Will Mahaffey was just 12 years old when his dad took his own life and within a week, his uncle passed away. His happy childhood of school, friends and caravan holidays suddenly changed, and life began to spiral out of control.
As an older teenager, Will was living alone and had felt like he had nobody to turn to. He was overwhelmed by suicidal thoughts and was trapped in a cycle of depression and drug addiction. Desperate to find a way out, Will joined the Army, serving in the infantry for three years during which he went on tour to Afghanistan.
When he left the military, Will’s mental health issues worsened due to PTSD and he returned to a life of drugs. He had two spells in prison on drugs charges, and it was during his second stint that his daughter was born. It was only towards the end of his sentence, when he was moved to an open prison, that he met his two-year-old daughter for the first time. During that visit, he realised that he needed to turn his life around.
Now, Will is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and helping others. He runs a weekly Directions for Men peer support group in Audenshaw, encouraging men to talk about whatever they are going through in life. The weekly sessions give members an opportunity to gain support from others with similar experiences.
Will is also training to swim the English Channel in September to raise money and awareness for The Anthony Seddon Fund, a mental health charity based in Ashton-under-Lyne. So far, Will has raised £380 of his £2,800 target.
Will Mahaffey explains: “I’m sharing my story to shine a light on suicide in the hope that it inspires others to reach out and talk when they are struggling to cope. I lost my dad to suicide and have struggled with suicidal thoughts myself. For so long, I was lost because I wanted to be with my dad, but as soon as I met my daughter, I knew I wasn’t willing to put her through what I had experienced.
“My journey to get to where I am now has been tough. I’ve been through hell but, through fundraising and facilitating peer support groups, I’m carrying a bucket of water to put the flames out to stop others getting burnt. I get upset knowing there are people sitting in the same position that I was, so I want to reach out to them or let them reach out to me.
“I hope by being part of the Shining a Light on Suicide campaign, I can help raise awareness and show people to not lose hope. I’d tell anyone who is struggling to please reach out and open up to someone about how you’re feeling.”
Judd Skelton, Chair of Greater Manchester Suicide Prevention Programme Board, said: “We’re immensely grateful for Will, and others, being so open about their struggles with suicidal thoughts. Hearing this story of hope helps raise awareness of suicide and shows people that you can overcome suicidal feelings with the right support.
“Sadly, there’s still a stigma around suicide but we’re aiming to break that through Greater Manchester’s Shining a Light on Suicide campaign. The campaign encourages everyone to talk honestly and directly about suicide because talking could be all it takes to prevent a tragedy. Research tells us that using the word suicide shows others that it’s ok to open up and the person asking is there to listen.
“We all have a role to play in preventing suicide. I’d encourage everyone to spend 20 minutes this Mental Health Awareness Week to take part in free suicide prevention training on the Shining a Light on Suicide website. In just 20 minutes, you can learn how to save a life.”