Taking time for mental health: Donna Thistlethwaite’s survival story

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Queensland Mental Health Week runs from 10-16 October raising awareness on individual and community mental health. This year’s theme is ‘Take time for mental health’ but Donna Thistlethwaite prefers to call it thriving. Donna’s harrowing story demonstrates the power of resilience and how true healing starts from within.

Have you ever felt yourself struggling? That feeling of wading through mud or swimming against the current? In 2012, I was in a new work role and, despite there being only a few clues to the outside world, I was struggling. A workplace incident had triggered a significant crisis of confidence that had me believing that I was failing and that everyone either knew it or wasn’t far from realising.

All of my old beliefs and thought patterns had been activated, the “not enoughs”. Not clever, not fast-thinking, not strategic, it went on and on. These then became the lens through which I interpreted my subsequent interactions at work over the following 7 to 10 days.

I walked away from conversations thinking “She thinks I don’t know what I’m doing” and “They think I should know this”. Our minds can play tricks on us, creating stories that confirm whatever it is that we’re feeling and thinking.

This would have been the perfect time to reach out to someone to share what was happening–a leader, a professional, a friend or family member but instead, I kept it to myself. In my distressed state, I believed that talking to someone would be broadcasting that I was failing.

On 12 August 2012, filled with shame and hopelessness, I decided that the only way I could fix my situation was to end my life. Unfortunately, I leapt from the Story Bridge that afternoon. Miraculously I survived. The broken bones eventually healed but what I would later realise is that I needed to work on myself to feel well and fulfilled–I like to call it thriving.

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I love the life that I have now. There’s not a single day that goes by that I’m not grateful to have a second chance at it. The exciting thing is that every single one of us gets a second chance every day when we get out of bed. It’s a new day and we have the power to create new beginnings and to even re-invent ourselves when necessary.

So many of us are numbing ourselves with work, food, alcohol, prescription drugs, etc because it’s easier than acknowledging those things in our life that are compromising our wellbeing. The way I see it is that we’ve only got one crack at this life so it makes sense to make the most of it.

If you ever find yourself struggling, please reach out to someone. 65% of people with a mental illness don’t seek professional help yet we know that mental illness is treatable and that people can get back on track and live a fulfilling life.

Do you have some great resilience practices in your life? Are they part of your routine, which means they stick when you get busy and actually need them the most?

If you’re interested in thriving and/or protecting yourself from a mental health issue, watch the recent MindCounts lecture in which I share some of the lessons from my suicidal crisis and six easy to implement strategies that increase your potential to thrive in life.

Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid instructor with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. Find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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If you are looking to take time for your own mental wellbeing, the confidential QLS counselling service is available online or 24 hours a day on 1800 177 743.

Beyond Blue operates a 24-hour crisis line on 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline Australia is available on 13 11 14.

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