When Emma Kitchener hit rock bottom she tried to kill herself. Now she wants to break the stigma surrounding suicide and depression by speaking out. She talks to SARAH FOSTER.
‘Suicide is irreversible,’ says Emma Kitchener.
‘When they’re gone they are gone. But I have a purpose to help people before it’s too late.’
There was a time when Emma thought life had no purpose at all. She struggled to get up in the morning, questioned why she was here and couldn’t find meaning in anything.
Trapped in a deep depression that kept getting worse, she couldn’t understand how other people seemed able to get on with life, college and jobs.
From the age of 13 she remembers becoming withdrawn after being bullied. She tried to find people who felt like her on internet forums and at 15 resorted to self-harm, cutting her own arms until they bled.
‘Looking back and trying to get back into that mind set when it first started, I feel like I was trying to punish myself,’ she says.
‘Everything that was going wrong was my fault. I began to question my purpose in life, why I was here, I struggled to get up in the morning. I didn’t really know what was wrong with me.
‘I definitely didn’t know it was something I could get through.’
Today Emma has a first class honours degree in business and works as a recruitment consultant. She loves her job and there are other challenges on the horizon too. Next month she’ll run the London Marathon and five weeks after that she will climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
No-one could blame her if she never wanted to talk about what happened to her in August 2006 again.
Yet Emma has taken the brave – and highly unusual – step of speaking out about the day she tried to kill herself.
The depression she’d been suffering from since her early teens had never gone away and after an unhappy time at college she got a full-time job in a shop. When, aged 19, her relationship broke down, she says everything collapsed around her.
‘I lost my lifeline,’ she explains, with tears welling up in her eyes.
‘I had nothing to live for. I felt completely numb. I started to cut my wrists to feel something.’
Fearing that she had not done enough to kill herself, Emma also took an overdose before her thoughts turned to her mum, sitting downstairs in the living room of their home in Milton, Portsmouth.
‘I thought of my mum finding my body,’ says Emma.
‘I didn’t want my mum to live the rest of her life blaming herself.
‘People say suicide is a selfish thing to do but I remember looking at other people and thinking “How can they get up every day and not question why they are here?”
‘I was thinking of my mum. She’s done everything right in my life, she couldn’t do any more. I didn’t want her to think she could have done any more.
‘It’s so hard to confide in someone, you don’t think anyone else will understand, you don’t think anyone else feels that way.
‘I called my mum up and said “I’m trying to kill myself, I don’t want to be here any more”.
‘She was horrified. She tried to find a phone to call an ambulance but I didn’t want help, I wanted to say goodbye to her. That was the only solution to stop the feelings going around in my head.’
Emma adds: ‘I wasn’t aware of depression or any services to talk about my feelings and emotions. Venting them to someone not close to me might have led me to find my own reasoning.’
She was rushed to A&E at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, and remembers waking up and feeling ‘horrendous’ – because she was still alive.
‘I remember the nurse at the time saying “You’re very lucky that your mum did come and see you because she saved your life. If she hadn’t, you would still have been here but with internal organ failure”.’
Emma, now 23, spent time on the psychiatric ward and in counselling.
‘And just six weeks after trying to take her own life she took up a university place at Bournemouth.
‘I was with a group of people I didn’t know but I’d gone from 13 to 19 feeling isolated and alone anyway, it was no different.
‘People in my halls of residence seemed to care. I had bandages on my arms and they’d say “Are you OK?”
‘My room at home reminded me of that night. Being out of that environment meant I could re-invent myself and start again. The fact that I would have had internal organ failure was like a re-birth.
‘But all those feelings were still there and I used blogs on MSN when those feelings started coming back to me, normally quite late at night. I didn’t want the next day to start. I was looking for people who felt the same or had these experiences. I didn’t know what to do with these feelings.’
Many of Emma’s messages were cries for help and yet no-one reading them reached out to her. Sadly she’s not alone in experiencing that.
On Christmas Day 42-year-old Simone Back, from Brighton, posted a message on her Facebook profile stating she’d taken an overdose. Her body was found the next day and messages revealed how she’d been taunted and mocked for her status update.
It was a shocking case but Samaritans has teamed up with Facebook to encourage people not to turn a blind eye to those who might be in distress.
Emma has given the scheme her full backing (see below) and now wants to use her experience of depression to help others feel less afraid about speaking out.
‘You think people will judge you,’ she says.
‘I hope I can encourage other people to come forward and know it’s OK to talk about suicide. You can be just as great as anybody else. There are so many people who suffer from mental illness and depression. It’s not going to be detrimental to your future at all.’
These days Emma tries hard not to bottle things up. When the pressure builds up she writes down everything she needs to do and makes action points for how she will achieve those things.
‘I started to gain control at university,’ she explains. ‘I did look around at the other people and think “I want to prove that I can be just as clever as someone who hasn’t suffered from a mental illness”. I think I had to work 10 times harder than everyone else at times. But after all these years of feeling like I wasn’t worth anything, gradually I realised I am worth something.’
She’ll be raising money for Samaritans when she takes part in next month’s marathon and Kilimanjaro climb.
‘I want to push myself and let people know how serious I am,’ she adds. ‘I know at some point I will want to give up. But I know I can’t give up. People are relying on me for the donations.
‘I just want to be a role model to people, a real person who has been through it and come out the other side.’
A new referral scheme set up by Samaritans and Facebook will give users the chance to reach out to friends they are worried about.
If you think someone is struggling to cope, or suicidal, you will be able to tell Samaritans via Facebook’s help centre – facebook.com/help – about specific content, such as status updates or wall posts.
Facebook will then put Samaritans in touch with the distressed friend to offer their expert support.
‘For me, Facebook is part of daily life,’ says Emma Kitchener. ‘Status updates are states of your mind. You should always look out for Facebook friends, as you would any other friend. If anything does look alarming there are ways you can help.’
She adds: ‘What happens is the friend who is worried will log it with Facebook and then give information about why they are concerned. Facebook will refer it to Samaritans, they will contact them by email and it’s completely anonymous. They won’t find out which friend it was. It will just say “Someone you know is worried about you, these are our services, you can get in contact if you want to talk.”
‘You can’t force help on anyone but you can make them aware of the services available.’
Emma believes a lot of people think you have to be suicidal to call Samaritans but explains its volunteers are there to listen to everybody.
‘People do feel you’ve got to be suicidal to find them, you’ve got to be at breaking point to call them,’ she says.
‘Had I known that it doesn’t matter what level of low you are at, I could have found them at 13. I could have found my own way of coping with things.
‘By speaking to someone who isn’t going to judge you, you are able to find better ways of coping.’
You can contact Samaritans by phone 08457 90 90 90; email email@example.com; or visit the Portsmouth branch at 296 London Road, North End. Log onto samaritans.org/portsmouth or samaritans.org for more.