"I survived and I owe it to try to make a difference": Burnley man sets up mental health group

David 'Chappy' Brown
David 'Chappy' Brown

"I went through a period of feeling low," says David Brown. "I was living on my own and I had socially isolated myself without realising it: I was on nights, so whenever I was awake my social network and friends were asleep, and when I was asleep, they were awake. I got more and more down; I just didn't want to get up in the morning, my appetite went...

"It got to the point where I'd had quite a lot to drink and it clicked - I thought, 'I really don't want to be here'," David continues. "My mind was set: I wasn't going to be here tomorrow. It was that intense."

Three years ago, David - a then-23-year-old from Padiham - tried to take his own life by overdosing on painkillers. He was found and rushed to Burnley General and then Blackburn Royal Hospital where, still in possession of the tablets he had used the first time, he tried to kill himself again. "My mum and dad were around me [in hospital] not knowing how low I had got," he says of that time of his life. "They were in bits."

Taken to an NHS facility in Harrogate to undergo a 10-day recovery period during which he was seen by counsellors and psychiatrists, David was eventually discharged and moved in with his parents again. He stopped working nights and was diagnosed with epilepsy. He changed his diet and lifestyle. And in January this year, he received the news that one of his friends had died by suicide.

. . .

Warm and articulate, David - now 26 - speaks passionately about mental health. Three years on from the tragic culmination of his own issues, David is now firmly committed to helping others, having set up Mending Lives Together in the wake of his mate's death. He also hosts weekly walk-in mental health sessions every Tuesday at 7pm at The Shakespeare Hotel in Padiham.

"Everyone knew there was something wrong, but he'd just say he was fine..." David said of his friend. "I wish I'd said something to him and told him I'd been through it, but it's too late now. I felt guilty. I'd been given a second chance by the NHS and he hadn't."

Offering people an invaluable chance to talk openly in a supportive environment or simply sit and listen to others going through similar things to them, David's sessions (free tea and coffee included) have been a hit so far. Having filmed a few videos of himself talking about mental health for the group's Facebook page, he also got up on the mic at the group's first session and told his story.

"I was inundated by messages of praise on social media and that was hard to take - I'm not brave or courageous, people just need to talk," David said. "I've never once said I'm a councillor or a psychiatrist but I've been through it, so I can relate.

"The more we speak about mental health and make it normal, the more we're removing the stigma," he added. "It's a part of society, but people are reluctant to speak about it and that infuriates me. Mental health issues can come from a culmination of things, the effects from which - the stresses and strains - make dealing with things harder.

"People just live with it, and then it just takes one trigger... I didn't realise I was on the downward spiral until I was taking those tablets, and then it was too late."

Building a friendly, warm, and non-judgemental community in order to encourage people to talk about any issues they are experiencing through Mending Lives Together, David also encourages anyone who wants to contact him directly to do so, day or night, via his personal phone number, his email address, or his Facebook page. All conversations will, naturally, be kept private.

Still learning to cope in his own way, David still lives with anxiety but now works for the NHS. "I felt I needed to give something back and working in the health service has shown me the sheer magnitude of the issues we're fighting," he explained. "We're losing far too many people to mental health issues; people are crying out and are slipping through the net because there's not enough funding for our NHS. It all goes back to the government.

"But I won't stop doing what I do," he added. "I survived with the help of the NHS and I owe it to try to make a difference."

Contact the Samaritans for free from any telephone on 116 123. You can call even if you don’t have credit on your mobile, and the number won’t show up on phone bills. Or you can email jo@samaritans.org or go to www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch, where you can talk to one of our trained volunteers face to face.