Image: Determined: Nicole Devlin
By Annamay McNally
A young woman, who has struggled with her mental health for almost half her life, has bravely opened up about her experience in a bid to raise awareness of the need for everyone in society to play their part in tackling the scourge of suicide and self-harm in Northern Ireland.
Nicole Devlin, 30, has been in and out of hospital since she was 17 years old, with one of the darkest of those periods spent in a mental healthcare facility in the UK for two years and nine months in total.
And while Nicole admits there is “still a long way to go” on her road to recovery, she is now able to look back at those years with an understanding of how far she has come.
She also volunteers with the mental health charity, Aware, and with the Rainbow Trust, evidence of her determination to make a difference to the society in which she lives.
Yet, anyone who knows exactly what Nicole has gone through would find it incredible that strength of spirit and the support of family and friends can really make the difference between life and death.
“When I was 17, I went into the psychiatric hospital at St Luke’s (Co Armagh) following three suicide attempts, the third of which was quite serious”, Nicole said.
“Then, up until I was about 25, I was in hospital for months and months at a time. Every day, I was trying to take my own life or self-harming, to such an extent that there were two members of nursing staff at my side.
“Shortly after my 18th birthday, I was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. While it was good to have a diagnosis to explain what was going on at that time, the downside was the name of the condition and what I perceived it to be.”
Nicole recalled that, aged in her mid twenties, things “were getting really bad” and she was told by medical staff that she needed “life saving treatment”.
Thus began a period of more than two and a half years of inpatient hospital treatment in England, followed by a short period in the Bluestone Unit of Craigavon Area Hospital.
“I was 24 or 25 when I came home and suddenly I realised that people I had gone to school with were going off to university, getting married, having children. I felt so out of place and I think that’s when reality hit me.”
Among the factors which have given Nicole strength and determination to live her life as the intelligent young woman she is, was the birth in September 2013 of her nephew.
“I slowly but surely started feeling motivated for life and by 2014 I decided I was going to try to be happy.”
Nicole hopes to focus on research into how the trauma of the conflict in Northern Ireland can impact on mental health. She recently attended an event hosted by the organisation, Contact Lifeline, which is campaigning for a suicide prevention bill in Northern Ireland.
She urged everyone in society to work together to make mental health a priority: “Everyone can be a bit more compassionate and understanding of people. Too often we only see what’s on the outside and it can be hard for people to see that there can be other things wrong. Everyone has to work together.”