Suicide survivors: The untold stories of loved ones left behind
- Credit: Geraldine Scott
As three women sit on the sofa, sipping coffee and chatting, it could be any other meet up of close friends.
But instead for Kathryn Sault, Joy Cresswell, and a young mother who we are calling Emma, they are intrinsically linked - they've all lost loved ones to suicide.
'People just don't understand,' said Kathryn, whose sister Alison took her own life in August last year. 'You really are the only ones who know how I feel.'
It is that misunderstanding and apparent lack of support which pushed them together.
Kathryn's sister Alison was 53 when she took an overdose. Kathryn had been concerned about her physical wellbeing, but had been kept in the dark and did not know how ill her sister truly was.
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Kathryn, 51, said she would see Alison, who lived in Derbyshire, every four or five weeks, and would send her text messages most days.
'The last time I saw her she seemed to be more positive and she seemed to be getting better,' Kathryn said.
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But on August 25, Kathryn received a call from Alison's neighbour to say there were emergency services were outside her home. Then she got a call from a paramedic to tell her Alison had died.
'The shock was so huge. When we were driving up there I was thinking it was some kind of sick joke and I didn't care if it was if it meant she was alive.'
Kathryn said what hit her was how sudden her sister's death was, and how unnecessary.
'You think how on earth could she do it, and there's no chance to prepare. There's the disbelief and that they chose to end their life when there are people who care about them.'
The ripple effect caused when someone takes their own life was shown through Kathryn's son, 19-year-old Daniel, who as well as losing his aunt was supporting his mother.
'I also felt like I lost my mum,' he said. 'When it first happened, she spent days in bed.'
'She didn't want anything to do with anybody for a long time.
'Even if people tried to understand they couldn't, I can try but I know I can't completely do it.
'And it adds to the anger and frustration.'
Daniel said he remembered his mother looking for answers to questions, which he said she'd never be able to find.
And that it was difficult for him to see her in so much pain.
'So if we can't understand, you need to be with people who can. And your experiences are different, they're not the same, but they understand what each other have been through.'
For 64-year-old Joy, more time had passed since her son Ian died ten years ago. Ian became depressed when he was just 14 and Joy said it took eight years for him to be diagnosed with bipolar.
'Three days later he took an overdose,' Joy said. On that occasion Joy and her husband Steven found Ian and he was rushed to hospital.
But he was clearly unwell as he tried to cut his wrists with plastic spoons, and asked friends to bring a knife and vodka to his bedside.
Despite this, Ian was told he would not be able to see a mental health professional for several weeks. On Christmas Eve, Steven found his son hanged in the family's garage.
'I was suicidal because of it afterwards,' said Joy. 'It's the trauma, even 10 years on when we're coming up the road and you think 'is he going to be okay?'
'You wonder why they don't tell us, and we're just left with it, and you feel guilty, you feel responsible. And the fact they are on their own is so hurtful, you wonder did they want to change their mind?'
Emma, 25, wanted to protect her identity because of the impact her boyfriend's suicide could have on their young child.
Luke (also not his real name) was not under any mental health care when he took his life earlier this year. Emma said it came completely out of the blue. So when Luke went to work one evening, Emma thought nothing of it.
'He seemed to be happy and was making jokes before he left the house,' she said. 'From the outside looking in, he hid the way he was feeling extremely well.'
Until the police knocked on her door at 5am to tell her he was dead.
'After researching for answers, and researching all the signs of a suicidal person the devastating thing is I can look back and say he was doing this and that sign,' she said.
'But at the time I had no knowledge of the signs. The signs need to be known by the public to save lives.'
Since, she discovered Luke was hiding a large amount of debt, and Emma believes he had a gambling addiction.
'I'm so angry and I can now see how much gambling companies encouraged him to continue gambling by constantly texting, calling, emailing every day, sending him promotions. And in the post I still receive them, these companies are disgraceful and just don't care that they are ruining people's lives.'
Emma said the loss had affected her and her child in a devastating way.
'It's so heartbreaking, as there's literally nothing I can do to change what happened. We say 'if we had magic, the first thing we'd do is make him alive again'.'
She added: 'That very day you get told your loved one has taken their own life, your life instantly changes. The pain is massive, so intense. You're living a nightmare, trapped and can't get out of it. It's the massive fact it's not a normal death and it was never meant to happen.
'From that day on my life has completely changed, suicide changes you as a person. It takes away your whole life and changes your way of thinking. We were meant to grow old together, but it's all been taken away.
'The guilt eats you up in side, if only I knew at the time what I know now I could of saved him. Now only from hindsight I can see things, when it is too late.'
All three women said they had struggled to talk to people after losing their loved ones, and the support they needed was not forthcoming.
Joy found help in the Norfolk and Norwich Suicide Bereavement Support Group, where she later became a volunteer. But all said doctors had offered them antidepressants as a first option, and at no stage was there real support for those bereaved through suicide.
'You can't really talk to anyone, to your friends or your family,' Kathryn said. 'It's like they're listening but they're not.'
Emma added: 'As suicide survivors we feel like we need to constantly talk to each other and go over and over what has happened because it's so unbelievable, shocking, and most of all it should never have happened.
'I feel only people who have been bereaved by suicide can truly understand us, normal people just can not get how massive it is compared to a normal death. It really is isolating.'
The trio said they'd want to see almost a drop-in service, where people in similar circumstances could talk in a relaxed environment.
'You just want someone to understand,' Kathryn said.
Kathryn, Joy and Emma would like to see changes in how suicide survivors are treated. They said:
• Be careful what terminology you use - 'commit' suicide offends most survivors, as taking your own life is not a crime.
• Avoidance is common - either people avoiding them or talking about the person who died..
• There are high expectations to 'get over it', but there can never be total closure as there are still many questions.
• Formalities of large, national charities can be prohibitive while people are waiting for help and there's a lack of training in suicide bereavement.
• GPs should be more aware on the effects on survivors, with the risk of suicide for the survivor increased.
• Signs someone might be considering suicide should be more well publicised, such as seemingly being happy after a severe period of depression.
• Guilt is often experienced, even if it is irrational.
• Anyone who would like to speak or meet with the informal group can call Joy on 01603 460549.
'So many questions and too few answers'
Richard Mills, 46, from Wymondham was bereaved by suicide five years ago. He said: 'For me, grief by suicide has been like no other grief I've experienced. no other loss can compare with it. It leaves a huge void in a family's fabric that for some can never be repaired or at best as a very visible mend.
'Bereavement by suicide leaves so many questions and too few answers and consumes me even now five years on. It is very isolating as those around struggle with what to say and I found in quite a short space of time people either expect you to have gotten over your loss or in some cases have expressed clearly that you should have by now and they aren't prepared to talk about it any longer. My boss at work told me after six months that no one would expect me to still be grieving and I just had to move on from it.
'My grief slowly became overwhelming as I spent many years batting away the pain because I felt unable to express my feelings with others due to fear of being misunderstood. Many people got fed up and I drifted away from many once close friends. No one was to blame but it's the enormity of the bereavement that's so overwhelming.
'It wasn't until very recently that after five years I sought some help and support by joining a suicide bereavement group. For the first time I felt I wasn't alone in how I felt. Although everyone there was affected in different circumstances, we all knew exactly what everyone else thought and felt. I no longer felt crazy and unjustified with the way I felt. The connection within the first two hour meeting with everyone could never happen in a lifetime with someone who hasn't been affected by suicide. I now feel I can begin to deal with my grief in a positive way with the understanding and support a group can give. One member said: 'It's a group no one would choose to join.' But without meeting others affected by suicide it's a lonely, frightening and painful experience and one no one should have to do alone.'
Carolyn, 70, from Norwich also found help with a group. She said: 'May 25, 2016 - the day our lives were irrevocably changed. The day we wish with all our hearts we could go back to and alter its course. The day our son John took his life.
'He was 45 years old and had given no indication of his intention. The shock, bewilderment, disbelief, horror was, and is, unbearable.
'Our friends and neighbours supported us but the NHS were useless. hey could only give me a list of helplines to contact but could not help in any other way. Most of the telephone numbers were no longer in use. Cruse Bereavement had a wait of six months. There seemed to be no-one to help, we felt so lost.
'Then we were told about SoBS – Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide and I found them to be helpful and understanding.
'The people in SoBS are also people who have lost someone by suicide. At the first meeting I attended I found it overwhelming to hear other survivor's stories, to understand their grief and to hear they were going through the same emotions and thoughts as I was.
'I believe they were my lifeline in the first few months of losing my son and they still are. To lose a son is unthinkable but to lose a son through suicide is incomprehensible and fifteen months later it still is.'
• For more information on SoBs, visit www.uksobs.org or call 0300 111 5056.
• If you're considering suicide, there are people to talk to for help. Call Samaritans on 116 123 or email email@example.com