This blog was written by PAPYRUS supporter, Niamh Brownlee, about her experience with suicidal thoughts, eating disorders and the release of her debut novel. Please be aware that there is discussion throughout Niamh’s book of depression, self-harm, suicide and eating disorders, which some readers may find upsetting.

My name is Niamh Brownlee. I am from Belfast and have recently become the author of ‘Struggling to Breathe: The Diary of a Psychiatric Inpatient’. The book details my time in hospital when I was unwell with depression and an eating disorder. I was 24 years old at the time, but now, six years on, I can finally say I have recovered from the depression that kept me unwell since childhood. I use the book as an opportunity to reach out to as many people and groups as possible, including local politicians, healthcare professionals, students and community groups. All the proceeds I receive from the book sales go to two local charities that were instrumental in helping me find recovery.
I had struggled with low moods, anxiety and obsessive thoughts about my body and food from around the age of seven, but to counteract how awful I felt within, I started to push myself in every area I could, from schoolwork and exams to extracurriculars and relationships. Around the age of 18, I started to feel ‘burnt-out’ from so many years of living behind a mask, and this is where depression and an eating disorder latched onto me. I didn’t tell anyone for years as both illnesses convinced me that I couldn’t, or everyone would be terrified of me, so I soldiered on myself in the hope that things would change on their own. However, as I continued to feel worse and started isolating myself from friends and family for fear of them discovering my secret, I began to plan how to end my life.
This eventually brought me into a psychiatric hospital where I spent 31 days as an inpatient. I tried to use that time to journal for the first time about what had brought me to that place and be honest with myself about how I was feeling. It was the first time I had nothing to distract me from my thoughts, and so instead of running from them, I started to let them in. This was, at times, completely overwhelming and terrifying, but I felt like sitting in a hospital room on my own; it was now or never.
By the time I was discharged from the hospital, I had more insight into why this had happened to me and, for the first time in a long time, felt determined to get myself well. That was when I started to research organisations and charities around me that could help, and although it was a scary thing to do initially, I contacted as many as I could to see if there was something they could suggest for me to try. From this, I learned of support groups for depression and eating disorders that I could attend weekly for support and to connect with others experiencing the same thing. I was able to go along to free information sessions that gave me information on my illnesses and plans and ideas to start feeling better. I was offered talking therapy, CBT and even complimentary therapies such as massage and acupuncture.
Because of all this, within a year of leaving the hospital, I had started to turn a corner and began to feel optimistic about what my future could hold. Now, I can confidently say that I fully recovered from the depression I experienced, and I’m working hard and making good progress in my eating disorder recovery, too. I still keep a close eye on my mood day-to-day. If I sense myself slipping into old habits or notice certain negative thoughts starting to creep back in, I know how to look after myself and what I need to do to prevent myself from sinking further in and letting those thoughts take over. Usually, the most important thing I have learned is to reach out to someone around me and tell them everything I’m feeling. I don’t expect them to fix anything, but just knowing someone hears me or sees me can be enough for me to start stepping back from the negative thoughts and challenge them.
Allowing my diary from the darkest and saddest time of my life to be released for anyone to read felt like finally letting go of the shame and guilt I felt for so many years because of how unwell I had become. Amazingly, so many people have been in contact with me since the book was released to say that reading my story has given them hope for themselves or hope for a loved one and their recovery. That always reminds me that no matter what your brain might try to convince you of – none of us are alone in our struggles, and there is always hope.
If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide and need a safe non-judgmental space to talk. PAPYRUS is here for you. Call HOPELINE247 for free, confidential advice and support on 0800 068 4141, text 88247 or email We’re here to support you all day, every day, whenever you may need us.
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