After crippling anxiety left her feeling suicidal, one Co Antrim woman reached out for help and is now urging others to do the same.

By Maibh Shiels

Paula Douglas could never have imagined what her life would look like now when she was going through her darkest time eight years ago. 

The 35-year-old from Ballymena met the love of her life just one month after attempting suicide, and is now encouraging anyone at rock bottom to reach out for help.

Paula was brave enough to share her story on social media in September 2022, from her hospitalisation in 2014 to all the positive moments in her journey. Through her openness, she is hoping to help other people find the light at the end of the tunnel, by raising funds for Turning Point NI, a suicide prevention charity.

Paula says: “I got to the stage in my life where I could see no way out, and so I wanted to end my life. I attempted suicide and was lucky enough to be found before it was too late, and I ended up in hospital.”

She is honest about what she went through now, but Paula says she didn’t let anyone know how low she was at the time.

“My family knew I was struggling but I definitely downplayed it, so they were really shocked to get that call that I was in hospital, and it broke my mum’s heart to know how much pain I was in.”

Paula was dealing with anxiety that left her unable to sleep or eat, and was admitted to hospital weighing just over six stone.

“I didn’t realise how much weight I had lost, but I was painfully thin,” she says.

“What was going on in my head was bad enough, but I was in so much pain from being unwell that it became too much, and I just wanted it to stop,” says Paula, saying that she believed everyone, even her two children, would be better off without her.

Thankfully, Paula was saved in time, and soon realised that people were there to help her through this, whether it was with advice from professionals or simply the constant support of her family.

“When I was admitted to hospital, and my family realised how bad I was, and the medical professionals were coming to check in on me, I finally realised there was support for me, I just didn’t see it before.

“I was discharged with the support of a counsellor, and was started on medication, and I also put the work in to help myself, too, by going for walks and things like that.

“I listened to my doctor’s advice, and I really engaged with the counsellor, and made the effort to turn things around and, thankfully, the result of all that was really positive, but I know some other people aren’t so lucky.”

Since her suicide attempt, Paula’s life has changed massively. Not only did she get the support she needed, but she met her soon-to-be-husband Steven.

They had a baby boy together, Paula became a step mum to two more sons, she graduated with her degree, and started her own successful business, so it’s safe to say her low point was also a turning point for Paula.

“I am so grateful I got that second chance, because if someone had said to me that morning that just a month later my life would be completely transformed, I never would have done it,” she says, adding that this is the message she wants to get across to people by sharing her story.

“You don’t know how your life will change,” says Paula.

The driving force behind her social media post and the charity event she is now hosting is to tell people to get help while they’re in the dark times, so that they can get through until they see the light.

“I had hundreds of messages after that post went up from people saying they were going through similar things and it gave them hope, and it’s just really heart-warming to know you might be the reason someone chooses to get help,” she says.

“I want anyone who is feeling the way I did all those years ago to get some support that gives them that wee bit of hope you need to keep going, and maybe they won’t make the same decision I did to try and end things.”

She says one of the most important things is letting people know what support is available to them.

“I think people need to know that charities are there, whether it’s Lifeline, the Samaritans, PIPS, or Turning Point,” she says.

Turning Point NI is a local charity which hopes to prevent instances of suicide and self-harm, and the black-tie gala dinner Paula has organised for them this March is sure to be a success, as the event is already sold out.

“I have run charity events before, but they have been on a much smaller scale, and I can’t believe the response I’ve had to it. It’s sold out already, and I have people messaging me still looking for tickets,” she says.

Paula has been ‘overwhelmed’ by the support for her fundraiser, and is planning on launching a GoFundMe page, as people who aren’t attending still want to be able to donate, and will share the link on her Instagram account, @mojo_ni_, once it’s set up.

More than anything, though, Paula wants nobody to feel like she did eight years ago: “It’s great to raise money for Turning Point NI, but it will also raise awareness about mental health issues here.

“Looking back at my situation, I can see how temporary it was, and you have to remind yourself that even though tough times in life are a given, they won’t last. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can’t see it yet.”

So, if you’re at rock bottom, remember that, like Paula, your life can change completely, and become everything you ever wanted it to be.

In the meantime, if you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to a charity like Turning Point, or call the crisis response hotline on 0808 808 8000.

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