Wednesday, 10 September 2014

World Suicide Prevention Day 2014

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day 2014, a day that is obviously close to my heart. In England and Wales suicide is the leading cause of death in men under the age of 50. Worldwide every year almost one million people die by suicide, that's about 1 death every 40 seconds. More people die by suicide yearly than by homicide and war combined.
When I first started writing this blog it was for me, I needed an outlet for my overwhelming thoughts and feelings and realised I needed to write them down to release them. Gradually though it became more than that, people started thanking me and telling me their stories about suicide, depression and other mental health issues. One thing that struck me after Simon died was how difficult some people found it to say the word "suicide". People who have felt depressed or suicidal in the past have " confessed" it to me. I've been reminded of the scene in St Elmo's Fire where Wendy takes Billy home and warns him that her mother finds it difficult to utter certain words;

I remember when people found it difficult to use the word "breast" when talking about breast cancer, instead referring to it as "women's cancer". These days that stigma seems silly. Yet there is still a taboo when it comes to talking about suicide or feeling suicidal, about depression, mental health or addiction.
So now this blog is about using those words, without fear or shame. It's about recognising suicide is a global problem and that it's only by working together, by talking and listening that we might be able to start to reduce those horrifying statistics. There is much to be done, mental health services are too often insufficient, too many people fall through the gaps. However, perhaps if we start to talk, without judgement or prejudice, if we recognise that depression is an illness and no more shameful than cancer, that addicts are more than their habits, that language like "man up" and "grow some balls" may stop men seeking help, then it'll be a start and maybe we can push for more research and more help for those who need it.

In memory of Simon I'm supporting Calm's Man Down initiative,
"The Man Down campaign is all about raising awareness of the fact that suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 50.  It’s about encouraging men to recognise when they are finding life difficult and talk to someone, rather than reach a point of crisis, and it’s about encouraging us all to look out for our mates…"

For anybody feeling suicidal or for those concerned that somebody they know may be having suicidal thoughts Grassroots Suicide Prevention have today released an app to help prevent suicides, available on IoS and Android;

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Please don't tell me suicide is selfish

Yesterday I wrote about Robin Williams and mentioned that at that point I'd not seen any talk of selfishness or cowardice. Of course since then there have been numerous examples, from Alan Brazil on TalkSport who said he has no sympathy, to Fox News anchorman Shepard Smith who suggested those who kill themselves are cowards (he has since apologised), through to the comments on social media and in the newspapers from the misinformed, ignorant or heartless.
When a loved one takes their life the aftermath is beyond anything I can really describe. Any sudden death is a terrible and tragic shock but with suicide comes so many questions, so much blame. After Simon died I tried to remember conversations we'd had, had I missed something? I trawled the internet looking for clues. There were none. Simon didn't have Robin Williams' fame and riches but he grew up in a stable and loving family. Even after he served time in prison we were there for him, visiting him when he was inside, providing a bed for him afterwards, listening to him when he talked without (I hope) judging him. Like Robin Williams though it's pointless discussing what he had. The sad fact is that he had a black hole in him, one he tried to fix with drugs but they just ripped the hole wider until it overwhelmed him. I can wonder whether Mum's death was a catalyst but perhaps it made no difference and he would have suffered the same anyway. The point is none of us can know the exact reasons why a person reaches the moment when suicide seems the only option. I don't know why it was that day, two years ago that Simon couldn't take any more and for all the media supposition we can't know why Robin Williams reached the moment where he couldn't bear it any longer. His moment will not be the same as another person's moment and there is never a straightforward reason why, depression is more complicated than that. What I never needed to hear afterwards though was that Simon had been selfish or that he had so much to live for.
When you lose someone to suicide you just need to hear "I'm sorry" or I'm here if you need me". No matter how well meaning the sentiment, hearing that your loved one chose to leave you and was selfish to make that choice is something that for me at least would have added to the anguish. I'm aware I can't talk for all those affected by suicide loss, some people do feel their loved one's decision was selfish. That is their right, it is not the right of others to make that decision. Robin Williams' family will be in complete turmoil right now, their lives have been torn apart, a myriad of competing thoughts will be filling their heads so much that they feel they could explode. They need time and space to slowly begin to learn to live without him there with them. They don't need people who only knew him through a screen saying he was selfish. People who kill themselves have reached a point where they can take no more, they may believe they are a burden to others. They do not choose to leave their loved ones behind, they don't feel they have any other choice other than ending the hopeless, overwhelming pain. When a person dies by suicide those left behind need compassion. Even if you still believe it's a selfish act I ask you what you hope to achieve by expressing those thoughts publicly? You are entitled to your beliefs of course but if you are concerned for the family left grieving then please keep those thoughts to yourself. The person who has died couldn't be kind to themselves, family will be blaming themselves, this is the time for you to do nothing more than to be kind.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

O Captain! My Captain!

Tomorrow (13th August) will mark the second anniversary of Simon's death and if I'm honest I've been going through a bit of a rough patch recently. I've not been depressed, I wouldn't dishonour those who actually suffer depression by suggesting that, but if life is a roller coaster then I've been in a dip.
My cousin died of a heart attack which was obviously a terrible shock and recently I've been feeling pretty socially inept. I went on an annual camping weekend with forum friends but spent much of the time feeling awkward and out of place. I think knowing the anniversary is looming is really what's at the root of everything though, I've not been sleeping well and have been having flashbacks again.
So I've been planning to write something for a few days -  in the past it's helped me to clear my head, it's as if writing out the words releases the jumble of thoughts. Then last night I heard the devastating news that Robin Williams had died, most likely by suicide. Like many people I took to Twitter and among the many tributes I was touched to read several tweets that acknowledged depression as an illness and others that linked to helplines for the depressed and suicidal. I didn't spot any suggestions of cowardice or selfishness, although I've little doubt they're out there. I will never believe that Simon was selfish or a coward. I read an analogy last night comparing feeling suicidal to being on fire, if you're burning then you'd do anything to put out the flames; Simon, Robin Williams and all those who end their lives by suicide couldn't stand that pain any longer. It's a pain most of us won't know but I hope we can feel compassion and empathy for those who are suicidal. I did read a couple of tweets last night mentioning the thousands of suicide victims who won't be in the news today and while that's true, we won't hear their names, I don't think that means Robin Williams' sad death shouldn't be reported and grieved over. He was a man known to millions, his films have been enjoyed for decades. Dead Poets Society is one of my favourite films of all time. Before children I rarely cried at films (afterwards anything can set me off) but the "O Captain! My Captain!" scene was guaranteed to move me to tears, no matter how many times I watched it. It will be even more poignant and heartbreaking next time I watch it. Robin's death being headline news does not make the countless other deaths by suicide any less tragic or less important. Williams' death should be reported, I don't feel any bitterness that Simon's death didn't receive any media coverage. If anything I'm grateful that we were able to grieve privately and away from the world's cameras. I hope his family and friends will be given the space they need right now, I can't imagine feeling torn apart while being under the watchful gaze of the media. They are beginning their new lives as those left behind and my thoughts are with them and all those who have heard that most devastating news recently. Two years on and I'm mostly in a much better place than they will be right now. I've slowly put myself back together, it's an imperfect repair and the seams come apart at times but the patched up me will be ok, as I hope they will in time. Right now is not a time for criticising the cult of celebrity, instead perhaps Robin Williams' death can be a catalyst for open, frank and compassionate discussion of depression, addiction and suicide. Perhaps just one person will pick up the phone and ask for help today because they've see a helpline on Twitter or Facebook.
With that in mind here is a link to a list of international suicide prevention helplines. It's a US site and has a separate link at the top of the page for US helplines by state.
Depression lies but it is not a weakness. Picking up the phone and asking for help is not an admission of anything, you don't admit to cancer or heart disease, neither should you feel you should admit you have depression. Don't let shame stop you for you have nothing to be ashamed about. This might be the first step to putting out those flames.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

My advice to those recently bereaved by suicide

On Saturday my brother, Rob married his long term girlfriend Charlotte. It was a day we have all been looking forward to for a long time but obviously missed loved ones were always going to be conspicuous by their absence. This was particularly true of Simon who could so easily have been stood alongside me in the photographs. If only...
However, despite my pre-wedding fear that I would find the day especially hard, I actually didn't. It was a day filled with love and laughter and although I wish with all my heart that Simon could have been there, I more than got through it, it was actually almost a perfect day and I don't think I've felt as happy for years.
So it's almost two years now and I can honestly say I'm doing well. I'm never going to completely recover from losing my brother to suicide, I don't actually think it's possible but I'm ok with that and I know that the pain I once thought would consume me won't. Life is good. Not always but it's more good than bad and that's enough.

Sadly in the almost two years since Simon ended his life many more people have also lost loved ones to suicide. If I was going to give advice to somebody recently bereaved by suicide I think I would say the following,

 1. Whatever you're feeling is ok, chances are you can't even name all those feelings right now as they compete for space in your brain. Don't feel guilty if anger is one of the emotions you're experiencing. The person you love chose to die and whilst it's not a selfish act, it is still an act that has left you shocked to your very core. Acknowledge your anger then you can let it go.
 2. If you feel as if your head is going to explode then find an outlet that allows you even a brief moment of peace. The thoughts will come back but finding something else to concentrate on, even for a little while will give you just enough strength to carry on. Reading and later writing was my way of coping, I often read through the night.

 3. Talk, scream, cry, rage but don't forget to laugh. You are still here and although your world has currently been shaken from its axis you are going to carry on. As much as you'd love to go back in time it can't happen so remember the person you've lost by honouring the good times you shared. Then go and make new good times, you deserve it.

4. The person you loved chose to end their life because dying became less frightening than living. It wasn't an easy choice for them, at the moment they died it probably felt the only choice. They did not choose to leave you, dying wasn't easy but they felt life had become impossible.

 5. It wasn't your fault. Whilst right now you will be sure there was something you could or should have done differently, they made the decision, you didn't make it for them. You are no more to blame than when somebody dies of cancer or heart disease. You may not have spotted the signs because they kept them hidden from you or you may have tried your very best to get them help, whatever you did or didn't do doesn't make it your fault.

 6. It will get better. Right now you can't believe that, chances are you don't want to because feeling better means moving on without them. You have to move on though, they ended their life, they didn't end yours. It will get better and you will be ok with it getting better.  

This is my advice based on my experience, it's not meant to be prescriptive, you must do what is right for you. All I can really say is that I am so very sorry for your loss. It hurts like you can't imagine and there is nothing I can say that will stop that. That intense pain though, it doesn't last, honestly it doesn't.

If you have lost somebody to suicide and would like to write about it here, either about your loved one or about your own experience as somebody bereaved in this way, then please get in touch. Writing about it has helped me immensely and I would love to be able to help others similarly affected.

Monday, 13 January 2014


It's been a little while since I updated this blog but as always Simon is never far from my thoughts and as expected over the Christmas period that was especially true.
Just before Christmas we (me, my dad and my brother) traipsed across a muddy hillside battered by torrential rain and driving winds to finally scatter his ashes. We carefully checked the wind direction, chose a spot then Rob opened the container his remains were in and tipped...we hadn't taken into account the wind was swirling in all directions and like a bad comedy poor Rob was coated in a layer of the ashes. After a bit he handed the pot over to me and I too experienced the gritty sensation of my brother's remains in my eyes. It was an odd occasion really, in some ways we were glad the weather was so awful as it meant we were able to have our moment privately - but it was too windy to hear each other speak and so we didn't say any meaningful final words. I'm not sure what I would have said anyway to be honest, it's a very strange feeling watching ashes blow across a field knowing that they were once a person. I didn't really feel emotional, just empty. I guess there's some closure now, whatever that means. It's something that's not hanging over us at least, that stage has been dealt with.
And now it's 2014, the year Simon should have turned forty. So much is spoken about ageing and the fear of growing older, we read it all the time - "30 things to do before you're 30" as if there's a cut-off date and it's always "the big 4-0" because 40 can't be mentioned as a number - the Voldemort age. Ageing, growing old, dying; with each passing year we're reminded of that ticking clock. I realise now Simon didn't fear ageing, it was living that frightened him, believing that things would never get better. In the end I suppose dying became less terrifying than living. For me it's different and in a strange way the pain I've felt has been life affirming, if anything I appreciate life more since he died. I don't know if I'll ever truly come to terms with his suicide, I think there will always be a rawness to his death but I do understand more now that his decision wasn't made selfishly but was the action of a man who just couldn't see any other way.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of young men in the UK. In 2012 there were 5,981 suicides in the UK, of which 77% (4,590) were male (ONS, NISRA, NRS). CALM, the campaign against living miserably, exists to prevent male suicide in the UK. You can read more about their aims here;

CALM helplines (lines open 7 days a week, 5pm till midnight)
              Nationwide - 0800 58 58 58
              London - Call: 0808 802 58 58  To text: 07537 404717 (Include CALM1 at the beginning of your first message.)
              Merseyside - Text: 07537 404717 ( Include CALM2 at the beginning of your first message.)

The Samaritans (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) 08457 90 90 90

The Maytree Suicide Respite Centre supporting people in suicidal crisis in a non-medical setting. If you, or someone you know, could benefit from a one-off stay in a safe and confidential space, call 020 7263 7070 or email