Monday 10 September 2018

Why we should talk about suicide #WorldSuicidePreventionDay

In the UK today, if you are aged 5-34 you are more likely to die from suicide than anything else. It is the biggest killer of our younger population. Just think about that for a minute. More people die by their own hand than for any other reason. It takes away our children, our parents, our siblings, our friends.

But we don't talk about suicide. No-one talks about suicide.

It's really hard to talk about suicide. It's really hard for me to write about suicide.

When our 16 year old died all of the older members of our family had counselling. We'd have been completely lost without that opportunity to talk. To sit away from the children and let it out and sob and be angry and say "it's not fair". To express our worries and fears, to find out if what we felt was 'normal'. To find out if our children's response was 'normal'. To keep us going.

My youngest 2 children were under 7 when they lost their sister and deemed too young for counselling. Children under 7 react differently and in general it's expected they should be able to cope. While that might work in some cases, our whole household was shattered and those young boys had a lot to try and understand.

As time went on and my boys still struggled with their sister's death, we were dumbfounded at how to help them. I built myself up and then emailed a UK charity for children who are bereaved.

I was given internet addresses where I could download information sheets and signposted to another well-known children's charity. The information sheets were more for advice immediately following a loss and didn't really help. They focussed on Cancer and long-term illness. I contacted charity no.2.

Children's charity no.2 simply suggested that what I needed was someone who was actually more used to dealing with our specific type of loss. They directed me to a charity for people who have lost loved ones to suicide. Maybe they were right. Maybe it wasn't children's charities I needed.

Charity no.3 even had a local support group where real live people who were in our position might be able to give us some practical advice or just understand us. I contacted my local branch and told them my story and asked if they had anything to help us. The email I got back was lovely, and the lady who wrote it felt a huge degree of sadness and pity for us, that was clear. It offered absolutely nothing. I was signposted back to the very first charity I spoke to. I cried a lot, and I gave up.

The very people who were specifically meant to be able to help me didn't want to talk about our family's experience of suicide. I have still never spoken to another parent from a family who lost a child to suicide.

No-one wants to talk about suicide.

My family had 2 broken adults desperately trying to gaffer tape everything together. A child now in hospital long-term, a child struggling at home, 2 other teenagers to try and keep going through exams, and 2 young children who woke up at night because they were worried we might have died.

I spent 2 years watching the TV advertising and wondering who these people were? Where were all these specially trained counsellors? I removed some charity addresses from my posts. I stopped promoting fundays and charity events because I felt the money raised must be just to pay for more adverts with pretty child actors and fancy editing.

A year ago a new member of staff at our school took up our case and contacted agencies and charities on our behalf. She was prepared to talk about suicide. She contacted one of the children's charities who had initially signposted us, and they told her they could now help. It is a huge step forward and our children have benefited massively. They will now talk a little about their sister, they will sleep all night, they don't worry so much that their loved ones might leave them. They are not stupid though, they understand it makes everyone uncomfortable to mention her death. They know, despite our best efforts, that to talk about how Elspeth died will silence a room and other people will have no idea what to say.

No-one knows what to say about suicide.

When Elspeth died a couple of big toy companies who I'd worked with for a long time walked away. Some of our friends backed off. With the best will and all the understanding in the world, it was impossible not to feel like a biblical leper.

No-one wants to have to deal with suicide.

Those left behind after a suicide are statistically more likely to become victims. This is very easy to understand as a survivor. It's very hard to accept, especially as a parent. I'm surrounded by people I love and I flit from one of the other, searching for any signs that one of them can't cope. I hope beyond hope that they all have someone they can talk to. Talking about it doesn't remind any of us that suicide exists, we can never forget suicide exists.+

The utter despondency you feel when you lose someone you love means that you want to try and convince yourself that somehow it is better. Somehow, in some way, the right thing happened. If they are in agony, fighting Cancer or other terminal illness, you can see a sense, a release. Suicide doesn't give you that option, there is no peace to be found, instead you just feel a degree of shame and embarrassment.

You can't convince yourself it's better for them, because then how do you convince yourself that it's not better for you? Someone said to me this very morning "Hopefully she found her peace". I cannot ever think she found peace. I don't believe she found peace. I can only dwell on the fact that she could have had peace here, she had a lifetime of opportunity and a million potential paths to travel. 100 years of possibility and she gave it all up. She could have been anything, gone anywhere, fallen in love with anyone. She could have been amazing.

If we talked about suicide then people would know that was the wrong thing to say. They'd understand why I'm so upset by the phrase "committed suicide". They'd appreciate why my partner cannot watch anything with Robin Williams ever again and they'd know why I was so upset by the details included in national press reporting of Elspeth's death. Talking Suicide are currently campaigning for responsible media reporting for all suicides.

We are doing it wrong. If we want to save more of these young people then we need to talk about suicide, and we need to look at the reasons why. Why is life so damn hard that we lose so many people? Do we all expect too much? Do we get too little? Why are our younger generations unable to cope?

Why have 15 people worldwide ended their own lives while you read this far?

We need to talk about suicide. It's proven that talking about suicide saves lives and we need to use that. We need to be able to spot those at risk and understand what we can do to keep our own self safe. We need suicide to lose it's taboos and become as easy to say as Prostate Cancer, which has successfully kicked it's false shame out and seen a drop in deaths of 12-16% within the last 10 years.

Not talking about suicide makes it harder for my little boys to speak up when they're upset by something they hear or see. It makes it incredibly hard to access any support and it makes it virtually impossible to convince my children they can even mention their own loss.

Not talking about suicide means that people who cannot cope can believe they have nowhere to turn. Our young people should be able to ask for help, as grown adults we should be able to turn to our friends and family. People shouldn't be so scared of the reaction they'll face that they don't have the strength to talk.

The best way to start a conversation with someone you are worried about is to ask a direct question. Sometimes "Are you okay?" is enough to break the ice, but you need to listen properly to the answer. "Are you thinking about suicide?" might seem very blunt, but it leaves no room for confusion or trite answers. Papyrus have some brilliant conversation starters (pdf) and other advice, as do RUOK? and Time To Change.

Today on World Suicide Prevention Day, and every other day, remember that you can be the person who helps someone else. You can be the difference and you can save a life. You can be the cause of one of the millions of survivor stories online.  Just as life isn't 'best day ever' forever, it just isn't that shit forever, and people who survive generally get the help and strength they need to make the changes necessary to find hope and happiness again.

If you are short on reasons why you should carry on, there are 13 of them right here...

And if you want to know just how devastated your loved ones will be if you leave instead of asking for help first, then Dear Elspeth is the first post I wrote after her death, when nothing made sense and the world was a confusing blur. 48 Months is the post I wrote last month.

You need never be alone. There is ALWAYS someone to talk to. You may be able to reach out to someone you know, but if not the Samaritans are on hand 24 hours a day 116 123 (UK) 116 123 (ROI)

If you are a young person or are worried about another young person, you may feel more comfortable talking to Papyrus 0800 068 41 41 or Childline 0800 1111

If you have lost someone to suicide then you may find help from Survivors Of Bereavement By Suicide, and Winston's Wish for younger family members.

Elspeth was my partner's daughter. She was 16 when she died, 1 week before her GCSE exam results. She had already accepted an unconditional place at Art College.


  1. Jen..what a post. I will try and listen more, be more aware . Those statistics are nothing short of horrendous . Love to you and yours xx

  2. Love you guys. This is all so true, nobody likes to talk about suicide. It makes us feel icky and sad and helpless and awkward. It's hard to change the way we are as a society but people like you make progress with every blog post, conversation, and social share and hopefully one day we will be better at this whole thing xxx

  3. What an emotional rollercoaster that post was for me - never mind you!
    Maybe it's because I get it. Maybe it is because there have been so many times myself (and someone very close) have tried to leave this world that I sort of understand. But I don't. I am so SUPER angry that people have treated you this way. Yes of course no-one knows what to say because there's nothing you can say to make it any better - only putting your foot in it. But by golly toy companies not working with you - I hope they are darn well disgusting with themselves.

    I think it is amazing what you are doing, Elspeth's death was so recent that the pain I imagine to be so raw still - but yet you are helping others. I wish I had the words but I am glad more help seems to be seeping through xxxx

  4. Having fought so so hard to get my sister the help she needed, and being dismissed and fobbed off at every turn until I ranted and raved on social media, naming and shaming the PCT involved and letting them know I’d be holding them personally accountable if she managed to take her own life, it makes me sick that there’s so little support there for those left behind too. Sending love and light. X


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