'Tell someone you are hurting inside': Island woman speaks out about surviving suicidal episode

Ashley Belanger-Birt says she knew she had mental health issues ever since she was little.

Ashley Belanger-Birt wants others stuggling with mental illness to know help is available

'During my entire life I always went through highs and lows,' says Ashley Belanger-Birt of her mental health. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Ashley Belanger-Birt says she knew she had mental health issues from the time she was little.

"I remember being about five years old and thinking that I wanted to die then," she said.

The now 29-year-old mother-of-three was diagnosed with anxiety and depression by the age of 11.

She was given medication and went to see a counsellor, but Belanger-Birt said over time her condition only got worse.

"During high school I was sexually assaulted, which resulted in a major depression and suicide attempts and self harm," she said.

'I always went through highs and lows'

That was the first time Belanger-Birt would be admitted to hosptial.

"During my entire life I always went through highs and lows. One minute I would be happy and laughing and the next I would be crashing hard," said Belanger-Birt.

Belanger-Birt says she's struggled with suicidal thoughts since she was five-years-old. (Submitted by Ashley Belanger-Birt)

"I was admitted to unit nine and was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder," she said.

"Once this disorder was explained to me, it finally made sense," she said. "The uncontrollable actions and moods I would go through, this is why I was the way I was." 

'When you're manic you feel like you're on top of the world'

During her pregnancies, Belanger-Birt said things got better.

"When I was pregnant was when I was happiest, which is believed to be because of my hormones being balanced during this time," she said.

Belanger-Birt says her depression got worse as she got older. (Submitted by Ashley Belanger-Birt)

But when Belanger-Birt was 25, her father died and she was put on anti-depressants. She then went into a nine-month long manic episode.

"When you're manic you feel like you're on top of the world. You can go days not sleeping. You feel like you can accomplish anything that is put on the table," she said.

"But with manic you can make some horrible decisions that lead to horrible consequences … and it's scary because you do not think you are doing anything out of the ordinary."

"Her mental health just took over," said Belanger-Birt's husand Trent Birt. "It was rough because you're used to such a life of happiness."

"We didn't do things as a family or as a couple anymore. It was scary."

'I truly believed they were better off without me'

Belanger-Birt's mania eventually ended in a crash and led her down a darker path: becoming suicidal. 

"I just felt like I have these three wonderful creatures and seeing mommy like that wasn't good … I truly believed they were better off without me," she said. "I felt like I was already dead inside, so I figured this was where I would end it."

Belanger-Birt posing with her husband Trent Birt, pregnant with their third child. 'When I was pregnant was when I was happiest,' she says. (Submitted by Ashley Belanger-Birt)

"I sat on my bed and got the papers and pen out and started writing. To this day I don't know what I wrote because I was in such a deep state of psychosis," said Belanger-Birt.

"I had so many voices in my head telling me this was the right thing to do and that it was time."

Belanger-Birt said it was in the middle of writing her suicide note that her mom called and brought her to the hospital to receive treatment.

"I was so delirious and in my own head that I barely remember the first week or so," she said. 

'Say something'

Belanger-Birt was released on her 28th birthday in June 2016 and opened up on social media about her experience.

"The response I received, I can't put into words. I had so many people reach out, not for me, but for themselves," she said. 

"I'm very proud of her. She's put in a long haul there, a battle that most people would have gave up on. She's a fighter. She's going onto the next round," said Birt.

"You never want to walk away from this," he said. "Try to support them the best you can. There's going to be hard times."

Belanger-Birt said she wants others to know that help is available.

"I know there is so much negativity right now with mental health, and not having enough resources," she said. 

Belanger-Birt managed to graduate from UPEI in May 2016 while she was still struggling with her illness. (Submitted by Ashley Belanger-Birt)

"But I was lucky enough to get the help I needed. I was in a horrible state and if it wasn't for the help I got I wouldn't be sitting here today."

Belanger-Birt said her best advice to others experiencing the same struggles is to speak up.

"Say something … before it's too late. Tell the person you love that you love them, tell someone you are hurting inside," she said. 

In the past year, Belanger-Birt says through trial and error, she's now on the right medications and her life is slowly returning back to normal.

"Since then the sun shines a little brighter," she said.

 Anyone needing emotional support, crisis intervention or help with problem solving in P.E.I. can contact The Island Helpline at 1-800-218-2885, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information about mental health services on P.E.I., find resources from Health PEI here, or from the Canadian Mental Health Association P.E.I. Division here.