‘I set myself on fire with petrol and survived, now I want to help suicidal men’

Chris Platt’s head, hands and legs bear the scars of a day he will never forget.

On that day in September 2013, tortured by demons and feeling he had nowhere to turn, Chris set fire to himself.

“I chose a place in the country where I thought I wouldn’t be disturbed”, he recalls.

“I can remember most of it with clarity. I remember stopping the car and getting into the back, filling the car and my lower legs with petrol and lighting it.

“It went whoosh. I thought at the back of my mind I might bottle it – and I felt an immense sense of relief that all the pain and hurt for myself and other people was going to go.

“I had to relight it three or four times. The next thing I remember is being out of the car with a first responder paramedic – but I can’t remember how that happened, and it never came back to me.

“No one has ever taken credit for it, I don’t even know if it was me who phoned the ambulance myself."

“Then there was an ambulance, firefighters and police.”

Chris suffered 23 per cent third degree burns and was in a coma in Wythenshawe Hospital’s intensive care unit for seven weeks, the Manchester Evening News reports.

There, he suffered a heart attack, although he has no memory of this time. Now, after being so fortunate to survive, he has set out to save other men from the suicidal thoughts that led to his drastic act.

“I am just lucky I wasn’t successful”, the married dad-of-two from Stockport says.

“I shouldn’t be here but I am. I had already been diagnosed with depression and I was an alcohol addict that was out of control.

“I am comfortable with what I did and how I pulled it back but I can’t erase it. I think about it every day, I have to look at my hands, head and legs and see how they grafted them back together.

“When depression takes over me I have a complete sense of self-loathing and the addiction doesn’t help.

“I was in hospital for four months and when I came out I had social workers and psychiatrists crawling all over me for two weeks but then, when I was no longer a risk, there was a bit of a void.”

Left with no psychiatric support, Chris looked for help on the internet – and discovered that while there are plenty of groups for those left bereaved by suicide, there were none for those who survived an attempt.

It’s led him to set up A Man About a Dog – a group for men who have attempted to take their own life but survived – with £10,000 funding from the Equity Foundation, and support from Stockport Progress and Recovery Centre (SPARC).

As a support worker with SPARC, Chris, a qualified nurse and social worker, offers his own support and experience as well as pointing people to other suitable services.

When he made an attempt on his own life he had a loving family and a fulfilling job. But depression, magnified by an addiction to alcohol, cut him off from the world.

So Chris now prints flyers and distributes them in pubs, bowling greens, anywhere might men might be, so that he can reach those people who might feel they have no-one to confide in.

According to the charity the Campaign against Living Miserably (CALM) 84 men kill themselves in the UK every week – and for each one of these another 25-30 will try.

Chris, who has been sober for four-and-a-half years, said: “That is around 2,500 a week – the project is about how we can we reach some of these individuals and give them a voice.

“It might be the driver of the bus I am travelling on or the man serving me in a shop. But my guess is a lot will never have any contact with mental health services.

“We want to reach out to the shadows. In my experience no-one ever said to me, ‘I get where you were, it is terrible but I understand, let’s move on from there’.

“I felt alone and like the only person who had tried suicide but not succeeded. There is a role for validating someone’s feelings but also trying to help them avoid getting there again.

“I got a lot of support for my addiction but not for trying to kill myself – so in a way I was lucky I was an addict.

“If you get away with it, you can move on and get on with your life. I felt people wanted me to apologise for having got that desperate but I never felt the need to apologise and I haven’t.

“Any of us can get to that point, it is about finding a better way to respond to it, most blokes just want to know they are not on their own.”

Chris is available to communicate with anyone who needs help, whether that be face to face at SPARC, which is based in Cale Green in Stockport, at a bar, or through another medium such as email.

It is early days for his ‘A Man About a Dog’ project but the hope is in time it will offer its own psychiatric services to people.

One reason why the new project is called ‘A Man About a Dog’ is because Chris’s pet French bulldog Albert is the face of the project – but there is more to it than that.

Chris, who has also worked as nurse, explained: “Men who attempt to end their lives are increasingly less likely to be experiencing mental health problems and so will be less likely to be in touch with traditional services.

“At the moment, in terms of recorded verdicts at inquests, men are three times more likely than women to take their own lives.

“I think I would have been quite resistant if someone had suggested therapy to me. So I wanted to call it something not associated with that sort of thing.

“It is a neutral term, something you say when you don’t want to tell people what you are doing, or going to discuss, so that is why I chose it.”

Anyone wishing to contact Chris can email him at [email protected]

Helplines and websites

Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected] .

Childline (0800 1111 ) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults who are feeling suicidal.

Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information. http://www.depressionalliance.org/

Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying. http://studentsagainstdepression.org/

The Sanctuary (0300 003 7029 ) helps people who are struggling to cope – experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks or in crisis. You can call them between 8pm and 6am every night.

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