“It was almost as if I wasn’t shocked, as if I had seen it coming.
By Lee Noble
It’s 6:30am, Monday morning on a dark, cold, dismal January morning. The Christmas hyperbole and the always over-egged New Year’s Eve festivities seem but a distant memory and you’re plunging even further into the longest month of the year; emotionally, financially, desperately. The rain hammers your face like ice-laden razors, each step weighed down with the dread of the day ahead of you, passing car headlights screaming toward you like ghosts; each one feeling like a haunted flash-forward into another mistake you’ll make that day. The platform itself looked harrowing. A countryside station dressed with sleet, highlighted by clinical light, casting eery luminescence over the Samaritans signage that stood like a hanging omen of incidents past.
This was my journey to the train station in the first few months of my first ever Marketing job out of University. I didn’t drive and there wasn’t any public transport early enough for me to get a bus so I had to leave my house at 6:30am to walk to the nearest train station for a 7am commute. They say that when you’re worried… when you have anxiety and everything feels against you, the worst place you can be is in your own mind and the issue for me was that my commute was two hours long and included two boring, crammed train journeys. Lot’s of time to think (read: worry, stress, panic, work myself up about seemingly nothing).
The culmination of it for me was this particular January morning where there was an announcement to take a step back from the platform edge to allow for a passing Virgin train on it’s route to London. And for a second an intrusive thought teased through my mind.
“I’d never actually jump in front of this train… but if I somehow fell in front of it; i’d be alright with it.”
I always worried, I have always been a worrier but it was feeling like it was getting worse. But I consistently and constantly told myself “I am fine, this is just what i’m like!”. You’d hear stories about people that had taken their own life without talking to anyone about how they felt and the vast droves of young Men that had opened up about a constant battle within themselves to just tell someone about how they felt. But my issue was; as I am sure is the same with many people; it never really felt like it was enough of a problem. I never really thought that I could bother my Doctor with it… or my parents or my friends or a counsellor or my boss or my colleagues or … well… who do you even talk to when you’re feeling like that?
This was something that I struggled with for a long time, never feeling like it was enough of a problem to tell people about but then never really feeling “right”, either.
Fast forward to 10th September 2017. I had been away with some friends on a camping trip for the weekend in Shropshire. We had spent the Saturday afternoon in a local pub watching Manchester United lose (typical) and were then subjected to the wonderful UK weather (rain) that night and as a result I left my phone in my car to protect it. The following morning I woke up, went to my car to check my phone and was faced with 5 missed calls and two voice messages plus a multitude of Facebook messages.
They all centred around my childhood best mate, Andy (or Andrew as his mum always corrects me!). The messenger messages all had the same theme: “Lee, have you seen Andy? Is he with you?”. The voicemails told a different story, both from Andy’s Mum.
The first voice message was much like the texts; from late on the Saturday evening where I was being asked if I had seen Andy and if I was with him or planned to see him that night. The second voicemail was from very early on the Sunday morning and simply said:
“Lee, I am really sorry to have to tell you this but, Andy has killed himself”.
The thing that tears me apart the most about everything, even to this day; is that after all of the messages, I KNEW what that second voicemail was going to say. It was almost as if I wasn’t shocked, as if I had seen it coming. Many people have told me that hindsight is a beautiful thing and sometimes you only realise how all the dots join together when everything is over but I still always wonder if I could have done something to prevent what happened.
At this point I was only a few months into a new job but it hit me harder than that Virgin train could have. I wanted to quit everything. I no longer felt fulfilled in what I was doing, I didn’t feel like my current career was helping anyone in a meaningful way. My reaction to grief was to do, and the first thing I did was organise a commemorative band night for Andy - Music was his biggest passion and I wanted to do something that brought people together to remember Andy and also raise a bit of cash for a mental health charity; to help try and stop people having to go through what I, and so many other people do every day.
And then I started planning. What do I need to study, what field should I go into where I can help people. Do I need a new degree? Can I change to do something where I am not just convincing people to buy something.
And then I was handed my opportunity with WeAreASSIF. I heard; luckily, through a friend who was looking for a new job, about the position at WeAreASSIF and that she had referred me for it. Working within a tech startup that seeks to use Artificial Intelligence to learn each user individually and then alert them when their mental health is declining seemed like the perfect fit for me and my circumstances. I could now put my expertise and profession to use, to help launch a potentially lifesaving piece of technology. Not only that, but the opportunity to promote mental well-being and the community that we want to build to accommodate everyone, no matter who you are; to talk about how they are feeling and what can be done to help them is so exciting.
My main aim here at ASSIF is to create an environment where we can reduce the number of people having to go through what I did, as well as the millions of others affected by suicide and mental health issues every single day. For me, the beauty of embracing leading technology in this way removes the decision making process that a lot of people, including myself; go through before getting the help that they need.
If on that grim January morning, and many mornings before and after it; I had a machine, an algorithm… something not human; to literally tell me that it’s data is showing that something is not right, I would have gotten help. And I like to think that Andy would have too.
In 2017 there were 5,821 suicides in the UK. With the average person having 338 “Friends” on Facebook, that’s potentially 2 million people affected by suicide each year… and that’s a conservative estimate. Those 2 million people are then 65% more likely to take their own life due to knowing someone close to them that has done so already.
Let’s be proactive. Let’s make a change. Let’s do it now.