I was afraid of “the men in white coats” and almost paid with my life for that fear

By Caitriona McMahon

My fear of the phrase“the men in the white coats” was the main reason I couldn’t speak out about suicidal thoughts at the time I experienced them.

It was also the reason I felt I had to bare the excruciating emotional pain on my own.

I thought If I told someone they would call these men and I’d be shipped off and never seen again.

The fear of being enclosed anywhere at the time with my severe anxiety was terrifying.  Even places like shops, banks, and cars would induce a sense of panic.

You can only imagine what the prospect of visiting Aldi would do!

I was fortunate in that someone else noticed my suicidal behaviour, asked me was I suicidal and listened for more than words.

If they hadn’t I was at risk of ending my life shortly after in dread of the men in the white coats.

Doctor coat

These men to me represented imprisonment and entrapment, with no prospect of being released.

I thought they would change me and medicate me to the eyeballs.  Old films had painted a pretty vivid picture of what to expect. But these films were wrong. So, so wrong.

When I think that someone may be in the same place as I once was, I worry deeply about the outcome and their safety.

And so I wanted to write something to ease the sense of terror you, the reader, or someone you know, may be experiencing.

If you are having thoughts of suicide, I need you to know the men in the white coats will NOT be coming for you in fact the reality is very much different.

There are a long list of services available for anyone in suicidal distress, ones that will not judge and will listen.

They vary from phone supports to walk in clinics, to ones you can access through a GP.

Some have centres where you can attend for an hour or so and with the support of a therapist in a comfortable setting, discuss what’s happening for you.

Once a discussion has taken place, the therapist will work with you to put a help system in place.

Someone is always there to help you climb an emotional mountain
Someone is always there to help you climb an emotional mountain

As they would if you had a sore ankle, they will offer you supports to lean on. There is no force involved in this though, as I once believed.

If I knew at the time what I know now, things may have been very different.  I would have said something before things got so unbearable but I couldn’t see ahead.

If you are in deep emotional pain, I promise you telling someone or in fact telling anyone, helps .

If you can’t verbalise it write it, if you can’t write it, type it. Communicate it somehow.

Your future self will thank you trust me!

The Samaritans are just one of the help lines available to listen. Contact via the freephone 24 hours a day on

  • 116 123 (ROI) or email jo@samaritans.org
  • If you are in Limerick, call Catriona’s voluntary service The Community Crisis Response Team on  0851777631 or you can email ccrtlimerick@gmail.com or go to the group’s Facebook page and send them a message.

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