Stood on a cliff edge, gazing through tears at the rocks below, Aled Griffiths thought his 21st birthday would be his last.
Driven by torment over his sexuality, the university student intended to mark his milestone birthday by jumping to his death.
Thankfully for those who love him and the thousands of young people who have benefited from his pioneering support in the 22 years that have followed, Aled took a step back from the cliff edge that day.
The 43 year old, from Penygroes in Gwynedd, has since dedicated his career and much of his personal life to helping other young people who are struggling with their mental health.
“Although I knew from a young age that I was gay, I didn’t believe I would ever accept myself or come out,” he explained.
“Between the age of 19 and 22 I seriously struggled, which led to me attempting to end my life. But in the pouring rain that day I decided that life was worth living and that I would give being my true self a go.”
For Aled, being his true self meant eventually coming out to friends and family and living as an openly gay man, while pursuing his passion to help others.
After graduating from university, he spent 10 years volunteering with the Samaritans while also completing a Master’s degree in social work and practicing as a therapeutic social worker.
For the past six years he has worked for Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) on Ynys Môn, a job he describes as ‘the greatest privilege’.
“My personal experience led to a strong motivation to help others with their mental health problems,” he said.
“Working for CAMHS is the greatest privilege of my life. There is no greater feeling than seeing young person believing in themselves and their future again and overcoming the challenges that had brought them to meet me.”
Determined to ensure that other young lesbian, gay, trans, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) people don’t face the same isolation as he did, in 2017 Aled established North Wales’ first LGBTQ+ Youth Club, with Caernarfon based young person’s charity, GISDA.
“The philosophy of the club was simple: to create a safe inclusive environment, that would allow every young person to be themselves. Within a few months 30-40 young people would attend each session, travelling the length of North Wales.
“The club now has over 200 members and offers weekly sessions in three locations around Gwynedd. It hosts talent competitions, comic-con nights, mental health and sexual health workshops, Christmas balls and trips away. Many young people recognise the impact on their sense of social inclusion, self-esteem, and self-worth, as well as their general happiness.”
Research conducted by the charity Stonewall outlines the mental health crisis facing young people who are LGBTQ+. Shockingly, 84 per cent of young trans people have self-harmed, while 45 per cent have attempted suicide. For young people who identify as lesbian, gay or bi, without being trans, 61 per cent have self-harmed, with 22 per cent attempting suicide.
“We know that the individual journeys of our young LGBTQ+ people can be extremely difficult,” said Aled.
“These figures are astonishing and point to a continued crisis in LGBTQ+ young people's mental health.
“Research into LGBTQ+ targeted bullying in schools is higher in Wales than the rest of the UK, with 54 per cent of our young people having experienced bullying.
“The aim should be to have an evolved society that allows young people to be free to express their identities across all their environments, without fear of any prejudice or negativity.
“Until then we need to ensure we create safe spaces for them, in school and the community for them to meet each other, create healthy peer support networks and feel included, accepted and valued for who they are.”
Twenty two years have passed since Aled stood on a cliff edge. He says taking a step back and being his ‘true self’ was the best decision he has ever made.
He’s urging other young people who feel that life isn’t worth living to reach out for help, insisting that with time and the right support, things can get better.
“Life can be hard and believing in ourselves and the future can be difficult, but I know that there is support and acceptance for everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” he said.
“Our true selves are the best version of ourselves and I believe that every young person can reach a place where they are free, included and happy!
“I have been so lucky to have worked with so many young people. They are truly awesome and have given me so much joy and fulfilment. They are worth our investment, our time and support. Let’s continue working hard, and help the next generation not have to walk the same path as us.”
For further information on the mental health support for young people who are LGBTQ+, please visit the Mind website.
The C.A.L.L. Mental Health Helpline for Wales is available 24/7 to provide emotional support and information/literature on mental health and related matters to people in Wales. Call: 0800 132 737 or Text: ‘help’ to 81066.