Tell us about your experience supporting someone with suicidal thoughts or tendencies?
My son Gregory died by suicide in January 2016. He was 21 years old. He was a final year student at university and took his own life during the Christmas holidays. Greg was impacted by several adverse events which culminated in his long term relationship ending in September 2015. This sent Greg into a depression.
I visited Greg in Bristol in November 2015. He was withdrawn and unusual in his behaviours, but at times he was normal and the old Greg. One night we went to dinner. He told me that he was a monster and that he had behaved badly to his girlfriend (which was completely untrue). I was worried and asked him if he had been thinking of suicide. He said that he had but not seriously. I asked him to come to the hospital with me, to stay in my hotel, or let me stay with him, he refused. He was very withdrawn and sullen.
That night I thought about calling family to discuss this but I was overwhelmed and did not. The next day we met and talked a little and he assured me he was feeling better and he promised me he would go to the doctors. We spoke again on the phone and he seemed fine.
In December we met up again in London for a day. He was in good form and we played pool together. At the train station, I asked him if he still thought he was a monster. He became very sullen. I begged with him to think positively, to seek medical help, to make sure he graduated from university. He told me he would graduate. That was the last time I saw him alive. He did graduate with first class Honours, but posthumously.
Who was the first person you spoke with about it?
I did not speak to anyone about it. I was so overwhelmed and traumatised by talking to Greg that I was paralysed. I did not know how to discuss this with his mother, his sister or anyone else. I thought about calling the police on 999 at one point but I did not know what to say as it was not an immediate emergency and I thought that involving the police against Greg’s wishes might make things worse. I thought about calling the Samaritans but I did not know the number, (seems stupid now, but at the time not knowing the number was a hurdle I did not overcome) and also I did not know what I was going to say. I thought about going to the hospital but again I did not know what to say or even how they could help if Greg would not go with me. In my mind I went round in circles and tried to bury it within me.
I took comfort that Greg seemed normal at times, and was happy and joking and I thought, or wanted to think, things were getting better. I continued to ask Greg to go to the doctors, I did use the word suicide and we even talked about drugs that could help. I do not know if he was already convinced that he did not deserve to live.
Did talking to someone about your experience help you? How?
I talked to plenty of people after Greg died. There were people at work who had worked in the mental health services and nurses who had experience of suicide, who were really helpful. I truly wish that I had talked to them before he died because it may have helped to save his life, but I had such a block in my own mind that I could not bring myself to talk about it. It was too awful to contemplate. I felt weak and unempowered. I just did not know how to start a conversation with someone else.
Why do you think talking is important, especially when it comes to suicide?
Because talking may save a life. I personally felt closed in, that I could not talk, that I could not share. I did not want to upset people, I did not want to appear weak, I did not want to burden others. If I felt like that then one can only imagine how some people who are actually suicidal must feel.
I think by overcoming the stigma and bursting the belief that we should not talk about suicide, that it is some quasi criminal offence undertaken by selfish people who are seeking attention or who are only thinking of themselves, we can really open peoples’ minds and encourage them to have conversations.
By providing suggestions on things to say we can help people take that first step and say something.
I think that having a service where somebody could just text how they are feeling or even just the word suicide I think would be very helpful. I think that when I was mentally paralysed and blocked it would have been easier for me to text for help rather than actually talking.
Greg was very protective of his sister and his mother. He left a note. In his state of mind, he really thought it was for the best for everyone if he died. I think it’s important for families to talk and listen more to loved ones who are at risk of suicide and also for families to talk to each other. That could make all the difference to saving a person at risk of suicide’s life. I think my son would have needed medical intervention but we may have been able to get that for him, either voluntarily or for his own good.
I think it would be great to have as part of any campaign a focus on the emergency and medical services and have representatives tell us in their own words what support they provide and also educate us as to what rights we have as individuals to help save others. For example, do we have the right to call the police to intervene, what can the police do, at what point can they intervene, how would you know when someone is a danger to themselves and at what point should you call for support.
Greg’s death impacted dozens of people. My other children are still affected to varying degrees. I was off work for four months. It had a big effect on Greg’s friends too. The inability to make sense of it yourself makes it doubly difficult to talk about it.
People have great difficulty in talking to a survivor. They do not know what to say. The subject is avoided, like it is the death that dare not speak its name. The death that is well and truly still in the closet. That has got to change.
For months after Greg died, I fully blamed myself for his death. It took a lot of input from a counsellor and some very good friends who have medical expertise, to help me through this and also help me support my wife and other children. I am very thankful to them. Greg had a large group of friends who have kept his memory alive. This has been very comforting.
The following services offer confidential support from trained staff and volunteers. You can talk about anything that is troubling you, no matter how difficult:
- Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Samaritans are there to listen 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it’s always free to call from any landline or mobile phone.
- Call 111 to talk to NHS 24’s mental health hub
- Call 0800 83 85 87 to talk to Breathing Space. The service is open 24 hours at weekends (6pm Friday — 6am Monday) and 6pm to 2am on weekdays (Monday — Thursday).