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Lost but not forgotten

Walking for Suicide Awareness

Mental Health

Suicide awareness charity CALM are running a revamped version of the Lost Hours Walk. Here one man tells us why he's walking - and why you should too.

CALM’s Lost Hours Walk was one of our best experiences last year – a nighttime walk when the clocks go back, to reclaim the hour in memory of the lost time spent with those who died by suicide. Over a thousand people took part in a moving and inspiring experience.

This year, with the pandemic quashing plans for a similar mass walk, CALM have adjusted the format so that people can walk over the weekend by creating their own route, wherever they are in the country, and gathering friends together for a feat to raise funds for the charity’s life-saving services.

CALM say: ‘Sadly 125 people take their own lives every single week in the UK, with only a third of people who die by suicide have been in contact with specialist mental health services in the year before their death. That this is not ok. Which is why people will not only be walking to remember loved ones lost to suicide, but also walking to raise awareness and funds for CALM’s helpline services who provide vital support for people in crisis.

More than six months have passed since the government announced lockdown in the UK and this time the CALM helpline answered 71,261 calls and chats and directly prevented 253 suicides. That’s over 12,000 hours talking to people and 645,240 chat messages exchanged around topics such as isolation, anxiety, relationship concerns, health worries, financial stress and suicidal thoughts.

Wherever you are, and whether you’ve lost someone to suicide, struggled with your own mental wellbeing, or want to smash the silence around suicide in the UK, there’s still time to be part of the Lost Hours Walk. It’s for everyone, no matter your age, gender, ability or motivation. Join CALM and host your own fundraising walk wherever you are in the country in three easy steps:

1. Sign up to hold your own lost hours walk in your location

2. Plan your route. Looking for a challenge or a walk that is more accessible for all ages and abilities? Plan a route that works for you

3. Get your friends, family and community to talk against suicide’

 

To give us an idea of what the walk means to people, we spoke to Kevin, who is walking with his friends and marking a year since he almost lost his life to mental health struggles…

“I didn’t know about the walk last year but I have been a following of CALM for a while and I really love the work they do. I got their email newsletter about the walks and I asked my friends who I’m on a WhatsApp group with if they’d be up for doing it. They all agreed to the 26 mile version. I was quite surprised and amazed, and then the more I thought about it I was less surprised because these guys have been amazing for me.

So just going back…

It was 12 months ago, August of last year, the beginning of a big depressive episode for me. I don’t have a history of mental health issues – I had a good upbringing, a partner I love, a flat together, all of this stuff, so it kind of blindsided me at the time. But I’d been letting some feelings build up and hadn’t really been acknowledging them or sharing them with anyone. It all came to a head one day when I was at work and I hadn’t felt right. I was unable to concentrate, make decisions, or move around and communicate with anyone. I felt frozen. And then that started to build like a panic within me and I wanted to escape that feeling completely. It was so overwhelming I walked out of the office in the middle of the day. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going and I started walking out towards London Bridge where my work is based. I had suicidal thoughts and intentions. It was the worst, scariest thing that had ever happened to me.

It came seemingly out of nowhere, even though I’d been suppressing things. It had built up to the point of an explosion.

I started walking out with these thoughts, but fortunately I saw a sign for Guy’s Hospital and it was enough of a reminder to me – I’d read something that said if you are ever at that place and you don’t know what else to do, you can simply take yourself to A&E, so that’s what I did. I went there and told them I wanted to take my own life and I needed some help. And that’s where it started for me, really.

I like to stress at this point, that at that moment when I got into that hospital and said those words I had an enormous feeling of relief. I was still incredibly upset and shaken, but the emotional side of it…knowing that help was there. I knew I was at the start of a journey to get better somehow – that was massive. I felt a big change in me from that moment.

I was signed off work for two months and diagnosed with depression and anxiety. During that time my girlfriend was amazing, but I also had this brilliant group of friends on a WhatsApp chat. The reason this was so brilliant was because I was trying to get through each day in a very basic way, so I wasn’t going out and socialising, but having this chat constantly going on was important – even if I wasn’t having to be involved in it, I knew I could look at my phone and my friends would be taking to each other on there. It was a really good way for me to stay engaged. They were all really supportive of me wanting to talk about it, or just being normal if I just wanted to be normal.

So when I first heard about the walk that’s when I thought of them because I wanted to do something nice to mark the fact I’m a year on and have come so far, and they helped me. I thought, ‘why don’t we do something to help others?’

At the very start of my recovery, it was about getting back to basics. Work didn’t necessarily cause this but having a completely open schedule all of a sudden, and being at home, really allowed me to start from the ground upwards. ‘All I have to deal with today is put a wash on.’ To have really small goals like that, simple achievable things in those early days were key. Just breaking life down to its most simple components at that point was really important.

Gradually you’re able to build up to doing a bit more and a bit more and then get your confidence back. Alongside that I had started therapy and was on anti-depressants too. That side of things is a bit more complicated and its different for everyone but we eventually found the right balance – it has taken a long time but I wouldn’t discourage people from exploring it because it can give you that little bit of an extra lift to engage with the therapy and the things you’re doing.

My experience has changed the group dynamic of the friendship, massively for the better. We’ve always had the potential to be good at these things, but the group was started for a very casual reason. We all used to work together a couple of years ago and we’ve fancied meeting up for a drink after work. One of our friends had left to go somewhere else so it was our chance to catch up with him. The group was called ‘Pints’. It was really stupid, but one of those group chats that just stuck around.

But this really brought us close together and it made me realise this was a genuine support network for me, and now its at the point where it’s a place for any of us to really share serious things that have happened in our lives, as well as the silly or mundane things. I think it’s helped us communicate. The group name was changed to ‘Cans’ at the start of lockdown because when they shut the pubs we couldn’t go for pints anymore and that’s why our team name for the walk is ‘Cans Against Living Miserably’.

Conversations about mental health with friends should be as normal and commonplace as talking about football or music or when you have an illness, like you would with a cold or an injury. I always think we as a society have to get to a place where talking to others or doctors about their mental health is as normal as talking about basic physical ailments.

Everyone is remotely doing the Lost Hours Walk this year, which is great.

The way we’re doing it is to visit a whole bunch of London’s football stadiums, as a way of tying it together and we’re all football fans. So we’re starting out east, at Charlton Athletic, then we’re going to Millwall, Chelsea, Fulham and QPR – one of the guys is a big QPR fan and lives around the corner so he can run in and grab us some food as a hallway pitstop. From there we’ll walk back through central London and then finish at London Bridge where I work and where this whole journey started for me. I thought finishing it there would be a nice significant touch.

I think the end will be emotional. The start as well, because we’ve been talking about it for a couple of months now and when we start tomorrow it’ll suddenly be very real. I’ll be walking with my best friends through the city that we love and I think it could get a bit emotional. But for the most part its going to be really good fun and probably more difficult than we’re anticipating as well!

The mental health conversation over the past couple of years has been a lot about awareness and encouraging people to talk and that is really important, but there’s a bit of a next step to it as well – practical action is needed. There obviously needs to be more funding in this country for mental health services and to help services like CALM out. The money raised is going directly in to hiring more people to man the helplines and it feels like a really practical step we can take to actually offer more support. I like the way they operate a webchat as well – not everyone likes talking on the phone but they can log on and talk to someone on an instant messenger. I think that’s an amazing service and if they can get to a point where they can get more funding, they can extend the hours that service is available.

I’m in a much, much better place compared to a year ago. I don’t see myself as recovered, I definitely am still having to work on it. I have come to see depression as almost like a chronic illness that I may have to always manage to varying degrees. I’ve learnt to accept it as part of me and  learn how to manage it on a day to day basis to make little changes in my life.

I got really into running, not covering any really great distances or speeds but I just for my mental health, I get out there really early in the morning. And recently I’ve had this walk to focus on so its been slightly different in terms of training. Just having more discipline with myself and my life in terms of boundaries – like when its the end of the work day and now I need to make some time for me and my partner, and make time for my friends, and have a better sleeping routine. I realise how much of a difference all these small thingscan make. Especially if you neglect them, they can have a negative impact.

The other part is continuing to have an honest conversation when I am struggling. If I do need extra help, speaking to my therapist about things and adjusting your life if you need to. But it is manageable, it’s not this sort of gauntlet that you can’t complete – although it feels like it sometimes – and it can be very rewarding when you start to feel the life coming back into yourself again. Because it does. You just have to give it a chance.”

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