Téba Diatta attempted to take her own life and is now a mental health advocate. She plans to create a film raising awareness of suicide and its impact. Laura Drysdale reports.
Four years have passed since Téba Diatta attempted suicide. Diagnosed with bipolar as a teen, it wasn’t the first time she had experienced a period of depression. But plagued with guilt after getting into financial difficulties, she couldn’t see a way out.
“I wanted to die. I thought I can’t face this,” she recalls. “I had become a cocoon. I didn’t leave the house.
“I had run out of food and was just eating random stuff like dry crisps. I kept the curtains drawn. I was defeated.”
She was on life support for several days following her attempt and says without the NHS she would not be alive. “I am just a ‘normal’ person,” says Téba, who lives in York. “I have bought stuff from you in the bakery. I have served you in the cafe.”
Her message? Suicide can affect anyone; it doesn’t discriminate.
In 2017, there were 5,821 suicides registered in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics.
In May, as the Government announced new funding for suicide prevention in England, it said one person took their own life every 90 minutes.
Many more individuals are deeply affected by suicide, including those bereaved. “Behind every statistic is an individual, a family and a community devastated by their loss,” says the Samaritans.
It is this story that Téba hopes to tell, through a new film project raising awareness of suicide and its impact.
“[Suicide] statistics are truly horrifying. These precious lives all have stories behind their reasoning to choose suicide.
“Suicide doesn’t just affect them though and I want to tell the story of those left behind in a short fictional film. It’s the story of how suicide affects the people associated with the person who takes their life.
“The film will be in the style of a movie trailer with snapshots to the lives of the characters. I want people to watch it and realise that we all have a part to play and that our reactions to situations can affect others either positively or negatively.
“The characters will include a police officer who has to break devastating news, a train driver who is left traumatised, the sibling of the victim who struggles to rebuild their life, a friend who hadn’t been in touch for a while, the same person who served the person at the coffee shop each morning at 8:04 am.”
Téba, who says her Christian faith has also helped her through difficult times, is launching a campaign to raise £20,000 for the film - I Am Number 10 - and hopes it will be shown at sporting events, stations and cinemas across the country.
“As a suicide survivor, I’m passionate about telling my story and showing that there is hope and that life can and does get better. Suicide is devastating and I want to help as many people as possible, by spreading a message of hope and healing which I thankfully have found.”
In York, around twenty five people take their own life every year, according to a draft of the York Suicide Safer Community Strategy 2018 - 2023.
It was published as part of the agenda of a meeting of the City of York Council Health, Housing and Adult Social Care Policy and Scrutiny Committee last month.
“Our vision is to develop...a supportive, connected and compassionate city where no one feels so distressed, so hopeless, so isolated or so trapped by events or circumstances that they believe suicide to be their only choice,” it states.
The authority’s aims include reducing the rate of suicide to below national and regional averages, raising awareness of the impact of suicide and the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, reducing stigma and supporting people during challenging times of their lives.
Whilst people with severe mental illness are at higher risk of suicide, “it is important to recognise that any one of us can experience mental ill-health and suicidal thoughts as we face various life events and stresses which are part of our ever more complicated and pressured lives and prompt, appropriate treatment and management can and does save lives”, it states.
Téba, now in her thirties, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 16.
The condition affects mood, which can swing from one extreme to another, with episodes of depression - feeling very low and lethargic - and mania - feeling very high and overactive.
Téba was referred to a child psychiatrist after things came to a head as she prepared to sit her GCSE exams and spent three months in a psychiatric unit.
Though she was forced to drop a year at school, she returned to complete her studies, later going on to college and university, where she trained in journalism.
For much of her adult life, Téba has experienced bipolar extremes, her highs often characterised by irrational or reckless behaviour. During one manic episode, she got engaged to someone within days.
Téba spent a month in a psychiatric hospital following her suicide attempt in 2014; she now takes four medications to regulate her condition.
It took many years for her to open up about her bipolar, but she has recently begun to speak out about the condition and her suicide attempt in the hope of encouraging others to seek help and to try to change attitudes to mental health.
“The more people talk about it, the more it becomes normal,” she said in a recent radio interview for World Mental Health Day.
“It was my dirty secret - that’s why I’m talking about it now. I’m not embarrassed. I’m not ashamed…There’s no shame.
“If I had diabetes or if I had renal problems with my kidneys, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to go and see a specialist, or an orthopaedic specialist if I had a broken bone.
“So why should I be embarrassed about a chemical level in my brain not being quite right and the doctors just trying to stabilise that. It really isn’t embarrassing.”
Téba is also urging people to think about their words and actions and the impact that they could have on others.
“I want to spread a message of hope to those feeling suicidal and also help get the message out there, that we as a species need to do more to help our fellow citizens,” she says, adding that “when you feel rubbish, one smile from somebody can lift you up”.
“I’ve decided to make the film as an exclamation mark to society,” she says, “to show that suicide can affect any of us at any time and its effects are far felt and by countless people. “Suicide doesn’t discriminate, it’s like a ticking bomb that can go off at anytime and shatters lives beyond comprehension.
“I want the film to be a wake up call to viewers, to be kinder, show more empathy and compassion and realise that we one day could be affected.”
To donate to the film project, visit Iamnumber10.com
Whatever you’re going through, Samaritans can be called for free at any time on 116 123. The organisation can also be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org Visit samaritans.org for more information.