Daniel Regan is the editor of Fragmentary.org and a photographer specialising in mental health and wellbeing. He is the current director of the Free Space Project, an arts and wellbeing charity providing arts projects and therapies across two NHS sites in north London.
Regan’s on-going project Maytree (working title) explores the taboo of suicide through his experience of volunteering at the suicide prevention organisation.
“Maytree is a charity providing befriending support for people experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings in a non-clinical and unique space. Based in north London within a home setting and supported by over a hundred volunteers, Maytree supports thousands of people each year by providing in-person, telephone and e-mail support. Maytree provides the opportunity for a one off stay of four nights and five days for guests experiencing suicidal feelings. During this time guests are encouraged to explore their suicidal feelings in a non-judgemental safe space with staff and volunteers.
I have benefited from Maytree both as someone in need of support and also someone who has provided support as a volunteer. The conversations I have had with both guests and volunteers alike have touched me as the space enables us to connect deeply, without judgement, ridicule or shame. This project is comprised of portraits with volunteers exploring their own experiences with mental health and how they came to be at Maytree, some of whom have previously been guests at the house. As a site the Maytree house provides comfort, security, warmth and support for those that are experiencing one of humanity’s most troubling taboos.”
My background is in engineering and research. I quite enjoy, now, reflecting on how I became mad and that process of where the brain takes you. That I find fascinating. I think it’s quite difficult to become suicidal really. You need trigger points, some people just need one, I needed quite a few. But once you’re there…
The first time that I had heard the word Maytree I had been sectioned. I was in Chase Farm, Enfield, in the hospital unit. There were 4 people around the table chit chatting and 2 of those had both been guests at Maytree. It was 2005. It was coming up to the Christmas period and I didn’t think I’d get through it. One of the women said maybe you could go and stay at Maytree.
Maytree was a wonderful safe place. I remember I was in a bad place. It really was quite bad. I couldn’t cook or do anything for myself. I used to love porridge. On the first morning Michael made me porridge and I thought… that little thing, making the porridge, was good.
When I got better I thought maybe I should volunteer at Maytree. I think I have a sense of loyalty to Maytree. I find it therapeutic going there. It’s sometimes very challenging but I’ve never really thought it’s too overpowering, but when you walk through that door you never know…
My dad worked as a prison offer. I think he was a good prison officer because he had a really good caring side and a good understanding of what brought people to where they were in life. He always looked beyond the prisoner to how they had arrived at committing a crime.
After my mum died I actually went to work with my Dad in the prison. It was the 60s. There were 2 prisoners who worked with him there, making tea for visitors and things like that. I spent a lot of time with these two prisoners. They were lovely and so caring to me. Because my mum had died we used to go for Sunday lunch in the officer’s mess. I think that’s where I develop my interest in people. I realised that people get labeled but there’s so much more of a story than that. There’s so much to know about a person.
I left home at 17 and got accepted to start training as a psychiatric nurse whilst underage. I started working in a really old psychiatric hospital. The place was terrible. The treatment of the patients was disgusting. It was awful and really stressful. I left after a year.
I’m very drawn to people who have been in similar situations who I feel somehow speak the same language as me and we can understand each other. That’s what I love about Maytree. I think of all the guests and volunteers that I’ve met there’s only been three that I couldn’t get a rapport with, simply because they didn’t speak.
Usually I feel there’s an immediate understanding. It’s like people are completely stripped back. A lot of people arrive there and they haven’t had a chance to talk, ever, and it’s just very raw and very open and very honest. And I feel that’s the sort of relationship I can best deal with.