Co Down said the survival of two suicide attempts allowed him to reach out and help others avoid the darkest moments.
Paddy Cordell twice tried to take his own life at the age of 18, but for years he advocated and taught good mental health practices to people in the Kilkeel community and beyond.
Paddy, now 35, said at one stage in his life, “I struggled every day to keep suicidal thoughts in my head.”
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In an interview with Belfast Live during a week of mental health awareness, Paddy explained how his early life problems had led him to find fulfillment in helping others.
“In fact, since I was 14, I’ve had six to ten panic attacks every day, and the nights have been getting worse.
“This is a time when most people are alone with their thoughts, and if it doesn’t suit you, it’s much harder.
“Since I was 14, drinking alcohol has helped me sleep.”
Paddy, aged 16-18, said he left school and made enough money to afford to drink every day.
His mental condition deteriorated and he said things peaked in 2005.
“The area where we stand now is such a beautiful place, we are here in the port and we have the sea and the mountains there,” he said.
“But it was so stuffy at the time, I felt that this was the end of the world for me and that the world around me was closing.
“Then I left a few of my friends who took their lives by suicide, so it seemed to me that the world was coming really fast.
“I felt there was no other way out, so one night I was sitting in a pub and then I went alone and tried to take my own life.”
Fortunately, Paddy was found by police and taken to hospital, but because he felt he was not receiving the support he needed, he tried to take his life again two months later.
He was found again, and this time a phone call for support led him to receive help through therapy.
He also said that quitting alcohol allowed him to get a clearer picture of his mental state.
“It was a struggle, I will not say it was easy, it was a struggle even for the first three months to stay alive,” he added.
“It was just a fight every day to keep my suicidal thoughts from coming to mind.
“But as time went on over the next two years, I began to improve and socialize a little more.
“So after two years of therapy, I took a year to try to deal with the world as it is, not the way I thought it should be.
“It’s a whole misconception, we’re trying to create this world around us that’s perfect and just not there – we have to learn to deal with the hard times that come and accept them.”
In better condition with therapy below his belt, Paddy undertook applied suicide intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and studied positive psychology.
He now uses this training to talk to young people in schools and at The Well Community Center in Kilkeel.
He said teaching early children that they were responsible for how they felt and how to deal with their emotions was essential to creating a better environment for mental health.
“Whenever you’re in school, it seems like the hardest time for kids,” he said.
“Especially when they pass exams and are under so much pressure, and I think there are a lot of problems.
“If we can get in and be able to control and choose positive thoughts and thoughts and instill it in our youth, it will become a habit.”
Paddy said he hoped his story would encourage more people to open up their emotional and mental health and take steps to a healthier outlook.
“I’m proud of the person I became, I definitely became a better person because of this experience,” he said.
“My message would be to reach out absolutely, your strength is to reach out to people and talk to them.
“It’s not about hiding it, we’re not tough or strong by keeping things together.
“Our strength lies in talking to people, getting rid of these emotions, or accepting and feeling them, and then we can grow out of them.
“It’s okay to feel depressed about something when you’re talking to someone about how you’re feeling.”
If you or someone you know is in need or despair, call the 24/7 free Lifeline Crisis Helpline on 0808 808 8000.
Video from Belfast Live video creator Harry Bateman.
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