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Bereavement due to suicide

People's perceptions of why the suicide took place

After a suicide friends and relatives want to know why it occurred. They try to make sense of what happened. Many people told us that they thought their family member had ended their life because they had been feeling unhappy or depressed. Bereaved relatives suggested many reasons that might have contributed to such feelings, including bullying at school, loss of a job, stress at work, a move to a new town and lack of support, unhappy or violent relationships, financial difficulties, negative reactions to family events, and chronic illness.

 
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Colin and Barbara's son, Matt, was not happy as a junior doctor. He found it hard to cope without...

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Age at interview: 69
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I have the feeling that I bear some responsibility for the sad event with which we have lived ever since, in that I suspect because I had seen how much his big sister had enjoyed doing medicine I rather pressured Matt to follow her footsteps, and he was polymathic, he could’ve done anything from astrophysics to Chinese as it were, but he could equally do medicine and did. So it seemed, but it became clear as he went through medicine that even though he graduated perfectly easily and went into his first house job that he was uneasy with it, and despite his great abilities and praise heaped on him by his own consultant he was not comfortable with it and gave up within the first year. I think he had an unfortunate experience, junior house officers were particularly exploited at that time, things have got easier since, but his partner’s father died and she was off like a flash to look after that area of need in her family, so that he was left very exposed in the job that he was doing and going back to a house with no company at the end of a long day, all of these pressures got to him and he came home to us, confused, unhappy, and hoping for some recognition from the  university clinical department which had placed him in his house job, for some support and recognition. That did not come, and I think that contributed to the depression which afflicted him thereafter.

Why recognition, what, what was he hoping?

He was hoping that the University Clinical Department would’ve placed him somewhere better supported in his house job, than the one in which he was suffering at the [provincial] hospital.

 

Jane thinks that her son Tom had been bullied at school and was a ‘bit of a depressive’. His...

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Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
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Right, it was nearly 23 years ago so some of it fades. He was at school at the time and we knew he was a bit of a depressive. He’d chosen to paint his bedroom purple which people said was worrying, but that was his choice and there were tiny signs that we found out afterwards but not, anyway it was a time of upheaval for us because my husband had been made redundant and our son Tom was in his A’ level year so there were you know stresses, and then we were out on a Saturday night in London and he was at boarding, part time boarding, nearby and we got back and there was a phone call to phone the school. And my husband did it straight away, and I just heard him say, “Suicide.” And that was it.

I suppose I haven’t revisited it because it didn’t seem important, it… it seemed important dealing with the stuff around me and I did try and understand;  Tom was bullied at school, one master gave him a hard time,  so that, you asked earlier about anger, that would’ve been relevant. I mean I remember saying to somebody that if I met the chap, he was only a small chap and I said I hope I don’t meet him ‘cos I’d kill him.

Mm.

But you know I think it was only a contributory factor it wasn’t a cause, it was just you know another brick in the wall, which is back to the, …what’s that group I mentioned earlier? It was their theme song that we played.


Oh yes.


That we played at the end of the funeral.


Why was that…


…the funeral, the brick in the wall.


Was that a song that he liked?


Mm.


In particular?


Mm. So but it, it was relevant, I mean there were a lot of things that were difficult at the time, he wasn’t a high flyer at school so doing A’ levels was some stress I suppose, and then father redundant and we were thinking that we might go abroad at the time to live so there were a lot of; and unfortunately he used to come back from school, he only boarded sometimes, at 9 o’clock when always the news was on, and the news it was when the Biafran famine was on, it was just awful night after night, I’m sure that must’ve, with hindsight had an effect on him.

 

Mike thinks his father was unhappy at the time of his suicide: He had had an unhappy second marriage and had been made redundant at work.

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Age at interview: 53
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In the house that day was my sister, and my brother-in-law, and well we, we’d known that my father was unhappy, to say the least, he’d, he’d made a second marriage, my mother had died about three years previously, and he was very devoted to my mother and he made a second marriage, which unfortunately was a disaster. He said himself he’d, he’d, he’d married in haste and was now repenting in leisure and it was a big mistake, he was very unhappy in his marriage. And then the, the next big thing was he was made redundant at work, and he’d worked very hard, he’d, he’d started off right at the bottom in this firm, metal refining firm, in Wolverhampton and had worked his way up to being the Managing Director on the firm. And the firm got taken over and the next thing we know he was being made redundant, and within what, three days of that happening he’d taken his life [sighs]. So we knew he was very unhappy with his circumstances, with the second wife where, you know, the marriage had been a disaster really and then this issue of losing his job, I think that was the, the final thing really, you know?

 

Mmm.

 

And it was a great surprise because he was a very strong person, a very tough capable man who’d had a lot of blows and difficulties in his life, and I think this was the thing that we found so hard to understand, I mean I know now that depression and mental distress can hit literally anyone and all it takes is enough pressure and enough problems and in it the toughest of people will break.

 

Jacqui’s husband worried about everything; he had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Female
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Well he had previously attempted suicide twice before in nineteen ninety-four…

Mmm.

…and that was when he was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety, so really all that, all those years it’s been a case of, watching him, making sure he’s okay ‘cause he was always, always anxious, always anxious and he worried about everything, not like the state of the world or anything like that but he worried about the kids and if something, if, you know, is, if, that, whatever little crisis there was, oh I shouldn’t really say a little crisis ‘cause it was always a big crisis to him, you know, then it would just move, he would just move on to something else to worry about.

 

Marion’s husband had not told her about his financial worries or history of mental health problems.

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Age at interview: 58
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I found out afterwards in the, in the May afterwards when I was speaking to his elder brother that he had had mental health problems in the past. But we were married nearly 25 years and I knew nothing. I knew nothing. It was all very, very strange, totally unreal, totally unreal. And I also discovered that there were horrendous financial problems as well about which I knew nothing.

Do you think that had been worrying him?

Oh I think so, yes, I think so, but yeah that’s, that’s what happened.

 

Paula thinks her husband was depressed and that that he experienced paranoid delusions at the...

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Age at interview: 45
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Anyway I mean, what went on I don’t really know. I think I suspected he was depressed. I know I suspected he was depressed. Myself, do you know, during our various fights. But I think it came up probably fairly inevitably as a result of that kind of thing. I used to say, “Look you’ve got to get help for this. I’m sure you’re depressed. You’ve got to get help.” And this is about seven years ago. And I mean it’s seven years ago that we moved out of London.

 

But there was one thing you see, he suffered from what I believe to be paranoid delusions. He was locking up the window shutters in the middle of the day to stop people looking in the window. And we live in a very lonely, quiet street and nobody looks in the window. And if they do it’s a neighbour. But he, he had in his mind threatening kind of people looking in the window and he also had in his mind that if he went back to work in Europe again that the secret police would come from his country to take him back.

 

Had he ever sought any outside help from anybody, medical?

 

He wouldn’t take an aspirin if he had a headache.

 

So he’d never been for any sort of psychiatric help or counselling.

 

No.

 

With his GP?

 

No. Absolutely not. No, no, I mean I, he sprained an ankle once and went to a doctor for that when he was in Europe. And it also, it turned out. I mean I obviously I got back to my health visitors because I’d spoken to them that morning and they told me that he’d never actually registered [with a GP] although we’d been here by then four years. Yes because it was the beginning of 2005, four years.

 

Nobody would have known about him feeling depressed then if he hadn’t been to see anybody?

 

No.

 

Ted’s father had had episodes of depression ever since he suffered post-traumatic stress from...

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Age at interview: 56
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It was 25th March 1964 that he died and I think in common with a lot of other people who’ve lost people through suicide it is engraved upon your memory. I remember that day, that was the day I remember from my childhood, everything changed on that day, we were just an ordinary family before, my mother my father and the two of us, we went on holiday every year, I struggled with the school work, and there was absolutely nothing abnormal about us, my father worked in a bank, he was a bank clerk. He drove me to school every morning, I was really unaware that he was suffering from very bad depression. There were a few clues in the time leading up to the time he took his life but I was just getting a bit lippy then, I was 12 years old and I really was thinking, “Well why did you do that.” And I remember him; he’d got upset because I beat him at cards. Well that’s the wrong way round really isn’t it, and I thought, “Well why are you getting upset,” but it was clearly a symptom of his depression.

 

And in fact my father’s depression as I later discovered, was post traumatic stress, from experiences that he had during the war. So anyway, I went to university, I dropped out, I took lots of drugs, and again you might say that I might not have done that, but on the other hand a lot of other people took drugs in the late 60’s early 70’s, so I might’ve done, I might not have done, if you see what I mean. You can’t, you know, say that event A has…. I certainly don’t regret any of it, anyway as regards the death I never talked to anybody about it that knew my father. But I did talk to other people, I talked to, I talked to friends, and I had this story and the story was one my mother told me when she got older, and she told me the story and again she said he’d had bad experiences during the war, he got depressed at Christmas 1963, when we were at our relatives, he got more and more depressed, it related to a breakdown he’d had after the war in 1946, it was 18 years without depression, then he got depressed, he was having nightmares, he was dreaming about sailors drowning because he was in the navy. He couldn’t go into work. Every time he went into work he came back shaking and in a terrible state. She was up all night talking to him. He was hallucinating. And all the time he was just taking me to school, and behaving quite normally.

Some people told us that their relative who had died due to suicide had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which used to be called “manic depression”.

 

Jenny’s husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just before he died. Jenny says he was a...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Female
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David, my husband died, he took his own life in March of this year, March 2007, and he jumped from a tower. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about five days before he died and what actually happened was that he’d got very, very bad. He’d been depressed consistently for the previous six months, which was a longer period than he’d ever been depressed for before…
 
Hmm.
 
And I think we tried various different drugs. He had been on Seroxat and eventually was taking Mirtazapine. He’d also tried some mood disorder drugs like Olanzapine and it just felt like it had been going on for a long time and he was getting very, very desperate. And he had actually talked of suicide and he had written a letter to me probably two or three weeks before he actually died. But he, he confessed the letter to me and we sort of burned it deliberately together, as if to say that, you know, we’d talked about it and drawn a line under it and it wasn’t going to happen. And he said to me, “You know, I’d never do it, don’t you?” And I really believed him. 
 
Hmm.
 
And maybe he believed it himself at the time, I’m not sure. But, anyway, there had been this, this threat of suicide. And as I say, just before it had happened, just before he died he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. What had happened was we had, we’d got him into a really good hospital in London. We suddenly realised that we had some medical insurance, through David’s work, and we weren’t aware it would, would cover this kind of hospital treatment. But it did. And he was desperate to go in.
 
We got him in there and he was diagnosed with bipolar. And I think neither of us really quite believed it at first because we’d lived with David’s depression for so long and, I think, my impression certainly of bipolar disorder was the very severe end of it, the manic depression.
 
Hmm.
 

And, and, I think that’s what most people understand about, you know, they see the sort of Steven Fry documentary, that kind of thing And you think about people that maybe take a lot of drugs or re-mortgage their house or whatever it is, you know. So it’s a sort of stereotypical view of it and it’s also the extreme end of it. But this particular expert explained to us that the latest thinking is that there’s a whole, a whole sort of spectrum of, a bipolar spectrum, and you can either be, you are either unipolar depressed, what they call unipolar depressed, which is what most people understand, the kind of futility, not wanting to get up in the morning, feeling like life’s just not worth it. And that’s one end of the scale and the other end is the manic depression. But you can be anywhere between the two. This is, this is the latest thinking. And they said, you know, they thought that David was somewhere on this scale.

 

But David was a very sort of unusual person and I think, he was a real perfectionist, and I think he felt that he had to be absolutely 100% better, because, you know, he said, when he said, you know, “What if I, what if I don’t have it, any highs? What if I don’t experience my highs?” You know, I think what I’m saying is the 50% better wasn’t good enough for him.
 
Hmm.
 
And, and actually the psychiatrist said, he said, “Well we have had really creative people in here, we’ve had writers,” and he said, you know, “But we’ve, they’ve said that, afterwards they haven’t been able to write.” But he said, “They’ve been in here, you know, they, long enough that we have tweaked the drugs and with that and therapy and so on we have got them right again.” 
 
So there was, you know, they, they, you know, he was even addressing that concern. You know, we, we can get there with you. But I think David had got to the point where he had, maybe he had lost hope or he just got so exhausted, he got so exhausted by that point that he just thought, “No.” And maybe that combined with the sort of lack of sleep and so on, maybe that was why.
 
 

Felicity describes what happened when her daughter, Alice, first became ill with bipolar disorder.

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Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
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Fine, Alice Duncan was my oldest child, and she was a very lively, bright, pretty girl. You wouldn’t have imagined her being somebody who would suffer from depression. In her teens she got became quite sort of moody, but we didn’t think this was anything abnormal, and when she was 17 when she was doing her mock A’ levels, she became more difficult, and again we just thought this was you know teenage difficulties. Then one day I was at work and I was phoned by her school and she’d walked out of a mock A’ level exam, in a sort of zombie state. I took her to the doctor who said she mustn’t take any more exams. She was quite clearly suffering from depression. She could hardly speak. We had to look after her at home. She went to the local psychiatric hospital that dealt with under 18’s, as an out patient. Then she became psychotic and she’d just hit 18, which meant that the whole structure had changed. She had to be in the adult hospital and that we found incredibly frustrating and sort of wrong. We’d got this whole set up with the psychiatrist that she trusted and so on. Suddenly, just because she was 18, we had to have a whole new lot of people, and that was something that we always felt very annoyed about. And so there she was. She was in the adult psychiatric hospital, she was on various drugs, she was lying with her face to the wall. But then she seemed to get a bit better and they said that it would be alright if she was discharged. That was on the 31st July, and she came home.
 

Felicity and Alex talked to Alice about her bipolar disorder. Alice found it hard to accept that...

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Age at interview: 61
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Alex was away for one of those weeks and she talked, we talked a great deal and we talked about her illness. I never talked to her about what it was like to be manic. She never talked to her brothers about it either. I’d assumed she would have done. She was quite private in that way. But she did talk about how dark it felt you know, and how alone she felt in this depression. And she was also very remorseful about what she’d put us through. And of course you couldn’t say, “Oh don’t give it another thought,” because it had torn us all apart, and I had tremendously resented the effect that her illness, her manic illness had on her brothers because it had sort of made their lives so ghastly. But she’d not been remorseful before, and now she was. And I remember her saying, “I wish I could put the clock back”, and I said, “But, but now we know that you have this illness, you have this problem, but we know how to deal with it. And you can lead a normal life. Read your K. Jamieson, you know it is possible to have a really really good life, as long as you can take the medication and can learn to live with it.
 
Anyway, she decided she wanted to go back to Glasgow and I said “Please don’t, because you know you’re still low.” And she said, “Yes, but I’ll be fine and I’ve got a lot to do, and I promise you I’ll see the psychiatrist right away.” She was a very determined person, she always had been absolutely, had her own very strong will and so she went back, and Alex put her on a train. She said to him on the journey to the train that she was finding it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that this was something that she was going to have to live with for the rest of her life.
 

Explains why her daughter Rose became suicidal. Rose was first diagnosed with depression and...

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Age at interview: 54
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Yes. So we’re talking about Rose and who died November, 2005. I think probably that the depression that she suffered from had started a long time before. But it wasn’t, I didn’t recognise the depression she’d had on and off for about ten years was the reason for her suicide. She had anorexia badly at fourteen. And she had a complicated teenage life, having affairs with older men. So there was a great imbalance in her character.

Hmm.

But it went with a tremendous verve and huge charisma and just … she had more friends than anyone I’ve ever known and five, six hundred people came to her funeral which at twenty eight is quite something. So it was very complicated to know why it was that this huge imbalance was going on, that in the end led to this absolute despair.

She went to New Zealand in 2000, 1 or 2 and came back in 2003. And in the meantime she’d had a serious accident. Someone, a woman knocked her off her bicycle and she landed on her head. And had … and sustained I think quite bad neck injuries and head injuries. And from that moment on felt that she, she couldn’t work. She thought she’d got ME. I think she actually had a serious injury.

Hmhm.

And things really went down hill from then.

But suicide was not something I’d even considered with her. I now think it was the result of the antidepressants, the mixture. And I have found out since it is quite a possible thing that people do … it’s quite a …a quick reaction to taking antidepressants is suicide in some people. It can just flick your chemical soup the other way.

I came back and by this time she was seeing a psychiatrist in London but in a very ad hoc basis. And this was at … a psychiatrist who had she seen her earlier I think might have made a real difference. But she worked for a charitable organisation. And it was too late. She immediately recognised Rose’s condition as being bipolar. But it was too late, because Rose had lost all hope by then.

 

Stephen’s wife had been diagnosed with depression. He thought she probably had bipolar disorder.

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Age at interview: 45
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Had she’d been ill for many years?

 

Well it’s a really good question actually because she had been, in this, in this particular episode of which we thought for quite a long time was just, it was just an isolated incident, we knew was from, well it goes back to November 2004, she died in June 2006, and she was actually diagnosed by the doctor I think sometime in early 2005, February March time, but a friend of hers in October 2005 reminded her of a time back when actually we’d first got together, in 1989, and she’d been sacked from a job, and she’d had a six month period where she had been, when we were told about it, very similar to the way she was in you know in, late on in , in this, this kind of bout, so, and that I mean again looking back on it I’ve sort of pieced it all together and really realised in my mind that she was actually bipolar and this wasn’t a sort of, this wasn’t post natal depression, sort of you know slightly delayed post natal depression or as a result of just you know we’d moved out from, from London, had children and she’d left her job, and we’d been in South Africa for 18 months. She was very reliant on her friends, particularly on her friends, and I think all of that had meant that yes, there were, there was much less, you know, far fewer friends in her life you know, on a day to day basis you know. She was extremely good at keeping in contact with friends, so yeah, I mean I actually found a book when I was clearing up called “Depression” that I’d given her back then, and this was dated October 31st 1989, and after she died her mother told me that three of her aunts on her fathers’ side had also suffered mental health problems which would’ve been nice to have known about beforehand really but you know, hindsight is great isn’t it, in all these things?

Stuart said that his ex-partner, Anne, had had symptoms such as headaches and blurred vision. At first she was diagnosed with depression and then with generalised anxiety disorder. The doctors could find no underlying physical cause for her symptoms and eventually diagnosed chronic somatisation (a long-term condition in which a person has physical symptoms that involve more than one part of the body, but no physical cause can be found). The realisation that ‘chronic’ meant ‘long term’ really worried her, since she could see no end to her problems.

 

When Anne was told she had chronic somatisation she realised that she might not get relief from...

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Age at interview: 40
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Looking back is there anything you think could’ve prevented her death?

No, I don’t know really. It’s difficult to pinpoint any single thing, I think, when she saw the diagnosis of what she had and it said chronic it was somatisation, I think when she saw that it said chronic I think that was a sort of, and chronic meaning long term I think that was really, quite a big deciding factor for her.

Mmm.

But I think it’s, I think maybe, I don’t know I wasn’t there obviously when she was given that diagnosis, I think maybe sometimes the, medical profession when they give these diagnoses they’re trying to, do it to sort of help, either the treatment, or to demonstrate that they have some understanding of it, and I think it may be important for them sometimes to say, “No we don’t actually know everything about this.”

Mmm.

Or, “What this diagnosis means is x, y and z.”

So they actually gave her the diagnosis of chronic somatisation?

Yeah somatisation.

Mmm.

But then we looked it up on the web together, and we saw that it meant chronic and I think that was the thing that really worried her was the long term effects of it and I think she just wanted to see a way out of it and I think that was the thing the fact that she saw that there wouldn’t be any, that she perceived that there’d never be any rest or a relief from it.

People suggested many other reasons why a member of the family had decided to take their own life. Some people said that relatives diagnosed with schizophrenia, or another mental health problem, had been discharged from hospital without adequate follow up care. Others said that illegal drugs might have made mental health problems worse or might have even caused the death. 

 

Explains why she thinks two of her sons committed suicide. Stephen had paranoid schizophrenia....

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Age at interview: 58
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Right, twelve years ago I lost my first son aged 23, he committed suicide and then last April I lost another son aged 35, who did exactly the same, and committed suicide. It’s very very hard. I felt a lot of anger and sadness. I was more angry with my second son for doing what he did as he’d always promised that he would never do this to us. But I also understand that it was harder for him, trying to cope without his brother, and I think as time goes on I’m beginning to understand more why Stephen had to do what he did. He suffered with a mental illness for ten years, paranoid schizophrenia.

 

Was this the first one?

 

The second.

 

The second one, right.

 

He found that very hard, he would always say that he talked to his brother, he talked to his grandparents, and towards the end before he died, he felt that he was losing his brother’s voice, and I think this was always a danger we were told by the hospital, that if that happened then Stephen could become suicidal, but we didn’t find this out until after Stephen had died.

 

By losing his voice, he used to hear his voice?

 

Barry used to talk to Stephen, which gave him quite a lot of comfort, and also my parents which were Stephen’s grandparents, but Stephen also spoke to what he called a demon, which would tell him to do really bad things. And Stephen said that he was being punished and the demon was taking away Barry’s voice. It was getting fainter and fainter and he could no longer hear him, so Stephen deteriorated even more, which I believe actually led to Stephen’s suicide. I know that he never came to terms with Barry’s death; he blamed him self, as they had actually made a pact to die together, and obviously Stephen didn’t go through with that, why, we don’t know. And I think Stephen carried an awful lot of guilt after Barry died.

 

Why did, why did Barry decide to die?

 

Barry had a lot of problems, they both got into drugs quite badly in their teenage years, which I think didn’t help their problems, because Cannabis does cause paranoia and both my sons suffered with paranoia, although Barry was never diagnosed as being with schizophrenia. 

 

Helen’s daughter Charlotte often felt depressed. She took cannabis and heroin and died of a...

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Age at interview: 53
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My daughter died three years ago of a heroin overdose. She had mental health issues and drug problems, and she’d, she’d been unwell for twelve years. Her problems started when she was about fifteen or sixteen, when she first used cannabis. She had a psychosis, a small one which we didn’t realise what was going on at the time. Didn’t really understand what she was saying. We thought she was distressed because we’d recently been divorced, and well not recently, it was about five years after. We had no idea that cannabis could cause psychosis, didn’t even know she was smoking it at the time. And then it sort of went away, and she had depression, her father took her to the doctor, he said it was normal sort of adolescent growing up; she used to sort of sit on the pavement outside the school and cry. And, then it seemed to pass a bit, and she did her A’ levels. And then she went to do a foundation year in Art.

And Charlotte only really had to smoke a very small amount of cannabis and it made her very ill, but she, she then was, at the end of that year, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, for about six weeks and they wanted her to stay longer but she left, of her own will, and then she started a degree course in October, but she didn’t make it to Christmas because she started hearing voices and was really not very well. And I said to her at the time, “Leave, Charlotte”, because I thought, I still thought at that time that she couldn’t cope with it because after what had happened to her she needed a bit of a rest, but she was still using drugs, so then she came to live with me, and she, we, she was under a psychiatrist, and she went to, and I don’t know who she was now, but I think she was a nurse, a psychiatric nurse, and we used to go together, and we used to have to sort of fill in forms and. And do diagrams about how she felt about herself and how I viewed her, and how she viewed me. And she went there for quite a long time, and then they, they decided it would be good for her to go to psychotherapy. And she went for a very long time to psychotherapy. And she told me for one year in that time she didn’t use drugs at all, but she didn’t feel any better, she felt just as bad. She, she, she never stopped having depressions.

Amanda thought sexual abuse might have been a factor in her son’s death.

 

Two and a half months before he died, Amanda discovered that her son had been sexually abused....

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Age at interview: 53
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Well I suppose we’ll start with the day that he actually died, that was twenty months ago and I was at work and I was asked to go to an office, to find a policeman there to inform me that my son had died, jumping, and, that’s when the horror really began. But of course the story starts much earlier than that, it starts with realising that your son isn’t happy, that things aren’t right and not being able to make sense of it. One thing, from my point of view, which other people maybe who’ve had a bereavement of a similar type maybe haven’t been able to make quite as much sense of it; I think everybody who’s lost a child will, in this manner, will have spent a long time trying to work out how much they might be at, if they’re being to blame. For Lori we had a reason, we discovered before he’d, two, two and a half months before he died, that he’d been sexually abused, so that, there is some sense, we can make sense of it, but that, just having that bit doesn’t explain it all.

Ann said that she thought her friend felt that she was becoming a burden due to her chronic fatigue syndrome and found it hard to deal with that.

 
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Ann's friend had chronic fatigue syndrome. Doctors said they were unable to help her and she felt...

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Age at interview: 60
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At the time that she died was she having any contact with health professionals at that time?

 

No, no. And mainly because we had, you know, seen sort of the top people to do with chronic fatigue syndrome. And they’d said there was, you know, they were very sorry; even in a letter from the specialist saying you know he was really sorry but at the moment in time there was nothing you know that they could do to offer any help.

 

Hmm.

 

And also she had some; the antidepressants drugs are quite suitable for you know chronic fatigue syndrome. And she had tried those previously but they actually made her worse.

 

Oh.

 

So there hadn’t been any foreseeable solution to her difficulty. And she certainly felt that she was becoming a burden, and that I was having to do everything. And you know if somebody perceives it like that, you know, I just thought well, some days she’s good, some days she’s bad and we just go with it.

 

Hmm.

 

But she actually couldn’t deal with that.

One woman we talked to said that her father had decided to die by suicide at the age of 78 because he had incurable stomach cancer. For at least 20 years he had told his children that did not want a “lingering death”. His wife had died and he was very lonely. Another woman told us about how her family helped her father to end his own life in Switzerland. He had mainly lost his motor neurone function and wanted assisted suicide.

 

She accepted her father’s decision to take his own life. He had incurable stomach cancer and did...

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My father decided to commit suicide when he was 78 years old. I think there’s quite a history to that decision though and the fact is that he was a very larger than life man, he was a very vibrant, active man, for all those years, he’d had a wonderful life as far as he was concerned, and as far as we were concerned. He’d done a lot of travelling, he was full of life and laughter and had given us a very secure and wonderful family life really, we always felt that there was happiness in the home. However when he was 18 and he was learning to fly, he joined the air force at that stage, he had a terrible accident, and he had to spend a year and a half in hospital when he was 18, and I think that gives us some of the background as to why, when he was 78 and was diagnosed with stomach cancer for the second time he decided that he didn’t want a lingering death, he’d already spent several years of his life being an invalid, and depending on other people, so that at 78 when he couldn’t foresee living much longer, he decided that he’d terminate his life.


At that stage, I mean also in his particular circumstances at the time, he’d been married to my mother for 50 years, and she had died in 1999 which was 2 years before he committed suicide and I think that was a factor. He’d obviously become deeply lonely.


Well he was in a lot of pain, and really he’d, he’d just had an aversion to hospitals having spent two years when he was younger in hospital, he didn’t ever want to spend time in hospital again I don’t think. So he made the decision to take his own life. I think the difficulty with that was that he chose quite a violent way to commit suicide, so therefore the friends didn’t understand why he’d chosen to go over a cliff, however we as his children, three of us, had almost been prepared by him, because he said if he ever had a terminal illness he would not want his death to be lingering or have extended pain in any way. He’d always said he’d go quickly and always said it would be over this particular cliff so it sounds strange but, but we weren’t as shocked by the way he chose to die, and also on the previous evening he’d actually phoned us all up, and more or less told us that he had decided not to go on with his life. I think one of the things why we all accepted it so easily was that you know we felt that he’d had such a full life.

 
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Gillian's father asked Dignitas to help him die in a dignified manner. He died a peaceful death...

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Age at interview: 52
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So if you would start by telling me the full story from the beginning, please.

My father was in a nursing home as he had mainly lost his motor neurone function, and was getting progressively worse, whilst unfortunately being of completely sound mind. And he was aged 84. And all my life my parents had brought me up to believe in the right to terminate your life when you decided to. And my father asked me, well, when he was, still lived at home, he’d asked me to get details of Dignitas, based in Switzerland, because they were the only organisation and country we knew of who would help people end their lives.

And so using Google I found out Dignitas’s address and wrote to them. And they sent us information on how to join. It’s a charity in Switzerland, so it’s all by way of donations, and you pay to be a member. And at the time that we got the details my father did nothing further.  It was then just before he went in the home that he became a member of Dignitas. And the home was a private home. It’s not how my father had wished to spend the money he’d saved to pass on to his children. Physically he was in a right state and very miserable. My brother lives in the south of France and so was having to come over every month to see my parents. He’d stay for 24 hours. My partner and I would see my father two to three times a week in the home. And he was very very unhappy. Dignitas will only help people who have a terminal illness. And unfortunately my father wasn’t actually diagnosed with motor neurone and so did not have a terminal illness, and was just getting progressively worse. So we wrote to Dignitas, well, I wrote to Dignitas. My mother, although she believes strongly in the right to terminate your life, wasn’t very cooperative at this stage. She’d been married to my father for sixty-two years.  It was very difficult for her and she wasn’t ready, and therefore why should he be ready to leave her? And although she realised intellectually this was ridiculous and his position was completely untenable, nonetheless she did sort of pursue that line of thinking for some time. So in the meantime I was the one who sort of led the way.

Wrote to Dignitas. They wrote back. They wanted copies of doctors’ letters. And I had to speak to his doctor a number of times. She had had a couple of conversations with my father and he’d made it quite plain that he believed in euthanasia. And she was not uncooperative and she was not unsympathetic. Having said that, and, and, you know, when she could, when she could help she was prompt in dealing with it, it’s just that, you know, she wouldn’t go out of her way. Which is fair enough. But, you know, seemed like a nice person.

And so this process took months and they wrote back and said, “No.” Which was just a huge blow to all of us, particularly my father, who was by this time quite desperate.  And so we wrote, and the family wrote, in fact my mother wrote most of it. And it was basically a begging letter. Their tenet is that they help people end their lives with dignity and that’s all my father was asking. And we, we basically said in the letter, “He’s 84 years old. You know, he’s going to die. Help him die well.” 

And I can’t tell you how amazing it was to get an email giving us the green light. And they’re a fantastic organisation. All the people we dealt with were fantastic. And they write and they say, you know, “You’ve got the green light. You don’t have to do it now, because you know we’ll help. Or you can come and visit and just see. Or, you know, you can come and do it.” Well, there was no question that we had to go and do it.  And what they did was give you something to drink apparently it tasted horrible, and then you fell asleep. You would then go into a coma. You would then die. And how long it took all depended on how old you were and the state of your functions and.
 
And then about this time, it was possible to basically do it in 24 hours, to arrive on Sunday and have it done Monday morning. And they have a flat where they do it. And my father needed 24-hour care. He was unable to do anything for himself. He was by that time unable to even feed himself. And then there was something in the press, because they got a lot, lot of bad press, Dignitas, and they were told that if people were going to drink, they had to be in the country for at least four days, which was a huge blow, huge blow, because, you know, it was difficult. We, we weren’t sure how we’d manage for 24 hours without help. But Dignitas came back and said that it was okay, they’d do another method. Which is basically by gassing, and as long as he was able to pull a gas mask over his face. Nicer for the patient apparently, much worse for the witnesses. So they would suggest that my mother and I did not witness it and left the room. Now I never told my mother this. I spoke to my father about it and he said, “That’s fine” he’s happy to do it that way. And then, because my father was in such a bad way, we hired a private jet to travel over to Switzerland. And we’d booked a hotel for the night. And it was all arranged for the Sunday. And the Wednesday before, they phoned and said, “No. Because they won’t let us do gas any more. You have to stay for four days.” So I rang my brother and we rearranged everything.
 
And I rang Dignitas and said, “You’ll have to find my father an old people’s home. We can’t take care of him.” And, and it was interesting, because they were surprised. They said, “Well, you know, you’re coming mob-handed. Surely you’ll be able to cope.” And I said, you know, “You don’t understand. My father is completely helpless. My mother is 83. My brother is nearly 60.” And I had just been, I’d been taken ill and had a minor operation the day before, two days before we flew out on the Friday, by general anaesthetic. So I said, you know, “This, we can’t do this.” Now in Switzerland you have to be referred to an old people’s home by a doctor. And what was going to happen was on the Sunday we were going to go straight from the airport to a doctor, a Dignitas doctor, who would then interview my father to make sure he wasn’t bonkers and that he wasn’t being pressurised by his family. Then he’d refer him to a home. So we’d take him straight to the home. He’d then stay there until the Wednesday morning. And we’d go to a hotel.  And then we’d all go to the Dignitas flat outside Zurich and Dad would drink the potion and we’d stay with him.
 
So I mean amazing people, amazing people. So we flew out on a private jet and we had champagne on the way over. And we went straight to the doctor’s. And fantastic taxi driver, with one of those wheelchair lifts, who realised what we were there for and was very nice about it. Fantastic doctor, and because my father was in a wheelchair, he went and sat in the taxi and we went into his home. And he spent about an hour with Dad. And then we went to the home, and we really just sort of, it was quite late by then, we just left him there in the care of the deputy manager. We went to the hotel, had dinner, went to bed. Next day we went back, having changed hotel, and Dad was, was a bit unhappy. He’d had a bad night’s sleep. The home was just spotless and the people were fantastic and the food was brilliant and he had a really happy three days there. And so did we. We spent every morning with him for about three hours, and then we’d go back to the hotel, have lunch, have a rest, and go back and spend two or three hours with him in the afternoon. And we, you know, we chatted about memories and things and nothing and politics and it was the first time we’d spent time together as a family for years. And it was really nice. And then the people at the nursing home realised what we were up to and, and actually approved. And they were just worried we were going to do it there. And once they knew we weren’t, they couldn’t do enough for us. Brilliant people. They cried when we left.
 
So we got a taxi and we went to this flat. And it’s in a commercial area outside Zurich. And the two people who met us were Erica and her husband. And Erica and I had corresponded with and talked to a lot. And they were the most fantastic people. And they filmed my father three times. They asked him in front of us if this is what he really wanted. He said, “Yes, very much.” And they film him, they, we then go in the back bedroom, bit of classical music on. And he drank his potion in his two-handled mug that we’ve taken with, dragged to Switzerland with us, and, and just went, “Well, that wasn’t too bad then” and put it down on the table. And then we were all, we were all sort of holding hands and holding his hand. And we were sitting there for about a minute and he, he said, and I think he was going to say, “It’s not working yet” but actually he just went, “Oh” and just fell asleep very suddenly. And we stayed with him for about five minutes and then we left the room. All sort of cried a bit and hugged each other and had another bloody cup of tea.
 
And Dad fell into a coma and actually died within an hour. And it was, it was really nice, it was really nice. And then they call the police. And you can get the nice guys or the nasty guys, depending, you know. We got the nice guys. And they interview you and just say, you know, “Did he do it of his own accord?” And, “Yes, he did. And here’s his passport.” And then they call, I don’t know, the other people, and then finally the undertaker arrives. So we got there at 9 in the morning and we left at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. And in fact we saw him in his coffin, which is not how I’ll remember him. And it was a, you know, I’ll remember him other ways. But it was the best, it was the best thing. Mum and I went back to the airport and we had a bottle of champagne on the flight back, and we felt very smug and we thought the family had done good.
 
So going, going right back.
 
Yes.
 
When your father first intimated that this was something that he would like to do, was it a surprise to you at all?
 
Not at all, not at all. We’d always talked about euthanasia as a family. We all approved of it. There was no question. And he’d been ill for quite a long time and had actually tried to commit suicide by taking paracetamol, although I had already told him not to because it wouldn’t work. But he didn’t listen to me. So it was absolutely no surprise at all.

For more information on assisted dying see Dignity in Dying’s website.

Lynne thought that perhaps her mother’s mental health problems became much worse when her doctor rapidly reduced the medicines she was having. Her mother had recently moved house and was seeing a new GP, which made the situation more difficult.

 

Lynne tried to make sense of what had happened. She wondered if her mother’s psychotropic...

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Age at interview: 47
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No, obviously you kind of try and make sense of what happened and I think that’s one of the hardest things for, for families of people who have committed suicide is trying to make sense of the whole process and just what went wrong and what could’ve been done, but I, I have my own, I suppose the way I’ve made sense of that is that this was quite a long time ago, and Mum was on quite heavy medication at that time and for some reason just before Mum and Dad moved they started cutting down her medication and cutting it down quite quickly. And I think that was probably at a time where people didn’t know so much about withdrawing people from psychotropic medication. And I just wonder whether some of the things, because she started talking for the first time that she was hearing voices and people, somebody was telling her to kill herself and things, and that had just never ever been part of her problems ever before, and that at that period of time was she was just behaving very very differently, and I suppose the way I’ve kind of tried to make sense of that in my own mind is that maybe that was associated with the cut in her medication. But also during that time because they’d moved, probably about 20 miles away, she was almost between GP’s, so she’d left her GP who was a very traditional family GP and he’d known my mother’s parents and he’d known my mother and he’d, you know was at the hospital when I was born so he knew us as a family, so I think she’d gone from a, a fairly supportive environment that, that all of her treatment was really handled by the GP, there wasn’t an extended team, to living in a new town, where she had lost that contact.

 

Mm.

 

And was under a new GP who was part of quite a large practice, and so I think the time at which her medication was being cut she was also in transition because they’d moved house, between health care teams as well, although during that time she was still being seen by her psychiatrist and she did have an appointment to go up to see the psychiatrist a few days before she killed herself so she had been for that appointment. And the way my father recounted that was that she did tell the psychiatrist that she was feeling suicidal, but I’m not sure whether he just didn’t believe her or, or what, but he actually, she had her appointment with the psychiatrist on the Friday, and she killed herself on the Sunday. So….

Some of the people we talked to believed that their relative had not intended to take their life.

 

Brenda’s son was very depressed at times and said he felt suicidal. She was told he had bipolar...

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Age at interview: 59
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He then got a job in an old people’s home and he was there for two years, caring for old people, looking after them, doing all the things one has to do. But unfortunately there was an awful lot of death, obviously because they were elderly, and so one day he’d come home and the next day he’d go back and somebody had passed away. And I didn’t feel this was right for my son. He became very, very depressive, very, very low, really, really down. We took him to the doctor and they prescribed some medication and he immediately went on that. He then hit rock bottom and then ended up in hospital. He was in hospital for six months. On hindsight I wish he had never have gone now because I feel that it wasn’t the right place for him but at the time, not being medical, I just thought this would be the best thing for him to do. Both my husband and I supported him, we visited him, but it used to break my heart every time I used to leave the hospital and come away leaving him behind and thinking ‘it’s almost like a punishment there, he’s just having medication and lying in a bed’.

 

He came home, leveled out again, went back to work, and then it happened again, very, very dark despair. At this time he was very suicidal and he used to say, “I can’t go on like this any more mum, I just can’t live each day like this”. And I used to say, “Why? What do you mean?” And he said, “I feel very suicidal”. And I used to ask him, “How? Why? What were you going to do? How, which way, what were your thoughts? What, you know, how were you going to do it?” I just had no idea. And he said, “I just want to just take a lot of tablets and go to sleep”.


Yes. And the day you came home when he told you he’d taken the overdose, what kind of state was he in having taken all of those tablets?

 

Very, very calm. He walked down the stairs and he sat on a chair. He sat just here in the kitchen, and he said, “Mum, sorry Mum I’ve taken an overdose”. And I suppose immediately I thought it was, probably, I don’t know, a couple of dozen tablets or just a handful of tablets. I had no idea of doing anything like that myself. I remember running upstairs and just looking at the bathroom floor and just seeing the whole of the bathroom strewn with tablet packets and wondering for a split second where on earth have they all come from. But I realised they were drugs that had been left in the drawer of myself and my husband’s which had been there. We had no worry at all at any time that this was going to, that he would do that because he used to say, “Although I have thoughts, although this is what I might do Mum I’d never do it, I’m too frightened.”

 

And he was a boy that, he wasn’t streetwise, he wasn’t tough, he would, I still don’t know. I think he just wanted a respite that day. I truly believe that it was a respite rather than anything because I don’t think he knew, because we were so close, the devastation that he’d leave behind for myself and my husband, he was a boy that would never really, when he was levelled out, would ever hurt us. Yes we would have bad days as I’ve said, but he wouldn’t remember them and wouldn’t remember that’s what he’d done or what he’d said. So I truly believe that he had no idea that he was going to die really.

 

Robina was suffering “horrific domestic violence”. Jasvinder is convinced that her sister did not...

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Age at interview: 42
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Robina in her love marriage, she still was in this position of having to consider the families honour, izzat, we call it, and that really meant her decision making was impacted by this concept and one of the things she used to tell me was that she was suffering horrific domestic violence in her relationship. She was suffering physically and certainly emotionally, mentally. I had witnessed bruises and I remember saying to her at the time, “Leave him.” And she used to say to me, “It’s easy for you to say that, because you don’t have to think about Mum, Dad, the community and what people think.” And I used to say, “But he’s hurting you, I’ll take you in, leave him.” But she couldn’t and she really was making the point that in my position of being disowned by my family, I didn’t have the authority to give her that advice. So I always asked her to go back to Mum, tell Mum, to tell Dad about the situation. Which she did and my Mother’s response was always, as it was with my other sisters; I’d witnessed this as a child, to go back, to make the marriage work for the sake of honour, for the sake of the family’s honour.


So I, I don’t believe that she intended to kill herself, I don’t believe that. You know, I’m not an expert in suicide, and maybe some people make that decision and plan it or don’t, but I don’t believe she did, I believe there was so many attempts, direct attempts in terms of crying out for help, I still believe that, and at the point where there could’ve been the intervention, she wasn’t saved and okay, it maybe my role to help her, and I did, but I never had any power because of my position of being disowned, and they did, they being the family and the community. And ultimately it would’ve, it was them she would’ve listened to, and clearly there’s evidence it wasn’t me.

 

Kate is sure that her daughters did not mean to kill themselves. Too much alcohol and other...

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Age at interview: 55
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She [Izzy] worked with her cousin and he’s in his forties. And he told us that he phoned her on the Thursday and said to Izzy that one of her colleagues, a chap had gassed himself in the car, carbon monoxide poisoning on the Monday. And he had an argument with his wife and he had a three month old son and he just went off and did this. And, and Izzy was so upset, so upset. And when she found this out, she mentioned it and Anna said that she mentioned it a few times when they were sitting up drinking, how upset she was over this colleague’s death. And so I think all of this going on and Izzy was very, very drunk.

 

Hmm.

 

And the post mortem … she had two and half times over legal limit alcohol.

 

Hmm.

 

And I, I kept saying she wouldn’t have done this, she was drunk. She didn’t mean to do it. She keeps saying sorry.

Izzy was very, very drunk. She didn’t know what she was doing. It was a spur of the moment thing. She left no note. She probably just wanted to go to sleep or she was trying. I don’t … we never know, we never know. But I knew that she didn’t want to do it. Anna did leave a note. She left a 28 page note. And it was the break-up of her relationship with her boyfriend and the death of Izzy. But what finally, finally as she said was the last straw was somebody stole her computer from her flat, that was on Christmas day. And she had all her pictures and all her work and everything and she said somebody broke … not broke in but had keys and went into her flat and took her computer. And she said it was all my lifetime, all my everything was on that computer.
 
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Patricia does not think her husband meant to kill himself. She describes the second 'incident'...

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Age at interview: 58
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But the second incident that I was aware of that indicated his depressive illness, underlying depressive illness, was when he was brought home by our GP on one occasion covered with what looked like, I don’t know, white stuff all down the front of his suit, shirt, trousers and it was the aspirin he’d vomited up. He had taken an overdose and then gone straight to the GP. So some people would say that was an attempt to kill himself. I would say it wasn’t because you don’t tend to take a whacking overdose and then go and tell a medic, if you intend to kill yourself. I think … I’ve learned a lot in the last ten years that I’ve worked, building Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide. I’ve met a lot of other people. I’ve met a lot of professionals and I’ve read an awful lot.
 
Hmm.
 
And in my opinion and also my experience of my husband, my first hand observations, for Andrew, the act was the catharsis. Followed almost immediately with the thought, “I don’t want to die” because on other occasions that I’ll talk about he also went himself … and he wasn’t found … he went and sought medical help for what he’d done.

Some people remained perplexed and had no idea why the suicide had taken place. Michael does not know why his friend killed himself. He was not aware that he was unhappy. Linda had no idea that her daughter was feeling unhappy or depressed when she took her life. Bob says his son concealed his worries: perhaps the attitude that “men don’t cry” was the reason.

 
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Linda can think of no reason for her daughter's suicide. Chloe's death shocked the family...

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My daughter, Chloe, was 13. She was off school sick for a couple of days, just with stomach ache, so we’d, we’d left her at home. And on the Tuesday, me and my husband, we kept phoning home to make sure she was OK, and I finished early, I finished work at 12 and came home to check her. And she was getting better. She was very tired because she’d been up most of the night being ill …

 

OK.

 

But we’d said, “You can stay at home again tomorrow, because you’re tired.” And she said, “Yeah, but will you not phone me,” because like me and my husband kept phoning her, to make sure, she was OK. And she said that she couldn’t sleep because we kept phoning. So, the next day we went to work, and we didn’t phone her. Didn’t phone until, I phoned her about 11 o’clock thinking that she would have had a good sleep and there was no answer so I just started to think, oh, you know, she’s asleep. Or she’s, she’ on the computer or something like that, she just can’t get to the phone. But then I started to ring sort of every hour and then every half an hour.

 

Hmm.

 

… until about half three. And I came home, rushed home, just thinking like, “Oh, she must be ill.” And when I got home, walked in the door and [found her].


Did she leave any notes or anything?

 

No, nothing at all. But then I used to do things like check the computer to see if she’d left anything on there or if there were any clues and then I remember when the phone bill came I rang up to see if there’d been any phone calls made sort of …

 

Hmm.

 

… in the day when we weren’t there. But, I don’t know, after a while I think I just sort of accepted that there wasn’t any reason that I can think of, just, I think that she was just, must have been really depressed and just alone in herself and she couldn’t see any other way really.

 

Had she ever told you that she was feeling depressed or …

 

No.

 

Hmm. So she’s never been to the doctor for that sort of thing?

 

No. So it was a complete shock.

 

Bob had no idea that his son, Darren, was depressed. Bob thinks that Darren may have found it...

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Our son Darren, he was 19, died on 31st August 1998. He died by suicide whilst on holiday in France. We didn’t know he was depressed, he’d been a full time student at college doing A’ levels, he, he started that in 1997, and by the time 1998 came he’d had finished with all of them. Because of one thing or another and he’d been; but he got himself a full time job and some time he came home, he used to come home feeling a bit, look a bit down and I spoke to him, but we just took it as the normal teenage; going from education into you know full time employment. But he had a good job, he was at minor supervisory level for a local building supply firm, and well I gave him every chance to talk, but he didn’t seem to want to. In August he’d arranged several things to do, he’d done a bungee jump in 1997 and he, he enjoyed it so much he wanted his mates at work to do it as well, and they, he had set it all up for the whole group of them to go and he’d paid for them and he was going, pay for it. And it was going be the Saturday he came back from holiday so he had plans, and he went away, and then it was the August bank holiday Monday, I was, I was at work in the evening and my wife Lynda got the call and that it one of his friends he was with, he’d died by suicide, and Lynda had to phone me up at work. Got home as best I could and, and that’s when our journey started.

 

One of the reasons we think might be behind Darren [and what happened] is the “Men don’t cry” attitude, and men, men don’t show emotions. He probably held it in, all his emotions in too much, he didn’t let it out. And all I would say is, men do cry, and men are allowed to cry, and we have emotions, we should show ‘em and I’ve cried, I’ve cried on TV as well, national TV I did some interviews with various programmes and yeah, men do cry.

Last reviewed July 2017.

Last updated October 2012.

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