Throughout her teenage years, Toni Nash battled with severe depression, loneliness, and an overwhelming sense of lacking purpose and direction in her life.
With a childhood made up of complex family dynamics that resulted in minimal relationships with either of her parents, Toni found it difficult to find stability and lacked the solid foundation most children around her seemed to have. She regularly cared for her younger siblings, ridding her of much of her own childhood, but through supporting others, it meant she spent years sacrificing her own emotional wellbeing.
These feelings of being alone and misunderstood extended to every part of her life, from education to friendships. This further cemented her personal lack of reason for life, and at 15 years old, struggling to see a way out from the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness, Toni made two attempts on her life.
Fortunately, Toni survived, but due to the stigma surrounding suicide, it meant she hid these encounters from those around her out of fear of judgement and the shame she had attached to her thoughts. She feared what might happen to her if people knew she had tried to take her own life; what would people think, would people judge her for being weak – feelings not too dissimilar to what many others experiencing suicidal thoughts face.
“I didn’t tell anybody because I didn’t want anyone to know I was that vulnerable and that I’d even tried to do that,” Toni shares. “I felt ashamed of it, but then it just didn’t get better, and I’d tried again. I just wasn’t getting any better, but I didn’t know who to tell.”
That all changed when she reached out to PAPYRUS’S suicide prevention helpline, HOPELINE247. Following her suicide attempts, Toni was desperate to seek help and find reasons to continue in life. She didn’t want to spend her days feeling like she did not belong; however, she didn’t know how to move away from this. She knew suicide was not something she wanted to do, instead more something she felt was her only choice, however HOEPLINEUK helped her to see this was not the case. They helped her find hope for life.
“I was struggling with my feelings; I didn’t have my mum and I had searched desperately for different crisis helplines because I didn’t know who to turn to and who I could talk to about anything. I felt like I didn’t have anybody, or nobody would care that I was in a really bad place,” Toni says.
“That’s when I came across PAPYRUS’s helpline. They were so, so helpful. They gave me different ideas for coping mechanisms as I was self-harming at the time. It was just a really shocking moment in my head when I realised there are people that can help and there are people that don’t want me to feel like this and do want me to get better. It helped me start to realise that I can get through it, and I wasn’t on my own.”
However, it wasn’t long after this positive encounter when Toni was thrown yet another tragedy. Throughout her life, Toni’s nan had been the only consistent support she had. She had taken Toni in as her primary carer for the best part of her teen years, and their closeness was unmatched. But when Toni was 16, her nan passed away due to illness. Just as Toni had committed to finding reasons to live, it felt like her primary one had just been removed from her and once again she was alone.
At this critical time, Toni realised she had a choice. She could let go of the hope she had worked hard to build since she first called HOPELINE247 months back, or she could continue to build her personal strength through this hardship and take each day as it comes.
“The timing was so, so close in between when I first spoke to HOPELINE, when my nan passed and when I had this trigger moment of realising I want to get better,” Toni adds.
“When my nan passed, at first, I didn’t know what to do, but I had this sort of hit me moment where I realised, she wouldn’t want to see me in this position. She didn’t know I was depressed or suicidal and I just thought if she was looking down and she could see me in this mental state, she would be devastated.
“I remembered that I could speak to PAPYRUS, which I did quite soon after and told them about what had happened and told them I don’t know what to do but I really want to change.”
Though it felt she had lost everything in this moment, Toni knew she was not alone as she could rely on HOPELINE247 to help her navigate this pain.
In the months following her nan’s death, Toni’s life changed dramatically, and she admits she depended heavily on the advisers at HOPELINE247 to help get her through. Calling the helpline between five and 10 times across a two-month period, Toni says these life-changing calls helped her reframe her thoughts and worries.
“With the support from the helpline it really helped me restructure my mindset and I think that was a really, really important step with my process. I knew I had to get better, I just didn’t know how and that was a really important thing the lady at HOPELINE helped me get through.
“I worked with her trying to restructure my thoughts in a different, positive way and see how I could get past them. She helped me with all the things I was struggling with, like my nan passing away, how I was growing up, not knowing what job I wanted. They helped me realise a lot of those challenges were actually good and exciting as it gave me the opportunity to try out lots of new things and there were things I could look forward to as I got older, like moving out and building my own life. They helped me realise I could make my life what I wanted it to be which is what a lot of the thoughts I was struggling with were about.
“I was just lost, and they helped me to get through that.”
In one phone conversation, Toni recalls a sudden urgency to want to help spread awareness of HOPELINE247 and the life-altering support the advisers offer to young people. She asked the adviser – who she said had helped her on multiple occasions – what she could personally do to help raise awareness and it wasn’t long before she had a fundraising idea ready and waiting to go.
While prom is an event most 16-year-old girls spend months planning for – what dress they will wear, what hairstyle will flatter the neckline and what accessories will complete their look – instead for Toni, her prom day was an event to raise awareness of PAPYRUS and the importance of suicide prevention.
Arriving at her prom, Toni turned heads in a beautiful floaty full length white gown, but rather than exhibiting a perfectly styled up do or her regular long natural waves, she was without her 32” hair which she had grown out her entire life. Instead, Toni’s hairstyle of choice was a freshly shaved head as earlier that day she had removed every inch of her hair to raise life-changing donations for PAPYRUS – later donating the hair to a charity which makes wigs for those who have lost theirs during cancer treatment.
Toni says, “After a few more calls, I knew I didn’t want other people to go through this and that was a big moment for me.
“I thought, people need to know about PAPYRUS because the advisers were helping me so much to get better and other people should know about it – I knew I needed to do something. As I was speaking to them in one of my final phone calls, I asked if I could fundraise for them and told them my idea and they said that would be great and they’d love for me to help.
“I remember at my prom logging onto the page and I saw it was over £1000 after I’d set the target at around £250 and I just couldn’t believe it. I was so in shock that so many people were supporting it and I think with that and having so many people donate it was a moment where I realised people do care. When you’re fundraising, you’re obviously doing it to raise awareness to other people, but I think it also helped bring awareness to me that there were people that cared about me and supported me.”
Since that day almost seven years ago – where she raised over £1,500 for PAPYRUS, Toni has continued to live her own purpose. She followed the advice provided by the HOPELINE247 advisers regarding her fears for her future, and has enjoyed trailing various career paths and journeys. She surrounds herself with positivity, love and optimism, and ensures that she carries with her an open culture regarding mental health – not only for herself but for others.
Most recently, Toni wanted to merge her passion for advocacy with her work as Head of Operations, and after pitching the ideas to her company’s CEO, she was recently elected as the first Mental Health Champion and mental health first aider in her organisation.
She admits that bad days still exist, but she no longer recognises the person who battled with suicidal thoughts all those years ago. Now ready for her next challenge, Toni will be taking to the skies solo in August when she participates in an accelerated free fall skydive for PAPYRUS. She continues to spread as much awareness as possible, not only of PAPYRUS, but of the importance of speaking about suicide.
Reflecting on her journey, Toni says, “I’m such a positive person now that when I look back it is sad. It’s sad that I was ever that lost and down that I didn’t want to be here anymore. It doesn’t feel like that was me, and its proof that you can come out the other side and things can get better.
“For some people it will of course take a very, very long time to get out of that mental state, and I recognise that because my nan had passed and I knew I wanted to get better, I was able to do that maybe quicker than other people that don’t know whether they do want to get better, but it is possible.
“I definitely think if I didn’t find that helpline, it could have been a very different outcome. It was very lucky timing wise that I spoke to PAPYRUS just before my nan passed because I knew I had that place that I could go to – if that wasn’t there I wouldn’t have known where to turn. I’m very grateful for the support they gave me, and it’s made me want to help as many people as I can.
“I feel like my purpose in life now is to support people and give them awareness that it is okay to not be okay and there are people and services you can use to help you. Get your thoughts out, reach out for help – it doesn’t need to be someone you know, try ringing a helpline and getting it out your head. Your mind can be a very destructive place, so let it out and share it with someone else and try to free up your brain. Of course, that’s just a starting point to getting better and there’s more work to do after that, but I think it’s a starting point a lot of people are scared to do.”
Toni’s story is a powerful reminder that hope exists, even for those who can’t see how they could ever find it. With the right support, it is possible to overcome even the darkest of moments and find a purpose in life.