. You may be surprised how people who may appear fine, might be dealing with their own mental health problems silently. Once we start having these open and honest conversations, the stigma surrounding mental health will slowly erode and hopefully we can prevent situations like my sister's.