Andy's Story Today (September 10) is World Suicide Prevention Day and in Trafford, we’re doing our bit to raise awareness. Although the suicide rate for Trafford as a whole is lower (7.3 per 100,000) than the England average (9.6 per 100,000) and the lowest in the North West and Greater Manchester, we are striving to reduce this number and to help change the lives of those affected by suicide. In the first of our month-long blog series, Carrington resident and survivor of attempted suicide, Andy Graham shares his story and offers some tips for those struggling with their mental health. In the late 1980s, I was fresh and raring to go as a young firefighter. I was enthusiastic and wanted to do my bit to help protect our public. While enjoying the job, firefighting does come with its obvious challenges and after attending a number of fatal incidents, I began to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. In those days mental health simply wasn’t spoken about and there were few support mechanisms in place to help. I suffered with nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks which led my mental health into a serious downward spiral. My coping methods were self-destructive in the form of heavy drinking and dangerous activities which, at the time, distracted me from the visions in my head and the intense anxiety. But the next day reflection brought on feelings of guilt and the depression soon followed. I lived like this for about 12 years before my first major mental breakdown and I attempted to end my life several times. It has taken three extensive courses of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), a course of Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprogramming Therapy (EMDR), and the love and support of those closest to me to get me to recovery, but here I am and I am here to stay. “…here I am and I am here to stay.” Now, I use my experiences to help others by teaching mental health first aid courses in the community and in workplaces so that we can all be better equipped to spot the early signs of poor mental health and more confident in supporting each other. In the UK, we lose somebody to suicide every 90 minutes, but it doesn’t have to be that way – we can all help to save lives and all it takes is education. As a firefighter, I was involved in local and national campaigns for fire, road and water safety to help drive down the number of needless deaths – these have been very successful. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), here in the UK you are: 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than in a road accident. 19 times more likely to die by suicide than by drowning. 23 times more likely to die by suicide than by fire. Isn’t it time we put the same amount of time, energy and money into reducing these needless deaths too? People don’t want to die, they are just so desperate for the pain to stop and they can’t see how they can make that happen. You are not alone and you can recover… Together, we can change things for the better by: Learning about mental health and mental illness. Developing the confidence to be able to talk openly about mental health. Learning about the many available routes to accessing appropriate support (NHS Psychological Services, GP, A&E, mental health charities, local support groups, occupational health, employee assistance programmes, mental health apps, etc). Learning how we can better look after our own wellbeing. Learning how to better support each other. So here are my tops tips if you are struggling with your mental health: Talk to someone, most people genuinely want to help even if they don’t know how to. Help is available, even though you might not be able to see it right now. Avoidance is never a good long term option – recovery can only come from dealing with your issues and sometimes we need help to do that. Keep a mood diary so you can learn what it is that does and doesn’t help. Remember that you are not alone, you do matter, and people do care about you"