Shining a light on suicide
At the age of 30 England rugby league player Danny Sculthorpe signed a four-year deal with Super League team Bradford Bulls.
The future for his wife and two young children was looking secure, he was at the peak of his sporting powers and training with his ‘25 best mates’ daily.
In the 2010 rugby pre-season Danny prolapsed a disc at the base of his spine while lifting weights during a regulation squatting exercise.
Ten days after surgery, Danny – an insulant dependant type one diabetic – picked up an infection called osteomyelitis and also caught sepsis.
The severity of the problem meant months in hospital and surgeons fusing his back together with rods and screws.
His rugby career was suddenly over.
“ I DIDN’T TAKE MY OWN LIFE. AND I’M SO GLAD I DIDN’T.”
“I’d gone from playing in the Challenge Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff in front of 80,000 people to not being able to make it to the toilet, doing the school run with the kids or helping my wife at home,” said Danny.
“I lost my job, my career and our family house. And that’s when I started suffering from depression.
“For every minute of every hour, of every day I couldn’t get the thought of suicide out of my head.
“I felt like I was burden to my kids. Maybe if I wasn’t here, my wife could meet someone who could give her a better life.”
Danny, who played almost 300 professional rugby league games for Rochdale, Wigan, Castleford, Wakefield, Huddersfield and Bradford, as well as captaining England, said he made the mistake of ‘bottling up’ his thoughts.
“I kept it to myself and did a typical ‘man thing’ I suppose,” he said.
“I was a 6’4 professional rugby player weighing 17st. And I felt that I couldn’t tell my wife that I was suffering from depression. There was a stigma.”
“I didn’t take my own life. And I’m so glad I didn’t.
“The thing I did that saved my life was to stop putting the mask on that I was wearing.
“It was about five days after I’d reached my lowest point that I sat down with my mum and dad and wife. Collectively they said to me, ‘listen Danny, we know what you’ve been through, what you have lost but we’ve seen a massive difference in the way you’re acting, please tell us what is going on in your head’.”
Danny added: “I told them about the suicidal thoughts I was having, how I felt that I’d let them all down, how we’d lost everything because of me even though the injury wasn’t my fault.
“A massive weight came off my shoulders. We spent hours talking and crying. Getting that off my chest and opening up was an unbelievable feeling.”
Danny said he also sought help from his GP, who prescribed him anti-depressants, and spoke regularly to a counsellor at Sporting Chance.
“The biggest thing that saved my life, even more so than the medication, was talking,” said Danny.
“I’m shining a light on suicide for men. We can be hopeless when it comes to talking about how we are feeling. If a man can seek help and admit he is struggling, then I reckon that shows strength
“I’d struggled for long enough by not opening up and I’ve stopped doing that.
“We can’t be afraid of talking about suicide,” added Danny. “If you break your leg on a rugby field, you go straight to hospital. We should treat mental health in the same way.
“If I didn’t speak to my mum and dad and wife that day, I’d have ruined my kids’ lives, my parents lives. My youngest daughter hadn’t even been born and I now can’t imagine life without her.”
Danny, who now gives talks at schools, colleges, prisons, universities, football and rugby clubs and on construction sites, said: “The most important point is that you don’t have to be on a rugby field to be part of a team. Everyone you work with, your family members, the people at your local pub, gym, hairdressers, they are all part of your team. If you notice a difference in one of those people, tell them and ask if they are ok. The important thing is to then follow-up on that question as people tend to say they are ok.”
Danny is supporting the ‘Shining A Light On Suicide’ campaign, which has been commissioned by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership to take the sensitive subject of suicide out of the dark and encourage everyone to talk about it in an honest, open and direct way, so no one sees suicide as a solution to their problems.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 49, women aged between 20 and 34 and is the leading cause of death in people aged 15 to 29.
Statistics show that men in the main, who have died by suicide, did not ask for help or speak to someone before they took their life.
The #shiningalightonsuicide campaign will encourage people to talk about suicide in an honest and open way so no one feels it is a solution to their problems.
Writing a letter to her doctor was Rebecca’s first major step in addressing and communicating her mental health issues.
After being discharged from the military Owen suffered from social isolation and suicidal thoughts.
“I really believe that the more we have conversations about the more we find the right language. I can remember a time we didn’t talk about cancer and people didn’t go for help.”
Michael has battled depression and suicidal thoughts all of his adult life.
“I’m under 50, I’m male, I’m gay, I have type 1 diabetes and I was previously bullied in the workplace,” says Dennis, a survivor of multiple suicide attempts.
“Suicide isn’t the solution to any problem.” That’s the view of Doctor Falmai, from Bury, who has previously had suicidal thoughts.
“I remember waking up feeling lucky to survive.” Caroline, 32 from Wigan, is a survivor of suicide.