The journey to find 'Mike'
I woke up to a wave of anxiety on the day we launched the Finding 'Mike' campaign. My heart was racing and I felt sick with worry. In a few hours’ time I was about to be live in front of the nation on breakfast television. I was certain I was going to have a panic attack on air.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen – I actually thought it went surprisingly well. Talking hasn’t always been so easy for me and, in fact, it was my difficulty in doing so that led me to the bridge where I was about to take my life when ‘Mike’ intervened. I was ashamed and embarrassed that I was experiencing suicidal thoughts and couldn’t express these to anyone.
Even after the incident, it took some time to be able to talk about what happened. It was the lowest point in my life. This is why I waited so long to launch the campaign.
I also felt that I needed to be in a stable place in terms of my mental health before talking about this so publicly, not only for myself but to show others that it is possible to overcome any struggle; the ultimate aim of the campaign.
I’m justifying my reasons for taking six years to find 'Mike' because there have been some who have questioned the genuineness of it. Ninety-five percent of responses I’ve received have been overwhelmingly positive. Unfortunately for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, it is the negative ones that stick in my mind the most.
Since I started talking about my mental health by making my YouTube vlogs on living with schizoaffective disorder, what I say has been doubted a number of times. “You don’t look like someone with schizophrenia, you must be a fake” is a typical message.
It’s so tough to read something like that. In contrast, it’s also been suggested to me a number of times this week that perhaps 'Mike' was simply another delusion or voice, a symptom of schizophrenia.
Stigma still very much exists unfortunately, although it’s important to remember that it has been reduced dramatically in recent years thanks to the Time to Change campaign. We still have a long way to go though.
Schizophrenia in particular is greatly stigmatised and this was another reason for launching my campaign. I really believe there is a culture of fear around it. There’s a misconception that people with schizophrenia are violent and dangerous, thanks largely due to the press. “It’s only a small minority though!” I think this must be the phrase I’ve used most in the last few years since becoming a mental health campaigner.
What about Nobel Prize winner John Nash, renowned musician Tom Harrell, author and Professor Elyn Saks? All have achieved more than most of us could ever even begin to imagine in our lives. All have schizophrenia.
What about all the 24 million people worldwide who have this condition and are having to battle the stigma of it alongside the constant and relentless battle of its symptoms? I know for myself that the stigma of schizophrenia is sometimes worse than dealing with any other aspect of the disease.
I’d love to be able to say to people, “I’m feeling a bit delusional at the moment” or “My paranoia is really intense right now” but I won’t because of fear of judgement. I don’t know any other illness where there’s such fear about disclosing how you’re feeling.
So it was great to hear the word constantly being used this week in interviews that I did for the campaign. I know I’m extremely lucky that I’ve learnt to manage the condition. I do this through various means such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and mindfulness. This is why early intervention is so incredibly important. My psychiatrist once told me he thought I’d never get better. I’m glad I proved him wrong.
As for finding 'Mike', what’s more important to me than actually finding him is the chance to raise awareness about suicide. I’ve told every journalist I’ve spoken to that not only is it the biggest killer of young men, but that it also takes 16 lives every single day in this country. We simply don’t talk about it enough though. Hopefully through this campaign we can show that through sharing suicidal thoughts and feelings, and as a result of having the support of someone there to simply listen to how you’re feeling, there is another way out of that despair.
I've been suicidal since the day on the bridge. It's the nature of my condition, I go through bad periods of mental health. But now I know the difference talking about those feelings can make, and I always pick up the phone to the Samaritans when I'm unable to find a way out of my thoughts of ending my life.
One delusion that's always remained with me is that I can change the world. I wrote letter after letter to politicians, activists, and celebrities when I was unwell once to set out my vision of doing so. In reality, and I hate to admit this, I probably can't change the entire world. But if I can make a difference to just one person's life through the Finding 'Mike' campaign and give them hope that it does get better, then surely this is all most definitely worth it.