Ex-infantry soldier Dan Arnold is speaking out ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day tomorrow encouraging others to reach out, start a conversation, and get the help they need.
After leaving school and joining the military at 17, Dan served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Later suffering from PTSD, he struggled with intrusive thoughts and self-harm urges.
Initially unable to accept that he had issues with his mental health, Dan’s state of mind began to deteriorate and he self-medicated with a range of substances.
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The 35-year-old from Portsmouth said: ‘That led to some awful things, I ostracised my family, friends and I had multiple run-ins with the law because I was struggling so much.
‘My turn around point was when I hit rock bottom.
‘I decided to change at that point and that’s when I went on a journey of discovery to get the support I needed.
‘Although I still struggle with my mental health on a daily basis, I now use my experiences to help others, especially armed forces veterans and personnel still serving in the military.’
Dan said while three friends died in the Afghanistan conflict, 10 friends have since died by suicide.
He said: ‘One thing that still shocks me is that we never lost anyone during the war in my unit but, in the wider army, throughout the Afghanistan conflict I lost three friends.
‘However, to date, the number of friends I have lost through suicide is 10. This has hugely resonated with me as I really believe that at some point in my life that could have been me, if I had not had the right intervention and support.
‘I just felt so lonely, like I was on an island, that no one got me or understood me, that truly no one could relate to what I was going through. The things I have experienced have been so detrimental and traumatic to my past and I am very open to the fact that, although I have a history of self-harm, I have never reached the point where I have contemplated self-harming to end my life.
‘I have, however, reached those points of complete despair where I have gone to bed at night thinking “do you know what? It might just be easier if I don’t wake up tomorrow”. It’s that kind of suicidal ideation that feels so real and is so scary.’
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust runs a campaign, Every Life Matters, highlighting that anyone can experience suicidal thoughts at any time.
It provides help, support and life-saving information to those experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Dan says he uses his own experience as a service user ‘to help positively impact healthcare models in the NHS and encourage others to use their lived experience as their super power’.
The first piece of advice Dan would give to anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or struggling with their mental health is ‘help starts with a conversation’.
He said: ‘It doesn’t have to be complicated, it could be just reaching out to a friend or a colleague saying “I am not ok at the moment and I think I need some help”.’
Dan added: ‘There are so many different mediums for support out there these days and I know all too well that when you are really low, picking up a phone and speaking to someone just isn’t always easy.
‘There is such an array of organisations, offering different types of support online including those you can text or e-mail for help.’
He also advises being aware of situations that may be destabilising or triggering, and to learn more about mental illness.
Dan said: ‘Becoming self-aware was huge for me. Learn about your condition, the NHS and organisations such as MIND have loads of resources and support to help you understand what you are going through.
‘Finally, always be kind to yourself, accepting that I have a mental health problem has been a huge part of my recovery journey.’
See southernhealth.nhs.uk/help-crisis for help. Call Samaritans on 116 123.