Health & Fitness Father who attempted suicide and helped anorexic daughter recover says family's mental health issues showed them how much they mean to each other
'Selfie Culture' To Blame For Huge Rise In Suicide Among Young Women
Suicides among young women are at their highest recorded rate, with the number having doubled over the last 10 years. At the same time, overall suicide rates in the UK have hit a 20-year low, new data shows. In 2016, 118 women aged 20 to 24 took their own lives, compared with 67 in 2006 – a 76% increase, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Among this group, there were 5.7 suicides per 100,000 last year – up from 3.3 per 100,000 in 2006. Meanwhile, the UK-wide suicide rate fell by 4% last year.
Life couldn't have been more perfect for Mark Simmonds when he turned 30. Having just moved into a new job in management training and married his long term partner, Mel, he was happier than he'd been in a long time.
A natural introvert, he'd left his job in marketing at a large company after suffering aone day and realising the stress was affecting his wellbeing. In his new job, he could take things at his own pace and spend quality time with his family and friends too.
Mark, from Milton Keynes, went on to have three children with Mel - Will, now 25, Emily, 23, and Jack, 20, and loved being a father. But, with the added responsibility of a family, he was keen to move up in his career so decided to set up his own business with two colleagues.
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But as the pressures of running a business mounted, so did his anxiety levels, to the point where he had a.
Carefree days: Mark was happy when he and Mel wed (Photo: Mark Simmonds)
"I made the mistake of taking on things like accounts and responsibilities I wasn't suited to," Mark told i. "As the stress built up, I kept telling myself I had to keep going until one day, I completely broke down in front of my laptop at home."
Panic attacks and anxiety
That day signalled the beginning of Mark's spiral into depression and a difficult journey that ended with him attempting to kill himself.
"Suddenly, I couldn't do anything," Mark explained. "I was willing myself to work and looking at my to-do list but the moment I attempted a task, I couldn't make sense of anything. It felt like a million thoughts were going through my mind and I couldn't switch it off. My head was full of worries and I couldn't concentrate or focus on anything."
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Within days Mark was suffering from severe panic attacks and anxiety. He went to see his GP who told him he'd head "a bit of a breakdown" and advised him to take three weeks off work. He also prescribed medication to calm him down.
Mark had little time to spend with his family on days out because of work pressures (Photo: Mark Simmonds)
But after the three weeks passed, Mark still hadn't recovered.
"It was difficult for my two partners as we had just set up the company together and they obviously needed my contribution but I just couldn't physically do any work," said Mark. "Whenever I tried my head felt like it was scrambled. It was like my brain was telling me I shouldn't go back."
'It was like I'd been plundged into darkness'
Mark was also hit by a "huge depression" so returned to his GP and asked for help.
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"It was like I'd been plunged into a darkness," he said. "I had no motivation to do anything and would spend hours in bed, not wanting to talk to anybody and had no pleasure in anything at all.
"I wanted so badly to sleep because it was the only time I wasn't in pain but I couldn't because my mind was constantly racing
"I distanced myself from the kids and didn't want to be around them because I thought I might infect them with my illness. It was awful."
Devoted father Mark pulled away from his children when he was ill (Photo: Mark Simmonds)
Over the next few weeks Mark tried anti-depressants, counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), meditation and exercise. He did everything he could to help himself recover, but he struggled to find a recovery method that worked for him.
"One thing would help a little and I'd start feeling a bit better but then the anxiety and depression would come back," he said.
"I now know that it was because I was trying to get better so I could go back to work. Subconsciously, I think my mind was holding back from recovery because I was planning to go back to the thing that had made me ill in the first place. It was a warning sign that I needed to change my life."
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Then one afternoon in July 2001, Mark reached his lowest point. Mel was out with the children and he made the decision to kill himself.
He was hit by a large truck, but woke up in a hospital bed hours after leaving his home with little recollection of what had happened. His suicide attempt saw him sustain head injuries and a collapsed lung.
A second chance: Mark's family were so relieved he was okay (Photo: Mark Simmonds)
"Apparently I was air-lifted by helicopter to hospital and when I came round Mel was at my side holding my hand," he said.
But the incident proved a turning point for the father-of-three, and he felt as though he'd been given a second chance. His experience of depression changed drastically during and after his recovery from his suicide attempt, and one home, Mark realised he needed to make changes to his life to stay well.
Time for change
He sold his shares in the business and decided to work freelance instead. It gave him much more downtime to spend with his family and meant he could avoid taking on too much.
"For the next decade everything was great," he said. "I didn't have any setbacks and felt lucky to be alive."
But then, in 2012, he had another experience of mental illness when his daughter, Emily, developed anorexia.
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Pulling through: Father and daughter were there for one another (Photo: Mark Simmonds)
"It had been going on for a while but we hadn't a clue," Mark said. "We hadn't noticed her getting thinner as she wore loose clothes and had no idea she'd been hiding food.
"Then one day, she came home and told us she'd been making herself sick after eating and thought she had an eating disorder."
Because of what he'd been through, Mark felt he was able to support his daughter emotionally but admits he had no idea how "evil" an illnesswas.
'It was agonising watching her disintegrate before our very eyes and feeling so helpless'
"It is a very formidable illness," he explained. "The moment you think you've beaten it, it comes back.
"Emily was in and out of clinics for the next two years and at her worst, she weighed just five stone. Her healthy weight for her was nine stone. She had to be admitted into hospital and fed through a tube in her nose to keep her alive.
"It was agonising watching her disintegrate before our very eyes and feeling so helpless. Anorexia is something someone only recovers from when they want to themselves. All we could do was support and encourage her."
Thanfully, that day came when Emily turned 18. Watching her friends celebrate her birthday with drinks and cake, she saw how much she had been missing out on as part of her illness and vowed to recover from the disorder. Her recovery was a slow process but now, Emily is a healthy weight and doing well.
Mark says the experiences he and his daughter went through not only brought the two of them closer together, but the whole family.
Mark has written a book to help others (Photo: Mark Simmonds)
"When you have two loved ones who suffer from mental illness you have to pull together to create a strong support unit," he said. "The boys were brilliant with their sister and Mel was a godsend to both of us.
"Unlike me, Mel rarely feels overwhelmed. She is a very practical, logical person who gets on with things. She was fantastic when I was ill and was there for Emily every step of the way too.
"We got through it all together, as a family, and it made us realise how important we all were to one another."
Mark decided to write a book about his breakdown and Emily's anorexia called. He hopes it will help other families navigating mental illness.
"I wanted to show people that they can get better and they can pull through," he said. "I literally came back from the brink and, in hindsight, my breakdown was the best thing that could have happened to me as it made me realise that the way I was living was not making me happy."
Mark's book is available onpriced at £9.24
Shock figures reveal child suicide rates have risen by 160% in Scotland .
The huge increase has alarmed MSPs who want greater investment in mental health servicesStatistics released by the Government reveal an increase in the number of under 18s taking their own lives, fuelling calls for bold action.
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