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One woman’s fight to break the stigma surrounding mental health after her father took his own life

PUBLISHED: 15:01 15 August 2018 | UPDATED: 16:02 15 August 2018

Charlotte Underwood with her father Stephen Fox Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Charlotte Underwood with her father Stephen Fox Picture: Ella Wilkinson

Archant

Before her father took his own life, Charlotte Underwood remembered him as a lively, energetic person who was loved by many.

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Mrs Underwood was only 18 when her father, Stephen Fox, 49, went missing from his home in Clarkson Avenue, Wisbech, on January 31, 2014.

More than a month later, on March 3, she received heartbreaking news that his body had been found.

As she fought back the tears she said: “I think I always knew he was gone, but everyone was so hopeful and we were all desperate.”

Charlotte Underwood, who dedicates her time advocating for better mental health care in memory of her father Stephen Fox. Picture: Chris BishopCharlotte Underwood, who dedicates her time advocating for better mental health care in memory of her father Stephen Fox. Picture: Chris Bishop

Mrs Underwood, now 22 and living in South Lynn, said her father had always reminded her of comedian and actor Robin Williams, who had taken his own life just months after Mr Fox had died.

Behind the bubbly persona, Mr Fox had been hiding his deteriorating mental health from his family and friends. He had attempted suicide in December 2013 which only his wife Catherine had known about.

He had also been battling demons from his time as an army medic and later as a prison officer at top-security Whitemoor jail.

Charlotte Underwood with her father Stephen Fox Picture:  Ella WilkinsonCharlotte Underwood with her father Stephen Fox Picture: Ella Wilkinson

In his state of paranoia and insomnia, Mr Fox installed as many as six locks on his front and rear door for fear of being kidpnapped, but his family did not realise at the time that this was a sign of his crumbling mental state.

Mrs Underwood believes the stigma surrounding mental health is stopping people from seeking help. She has suffered anxiety most of her life but found valuable support in charities like West Norfolk Mind, for which she volunteers.

“I feel for people who work for mental health because they don’t have the resources, the government needs to offer more gateway services like Mind,” she added. “Things like that should be made available through the NHS and not just through charities.

Stephen Fox with his daughter Charlotte, before his death. Picture: Charlotte UnderwoodStephen Fox with his daughter Charlotte, before his death. Picture: Charlotte Underwood

“People find it hard to admit they are struggling, especially middle-aged men, it is seen as a sign of weakness.

“Find someone you can trust and talk to them, get it out of your head and remember you are not alone. If you have no friends or family to speak to, there are charities that can help if you let them.”

The Samaritans are available to talk 24/7 by calling 116 123.

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