‘The Sanctuary were able to reach me’

“I thought the pain I was suffering mentally couldn’t be alleviated and so the only way out was to take my life.”  – as a new campaign ‘We Hear You’ is launched to get Bristol talking about mental health, Shaun shares his experience at The Bristol Sanctuary, a unique service run by St Mungo’s for people who experience severe emotional distress.

The Bristol Sanctuary is a welcoming safe space available for anyone feeling they can’t cope or are feeling desperate over the weekends. We help people find some stability and a plan to stay safe. People can spend time talking through their situation with a trained worker, or just take some breathing time.

The Sanctuary, run by St Mungo’s, opened in April 2015 and is commissioned as part of Bristol Mental Health services.

‘Encouraging people to access the help they need’

Three out of four people who visit The Sanctuary are considering suicide or serious self-harm. Over each weekend, an average of 20 people visit The Sanctuary seeking support. Staff want to ensure others know about the service and are launching the ‘We Hear You’ campaign to encourage more people to access the help they need.

According to the latest statistics from Public Health England, the rate of death by suicide in Bristol is above the three year average for the South West and for England. The City Council’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment states there were 137 suicides in Bristol between 2012 and 2014.

“I had taken two serious attempts to end my life. I was at my lowest.”

We asked Shaun, who has used The Sanctuary to share his experience with us. Shaun, 58, tells us in his own words just how vital The Sanctuary was in saving his life:

“I was in crisis. I had taken two serious attempts to end my life. I was at my lowest. It was my daughter who phoned for help. I think she called the police. It’s all a blur, but the lady who came with the police, told me about The Sanctuary.

“It was just before Christmas 2016. The crisis team called round daily to check on my welfare. They were great and talked me out of taking an overdose but they couldn’t offer me the company I needed. I needed to talk, not just in a psychological way, but to talk and for someone to listen. If I talked I got a break from my suicidal thoughts. I didn’t want to be here anymore, my marriage had broken down after 37 years and I was lost.

“I left The Sanctuary Feeling okay.”

“I thought the pain I was suffering mentally couldn’t be alleviated and so the only way out was to take my life. I thought if nothing could stop the pain there’d be no point in seeking help. It was relentless, I could only sleep for an hour or two, and sleep was the only break I got from my dark and painful thoughts.

“It was wonderful to come to The Sanctuary, to stay as long as I needed to and meet friendly people; with the combination of talking to people and counselling. I left The Sanctuary feeling ‘ok’ and with a realisation that there was something that could alleviate the pain. I lost my suicidal thoughts and had, now, a little bit of hope from which I could build my recovery.

“I have suffered depression for 27 years following an accident at work, which left me with disabilities, and I had to leave my job. Usually for me, when I am in crisis I am unreachable and more to the point I don’t want to be reached. But The Sanctuary were able to reach me, the moment I walked through the door I felt a great relief. That first weekend I came every night they were open, and again the following weekend. My normal coping methods, like talking to my wife were no longer there. I felt I had no future and all I had was this terrible, terrible pain.

“If I hadn’t come to The Sanctuary I wouldn’t be alive.”

“The Sanctuary has such a lovely atmosphere, I was greeted with a smiling face – it was right – not over the top – just the right kind of smile. There was no pressure just an acceptance, you don’t have to talk, but you can if you want to. The Sanctuary helped me to see I did have a future and I could be independent. They raised my confidence and my visits improved my social interactions, they were positive experiences. Up until that point I had never left the house without my wife. I was isolated. I began to feel my future was bearable. If I hadn’t come to The Sanctuary I wouldn’t be alive. I am so grateful that the strength of my suicidal thoughts have gone, I still get flashes but its sufficient for me to know The Sanctuary is there and I can come back any time, and I have.

“I was as desperate as I think it’s possible to be. To meet people who have compassion and others who are in a similar place helped me get through; I’m often amazed, at how good fellow sufferers are at knowing when to be quiet, or to ask how you are.

“I have built resilience. I would say to anyone who is going through a crisis, or even before it reaches crisis point to visit The Sanctuary, it’s got to be worth giving it a try.”

Shaun is currently studying for a distance learning degree.

How to get in touch with The Sanctuary

Open Friday – Monday, from 7pm until 1:30am.
To book your space call 0117 954 2952.
Text: 07709 295 661.
Phone lines open at 5pm.
Email: awp.bmhsanctuary@nhs.net.