Mum's quest to fulfill son's request to boost men's mental health
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
A bereaved family is campaigning for more support for men's mental health to fulfil the last request of a popular father-of-three in the wake of his death.
William Smith Jr was found at home in Ashwellsthorpe, south Norfolk, on July 6 after taking his own life at the age of 35.
His mum Ann, from Hellesdon, shared that in notes to his family, he expressed how much he felt loved and more needed to be done for men's mental health, having covered his struggles.
Mrs Smith said: "That was my son's last request, I have to follow it through. As much as I would like to sit in the corner and weep all day. I have to get my family through this, we have to keep the normality for his three daughters.
"Because it was my son's last request if we can help one person out there, that is one less family to suffer."
Mr Smith grew up in Norwich, attending Heather Avenue Infant School and Firside Junior School.
After leaving high school he went into construction, working on projects including the new hospital site and Primark.
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He was also an "adoring" dad to his three daughters Laila, 12, Scarlett, eight, and Willow, three.
Mrs Smith said Covid played a huge part in her son's death and was concerned that young men were struggling under "immense pressure" and needed support.
For the family, she said the 35-year-old spoke daily to his sister Helen and did not say he was struggling.
During lockdown, Mr Smith was seen by staff at Hellesdon Hospital after an attempted overdose, and was prescribed antidepressants.
In September, he moved to Ashwellthorpe, in south Norfolk, and while he did not see his parents often, they would come to the window and bring his daughters.
Mrs Smith said: "The isolation of being out there, not working was the big thing. He was always at his best when he was on site with the lads.
"Covid has played a huge part in all of this. The equation of not working and trying to survive.
"It's almost like a pandemic itself. There is something going on, I'm not sure what it is but I find it very concerning."
She said for some men, prescribing medication was not enough and services needed to address the underlying issues they were facing.
She said the quest was to raise awareness of services supporting men's mental health which could be a lifeline.
Mrs Smith "I feel men need help and they are the last people to ask for help.
"My husband William through all of this has been unbelievable, the rock he was. Last week he melted. My daughter is 33 and she said 'I've never seen dad cry'.
"Young men have immense pressure, especially if from broken relationships. Not only supporting themselves, trying to provide for their children. But this is just one issue. More needs to be done for the struggling men of this generation."
At Mr Smith's funeral service on July 29, around 250 people paid their respects, a sight that took the family's breath away.
Mrs Smith said: "He was very approachable, very friendly, he was always a bit Jack-the-lad, the jester. Happy go lucky, I guess.
"Since his death, we have had an incredible amount of tributes and messages, he helped so many of his friends through dark moments.
"He covered it so very well. We would ask how he was, 'I'm ok, I'm a big boy', and he would brush it off.
"He was well known about town. He was a very sociable person."
If you need help and support, call Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust’s First Response helpline 0808 196 3494 or the Samaritans on 116 123. Both services are available 24 hours 7 days a week. You can also download the Stay Alive app on Apple & Android.
What is in the community?
A Norwich based men’s mental health organisation will be heading further into the community this winter to increase access to support for men on the edge of crisis.
Menscraft provides a prevention and positive activities programme across Norfolk and through activities can provide a place for men to talk, be signposted to services and offer support plans.
Development manager Tim Allard said staff has supported hundreds of men over the past 12 months with contributing factors including relationship breakdown, debt and during the pandemic, isolation, particularly in men aged 35 and over.
He said: "Our service is supposed to fill a period of time between disclosing to a professional and getting clinical mental health support."
The organisation has been running Pit Stop sessions in Norwich, Kings Lynn, Cromer, Great Yarmouth, Dereham and North Walsham, offering activities and a chance to talk.
Further sessions are planned at additional locations in Norwich and Great Yarmouth in October.
Find out more by visiting https://menscraft.org.uk/
Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust's (NSFT) wellbeing service offers courses and workshops to support those experiencing strain on their mental and emotional health.
The trust has teamed up with Match of the Dads, a five a side football league in Norwich, as its shirt sponsors and in addition access to wellbeing advice.
Mental health professionals and support services attend All to Play For football sessions, a drop-in programme aiming to help men struggling with their mental health to access support and enjoy sport.
The sessions are open to anyone and free.
Stuart Richardson, deputy chief executive at NSFT said: “There’s a perception that men don’t talk about their problems or feelings, but the reality is that men will talk to those who listen to them.
“Our wellbeing service is ready to listen."
To find out more or self-refer visit www.wellbeingnands.co.uk or call 0300 123 1503.