This time last year teenager Chloe Bellerby was planning too kill herself, until her PE teacher stepped in. Catherine Scott talks to Chloe and her dad about her struggle
On the outside Chloe Bellerby has it all. Bright, sporty and popular with a football scholarship to America. But on the inside she has struggled with mental health problems throughout her teenage years, so much so that she self-harmed and even tried to take her own life.
Now Chloe, 17, from Harrogate has set herself a challenge of walking 195 miles from Leeds to London in ten days to raise £10,000 for the charity MIND but more importantly to raise awareness of mental health issues in children and young people. She has also taken the brave decision to talk about her personal battle with often crippling depression and the role one of her teachers had in saving her.
“I started having bad feelings in year seven, I was 11 and had just made the transition from primary school to secondary school, but I didn’t think much about it, ” recalls the Rossett High School sixth-former.
But then she started self harming. “I hid it from everyone; from my family and my friends. I just had no self esteem and I didn’t understand what was happening to me or why I was feeling the way I was. I’m not sure why I self-harmed. I just wasn’t talking to anybody about the way I was feeling.” Chloe would wear long-sleeved tops to conceal the cuts on her arms, but increasingly the normally confident teenager started to become reclusive and withdrawn.
Her parents thought it was normal teenage behaviour, although looking back, her dad Andy worries that he could have done more.
“She would spend a lot of time in her bedroom and stopped communicating with us but we thought that was just part of being a teenager, she can be very headstrong and we wanted to give her space,” says Andy.
“We were both busy working and may be looking back we should have questioned her more, asked her why she was wearing long sleeves in summer. Maybe we could have stopped it happening, but at the time you just don’t think about it. This kind of thing happens to other people, not us.”
‘It’ is Chloe’s attempt to take her own life 18 months ago which lead to her depression diagnosis.
“People had started to realise that I wasn’t acting like myself. I had changed, I had become completely withdrawn,” she recalls. “I had exams and on top of the way I was already feeling it was just too much. I just didn’t know what to do. Living day-to-day became a real struggle for me and I felt as though I could no longer go on. It wasn’t so much a cry for help as just the only way out.”
After the suicide attempt Chloe was referred to a counsellor from the Child and Adult Mental Health Services. After waiting months for an appointment Chloe just felt the counsellor was not helping her.
Help actually came in the form of her PE teacher, Ricky O’Sullivan.
“I had gone back to school and mum had told them what had happened over the summer. But it was Mr O’Sullivan who talked to me about how I was feeling. He said I had lost my spark and for some reason I felt I could really talk to him. This time last year I had actually been planning another attempt at taking my own life but he spotted something was wrong with me and encouraged me to talk about the way I was feeling and it really helped. I don’t know how he knew. He really saved my life. It made me realise people do care about me.”
Mr O’ Sullivan encouraged her to apply for the soccer scholarship to America which she is due to take up next year after she has completed her fund-raising challenge.
Her parents are understandably nervous about the four years she will be away but hope is the change Chloe needs.
“It is a long way away but we have talked with the college where she will be going and they seem really understanding,” says Andy who is doing the 10-day walking challenge with Chloe and her friend Chloe Ramsay.
“Chloe is a very determined person, and when she sets her mind on something there is very little chance of dissuading her.”
Chloe is now on antidepressants, something she was not keen on doing, but something she admits has helped her cope with the negative feelings she has about herself.
She says planning a series of events and challenges for MIND has helped her personally by giving her something positive to focus on.
But her main aim is to help others by raising awareness of mental health problems in children and young people.
“People presumed because I was sporty and did well at school that everything was okay. Most of the time people can’t see mental illness. When I eventually told people about it they were really shocked.
“There are so many young people out there suffering in silence, I had one of my best friends take their life last year. Schools need to be better equipped to help.”
And Chloe’s dad has words of advice for parents.
“It is every parent’s’ worst nightmare. To think that your child can’t talk to you when they are so desperate. Hindsight is a wonderful things, but looking back Chloe did change. She became withdrawn and she changed the way she dressed, her group of friends changed. Looking back these were probably warning signs and we should have tried talking to her about it more - that would be my advise to other parents. You do feel guilty that you could have done more, but at the end of the day you can’t make them talk to you, but just try to help them to open up to you.”
One in four of us will suffer with a mental illness in our life-time.
Three in 100 people suffer with depression.
Six out of 100 people suffer with anxiety.
Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, this is
One person every 40 seconds.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.
Chloe Bellerby will be walking 195 miles in ten days from Leeds to London setting off on April 2 next year with her dad and friend Chloe Ramsay
For more information or to help Chloe reach her £10,000 target visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/chloe-bellerby