By Katie Mercer @KatieMercer_BM

A SUICIDE survivor who shot herself in the head now helps others to beat the stigma of mental health

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Videographer / Director: Jay Mallin
Producer: Katie Mercer, Ruby Coote
Editor: Jack Stevens

At 7am one foggy morning in 2010, Christen McGinnes, loaded a .357 revolver at her home in Virginia and calmly made the decision to shoot herself in the head.

The decision to take her own life had come after a year of trauma after losing her job, breaking up with her partner and her beloved grandmother passing away.

Christine told Barcroft TV: "Right up to until 2009, I lived a charmed life. I had a lot of friends. I loved my job and I was best friends with my grandmother. And then, everything went to hell.

"I lost my job, my grandmother died. I was dating a really nice guy. I moved in with him and then he broke up with me.

"I’d lost all of my savings and began drinking heavily. I hadn’t been sleeping well and, although I’m not sure if I knew it, I was majorly depressed.

"I had asked a few people for help but I felt like a burden and isolated myself. At the time, I thought that killing myself was the right thing to do. The right decision.”

"I had a gun. I had a .357 revolver and I knew that would kill me. I knew what those guns can do. They are very powerful. So, I tidied the apartment because I knew people will be coming and I went out in the balcony because I was afraid the bullet will go through my head and through the wall and hurt someone else.

"I was calm for the first time in months. I wasn’t afraid to die. So I pulled the trigger.”

Incredibly Christen survived. And, unbeknownst to her, her room mate was sleeping in the next room.

The 46-year-old said: "I pulled the trigger. And wow, it was really loud and really I couldn’t see anything. And then I heard my roommate scream, “What’s that, what’s that!” And I thought, ‘Oh my god. He wasn’t supposed to be in the home.

"I heard him running around the apartment screaming, ‘Where are you?’ and then he came out to the balcony. The noise that came out of his mouth was the shrillest, most panicked shriek I’ve ever heard."

Christen was airlifted to hospital and was in a coma for three weeks.

The bullet had destroyed the right side of her face, from her eye to her chin. It had blown off the right jawbone, a third of her teeth and tongue, the lower half of her mouth and her right eye. She’d also shattered her nose.

She said: "The very first thing I remember was my dad holding my hand and saying: “All you have to do is heal, everything is taken care of, you are safe.

"There were piles of cards and gifts, all around me.

“I had a nurse with me whilst I was still unconscious and she would read me every card and letter and I am convinced that helped in my recovery and also helped with my mindset to feel grateful that I survived this, instead of angry.

"I think the biggest change for me was seeing how much support I really had and how many people truly cared about me - and some of them were downright pissed that I had done this to myself. They still loved me, but boy were they angry.

"That affirmation, that love was so powerful. It took the anger and depression away.”

Her friend Howard, was one of the first to visit her in hospital.

He said: "When I walked into the room at the hospital she was not recognizable. She was swollen, half of her face was bandaged because it was blown off.

"The jaw was gone, the eye was gone, the cheek was gone, everything was destroyed. That side of her face and the other side was so swollen that it was almost not a face. But when I saw the forehead and the red hair I knew that it was my Christen."

Since her suicide attempt, Chisten has had 49 surgeries to reconstruct her face, and will need more in the future.

She said: “I sleep a lot because my body needs so much time to heal, even now. And I still have lots more therapy and surgeries planned. I’ll never be the person I was before, but that’s good. I’m more grateful now. It’s a struggle for me getting around but I enjoy the life that I have.

"During my recovery, I met and fell in love with a wonderful man. He is deaf and so doesn’t mind that my speech is not what it once was. I value my friendships more and my time with others. But I don’t regret what I did.”

Now, Christen spends her time helping others break the stigma that surrounds mental health and suicide attempts by volunteering at the Trauma Network Centre in Virginia.

She said: "I am relentlessly optimistic and I never had a problem with getting out of bed or feeling sad or any of those things. So, it was startling to me when I started struggling with my mental health.

“Suicide is an awful thing, but more people have tried it than you know. There is a such a stigma around suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts that people keep it hidden. I think that if this wasn’t the case, then we might save people. By talking about suicide and admitting we’ve been there, others can know they are not alone.”

Howard added: “For Christen to go through all these surgeries and watching her go through the process it only underlined what I always thought about her. I always thought that she was a strong person, I always thought that she was a capable person, I always thought that she had great compassion for others."