‘I tried to do pills, slit my wrists, drink, everything’: Dundee folk recall suicidal experiences

Eevery day in Scotland, an average of two people die from suicide.

It is the leading cause of death among people aged 20-34 in the UK – with the rate considerably higher among men.

Sadly, it’s an issue all too familiar to many in Dundee – so much so that it’s led to intense scrutiny of local mental health services and an inquiry being launched. All last week, events were held to highlight the issue for Suicide Prevention Week. As part of that, the Tele has spoken to four people who have attempted to take their own lives, about their experiences and how they came through them.

They’re all members of the Blue Wings group, set up in Dundee by Robbie Russell after his frustration grew at the “underfunded” mental health services on offer in Tayside.

The group previously led calls for patrols to be introduced to the Tay Road Bridge, following a number of incidents involving people contemplating suicide or taking their lives on the crossing.

Dave Johnston

Dave Johnston, 43, from Claverhouse, became aware of suicide in a previous workplace.

He said: “Part of my day-to-day work involves taxying when my other operation is out of season so I quite regularly meet people in the taxis who experience mental health problems and suicidal tendencies. My own personal belief is that people are let down by the system.

“Right now if someone goes up to Carseview, they’ll be turned away on the vast majority of occasions without any treatment at all.”

Although the issue is common throughout Tayside, Dave said he has seen people around him being afraid to admit their dark thoughts to the authorities, calling for more effort to bring understanding to the system.

Dave said: “I’ve got experience from speaking to somebody very recently who had attempted their own life and were taken to Carseview.

“They were taken overnight and their only experience the next morning was that a police surgeon spoke to them and asked if they still felt suicidal. Nobody in their right mind would say yes because they don’t want to be kept in police custody and they were released that morning.”

He said including people who have experienced suicide themselves is needed in the system.

He said: “The folk that deal with these issues day in and day out may have ideas about it but perhaps the best people to talk to them and give them advice are the people that are suffering from the problems themselves.

“We still live in a very macho environment where it’s seen as a weakness to speak about these types of things. It’s not a weakness, it’s an illness.”

Robbie Russell

Robbie Russell, 28, from Arbroath, said he became angry and lonely during his teenage years, eventually attempting suicide at age 16 for the first time.

He said: “I was fine when I was younger, but when I got to my teenage years, I was quite angry.

“I was seen as a bad kid.

“I was never recognised as someone with mental health issues. It followed me into my late teens – I started getting arrested and turned to drugs as a shield to get out of it but it didn’t work.”

Robbie said he struggled to open up about the way he was feeling.

He added: “It was instilled into me about pride. You’re a man, you’re not really supposed to have feelings.

“That’s not the case – we’re all human and everyone feels an emotion and everyone should be allowed to express it.

“The first person I told was my mum. She’s always been my rock, I have always been a bit of a mummy’s boy. She has talked me out of a lot of situations.”

At his most vulnerable, Robbie started hiding under his bed and felt like he was not being taken seriously.

“I was let down by the system. Back then, there was far too much ignorance – everyone was just playing you off like you’re an attention-seeker,” he said.

Robbie later founded the Blue Wings group to help others who were feeling suicidal with the hope of developing the Facebook group into a charity.

“I started getting a lot better and opening up a lot more than I used to,” he said.

“I started accepting things a lot more.”

Tina Grant

Aged 13, Tina Grant, from Douglas, tried to take her own life for the first time. She said she would do anything to get the pain she was feeling out of her head.

Tina said: “I felt dead for such a long time. I tried to do pills, slit my wrists, drink, everything.

“I didn’t know how to deal with it all so I thought that was the only way to do it.

“When you’re in a dark place and have so many bad things going on in your life, you just want to escape it.”

Tina, now 35, went through her suicide attempts for two years before telling her mum.

She said: “I hid it from my mum and stepdad for a long time and when they actually saw the razor on my wrists, that is when they got the help for me when I was about 15.

“I never really had anyone to talk to and speaking to someone is such a helpful tool.”

Although Tina admits she has not fully recovered from feelings of suicide, she is able to face the day more easily after opening up to other people.

She said: “I still deal with it now but I’m dealing with it a lot better because instead of turning to drink, I talk to my friends and family and that makes me feel so much better.

“It was like a weight had been lifted off me and I felt like a new person.

“I felt happier, freer and alive.”

Now, Tina is looking to get into care work and help others who are feeling suicidal.

She said: “If nobody knows of the groups available to you, go online and talk to people – it’s the best thing to do. Nobody is alone.”

Gavin Elliot

Gavin Elliot, 20, from Broughty Ferry, has been on the edge of the Tay Road Bridge three times and still feels like he has not overcome his suicidal thoughts.

He said: “I was in care since I was about seven. Life was tough from the beginning.

“I tried multiple times to kill myself – whether it was sticking scissors to my throat, jumping off the bridge, trying to hang myself, trying to suffocate myself.

“Anything that I could try, I tried it because I thought the only way out was to end myself.”

He added: “Last time I tried was two years ago when my father passed away.

“I was at the edge of the Tay Road Bridge on the other side of the barrier when police came and they pulled me away.”

Gavin said he kept himself hidden from the world and only started talking to others when his support workers noticed.

He said: “Every day I’d wake up in the morning and think, why? What’s the point in me waking up when it is the same old routine every day? I would spend months on end in my house alone with no visitors – no physical contact, nothing. I sat alone and blocked everyone out.”

After ending up on the bridge, he was taken to Dundee’s Carseview mental health facility but said he did not receive much support.

“People at Carseview would look at me, say I was OK and send me home without any treatment whatsoever,” he claimed.

To get his life back on track, Gavin said he turned to BMXing which has helped him through his difficulties.

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