Mental Health and Suicide - the appointment of the "Suicide Prevention Minister"

By Garry Spencer

12/10/2018 I normally write a weekly news review piece on Sunday for this LibDems in France site. However, this week, following the appointment of the government of a "Suicide Prevention Minister, I feel compelled to write this piece in addition as I have personal experience of the pain and anguish arising from the suicide of family or friends.

On Wednesday the government named a “Suicide Prevention Minister” - Jackie Doyle-Price - who once famously said in 2014 “I would rather jump off Beachy Head than join UKIP”

I do not want to comment on her flippant remark because it is obvious it was not meant in any bad taste, it was just an off-the-cuff remark, however I want to share with you my very direct experience with suicide and the resulting trauma and shock.

My brother committed suicide some 35 years ago. He was 6 years older than me and 8 years older then our sister.

I will not go into his personal reasons. It was my mother who found him.

To give support, my sister and I returned to the family home. As I came to understand, the problems for those who remain is the isolation.

As a family, we had only each other to help us through - no outside support..

I remember people, aware of the situation, who would cross the road. In the immediate aftermath, we could not even talk about it to our wider family.

In business I was an IFA (Independent Financial Adviser). During my working life, I encountered two other suicide incidents.

The first was a client I was acquianted with, on and off, from when he was young. He first worked and lived in a farm cottage. As life went on, he started working for himself and also at Gatwick airport.

One day, I had a call from his sister to my office, informaing me that David had hung himself a few days earlier and asking for help with his affairs.Shocked, I extended condolences and agreed to do so.

My mind immediatley cast back to the suicide of my brother, I sat back in my chair and thought: I knew exactly how they were feeling.

Although I did not know his sister, I rang her back about ten minutes later to ask if I could come to see her and her mum and take them for lunch. I wanted to let them know that I knew how they felt.

I have to say we all cried together with grief and laughter, drinking and talking about that wonderful man that was their close relative.

The second - and hopefully last close brush- with suicides is very apposite to the Suicide Minister's quote and appointment. But no idle words here.

In 2008 my client Mike threw himself off of Beachy Head and successfully killed himself.

Mike was 51. I had known him for several years and thought him a nice, decent father and husband. A kind, considerate man who loved his family.

His suicide made the National press and TV, so what I am telling you is in the pulic domain.

Mike was an IT manager at Sussex Police headquarters. He had worked for the force for 17 years without any problems and was really well-liked in his department.

Miss Margaret Gardiner (aged 53) joined as head of Information Systems the summer before Mike's demise. In a statement from Mike’s wife, she said that within days of Miss Gardiner’s arrival, the new head had sent all staff a slide show about her previous role as director with British Gas. Amongst other things, this detailed how she had made 1000 workers redundant...

His family told the inquest that Mike’s confidence had subsequently been destroyed and he became terrified he would lose his job.

In a note to his wife he wrote his work “had become a battle, a battle I can’t win”. He added he needed peace.

Mike was bulled at work by this woman. She resigned from her post 3 days after his death and took early retirement after leaving Sussex Police.

Mike left behind a wonderful family, that I helped through the pitfalls of claiming on Mike's assurances.

He had been a really well respected person within his community. His wife and children are wonderful, caring people. Though I sold my business over 9 years ago, we still keep in touch. Through the sorrow of this event, I have made good lif-long friends.

This last bit is only known to me and to his family, but I feel able to share it with you all now. On the morning of his suicide, Mike - purporting to be setting out for work - asked his wife for change. She thought it was for the coffee machine. As became clear, it turned out to be because he did not want his wife to have a fine from his parking at Beachy Head. He loved his family but was in despair.

These are desperate measures taken, by people I have known, who have found that they been unable to solve their own personal crises. Any appointment that helps must be a good thing - but better to channel many more funds into the Mental Health Services and Support systems in order, perhaps , to be able to help people such as these before they commit to that terrible final step.