OPINION: Losing close friend to suicide is hard to grasp 15 years on

Norfolk and Waveney Mind offers three projects to support suicide prevention and complex bereavement

World Suicide Prevention Week is held each September - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In my mid-twenties I worked with a great gang of kid-adults.

A glorious time between study and proper grown-upping where we earned little but what we had was disposable, partied most nights and semi-worked during the day while we recovered, chatted and generally rang rings around our bosses.

A job that got done standing on our heads and one I remember as a bit of a party most of the time.

Then, just before I left for a 'proper job', something happened to sober the lot of us.

One of the lads, younger than me at having just turned 20, committed suicide.

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He was funny and interesting yet wildly disruptive.

I remember him being hysterical about absolutely nothing at times, in both the making us laugh and making us eye roll as he seemed to genuinely believe there to be a poltergeist under his desk.

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For the older of us this seemed incredibly immature.

Looking back, I see he was deeply unwell, something which I didn't detect.

Annoying as he could be at times, I liked him very much, and to this day I feel bad that I hadn’t realised this young man needed help.

It was summer, August, and in that year the sun had actually shone.

I was sitting outside a pub in London when the news came on a text and I had to read and re-read it several times before I understood.

The word 'died' just hadn’t made sense. I smiled as I first read the words trying to work out the joke.

And then I had to take a very large sip of my drink before I felt sick all the way down my body.

I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, I just sat there until my phone rang.

A colleague who had been tasked with giving me the news confirmed it all in voice, after his text, because he’d not felt able to say it out loud.

He told me his suicide hadn't been a case of misunderstanding in intention or for it to have been an accident. I cried. Not for the first time, and even 15 years on I still find it shocking and hard and want to cry when I think of him.

Afterwards, as I was in the in-between age sandwiched amongst those this boy’s age and those of our managers, I was privy to the important conversations.

There had been discussions about his behaviour before he died apparently.

His fun and chaotic existence had worried them even if it hadn’t quite made that note with me.

They had contacted his parents to tell them there was concern and things were in motion to help. In the after, of course, there could be no help and we watched his parents, haunted and broken, carry him through the church at his funeral, still unable to really speak to each other, or anyone else about this boy, our friend, who had gone.

At that point I’d never seen a broken heart like the one owned by his mum.

He wasn’t just a statistic, another suicide amongst the sea of young men who are so desperate every year that they take their own lives, he’d just been one of us.

It wasn’t a news story, it wasn’t someone else’s tale, it wasn’t a celebrity to think 'oh that’s so sad' then to move on from.

It had happened in our innocent little gang. It was real life. We never quite got back to how we were as a workforce.

Even when we did speak, and laugh, as life moved on. Everything had changed too much for it to ever be the same again. You can change anything, do something about everything if you need to. But not death. We learned that then really.

That boy, our colleague and a friend who was just 20 years old, was one of many suicides that year and one of many for the years to come.

Apparently three quarters of registered suicides in the UK are men.

In 2017 male victims were three-and-a-half times higher than female, with the statistics showing that though more women attempt suicide, men choose a more lethal method.

It is also stated for 2017 that white, middle-aged men accounted for 70% of suicides while younger men also made up a high proportion.

The thing about mental health issues and young men is that they are prone to experience depression or anxiety at that time in life.

One in seven men aged between 16 and 24 will experience depression or anxiety and yet as men they very often don’t talk about their issues with an assumption that men have to be strong.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 and yet we just don’t talk about it.

We need to, to keep conversations going and make sure that boys and men know they don’t have to be strong, they have to ask for help.

As a mother of boys I want to be mindful and, I feel, on guard for the future.

Prevent-suicide.org.uk have a brilliantly interesting blog about their #StayAlive campaign, in particular the prevention of men’s suicide which I have been reading.

I find the topic hard going and challenging, something I don’t want to think about at all, but with the anniversary of my friend’s death last month I have forced myself to make it a consideration, and a conversation to have, delicately, with my children too.

I think of my friend often, he was a great guy who complimented everyone, was fun and good and kind. None of us will have ever forgotten him or that his death was unnecessary and heart breaking.

Too heart breaking to not have that difficult conversation and remind those we love that you can do something about anything apart from death.

Absolutely everything can be worked on apart from that. You just have to reach out.

Ruth Davies has a parenting blog at www.rocknrollerbaby.co.uk

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