“Nine weeks after those photos were taken, I was to find out how wrong I was”
Main article content
A life is lost through suicide every two hours in the UK, but suicidal thoughts and feelings affect thousands of us every single day.
And in the last 12 months in North Yorkshire and York alone, we’ve recorded 28,104 incidents where mental health has been a factor - that’s an average of 2,342 per month or an average of 6.4 every day.
These figures show why talking about mental health is more important now than ever before.
It is also one of the reasons why we’ve been backing Mental Health Awareness Week this week to encourage conversations about mental health and the things in our daily lives that can affect it.
This is an in-depth read but here, a Harrogate mum has bravely shared her story about losing her beloved son Dom to suicide:
“Flicking through the summer holiday snaps, I can still feel the heat of the sun but that’s not what I am looking for. I am seeking the clues in Dom’s face.
“In the harsh glare of hindsight, I wonder how I could possibly have missed the signs, but I did. I am, or I should say, I was, a natural optimist with an ‘it’ll all come out in the wash’ approach to life.
“I simply had no conscious thought that Dom could be suicidal. Nine weeks after those photos were taken, I was to find out how wrong I was.
“My son, Dom, was 17 when he died and had just started Year 13 with his plans for university to study English shaping up nicely.
“I have raked over the events leading up to his death in an attempt to understand. On the good days I know that we did our best, but we just did not know how to support someone who is suicidal.
“I’d have loved to be able to give Dom a chance to recover and grow up.
“Knowing what I know now, I can see that there were perhaps, I’ll never know for sure, some events in his life that made him more vulnerable to suicidal crisis.
“Learning about the impact of trauma on our mental health has helped me to see that it’s possible the sheer number of bumps in the road, which he really took to heart, should have been raising alarm bells if not for me as his mum, then definitely for the professionals supporting him,
“The loss of his three much-loved grandparents in quick succession; the peer bullying that he was subjected to after coming out as gay; a difficult early teenage phase when he struggled to find good mates to hang out with are just some of the factors that I think may have affected how lonely and isolated he felt.
“By the time he died Dom had a fantastic group of kind and loyal friends around him. They spent a lot of time together: laughter, fun and friendship.
“We are still in touch, and we look out for each other as well as sharing memories of happy times.
“Dom hid how he was feeling from them not wanting to bring down the mood. When I asked how he was he would reply ‘I’ll tell you if I need you’ and get cross if I raised any worries about him ‘I’m alright Mum’.
“Like me and my family, Dom’s friends have learnt to ask directly if someone is having thoughts of suicide and to share their own ups and downs to keep safe.
“When Dom left hospital after surviving a first suicidal crisis, I knew nothing about the subject and was also in shock. In my mind, he had survived and would now get all the expert help he needed to overcome the depression and social anxiety that was crippling his life.
“I thought the suicide attempt had ‘lanced a boil’ and had no idea that a previous attempt increases the risk of suicide. Research shows a heightened risk for at least six months after an attempt.
“I feel hopelessly naive to admit this, but it might save someone else.
“Now I spend a lot of time talking about the brilliant Suicide Prevention training and charities that are out there to help if only we all knew about them.
“I have total admiration and respect for the emergency services who helped look for Dom when we went missing.
“I often wonder how it must feel for them to deal with such a tragic situation. We’re still in touch with the RNLI crew and it’s been a great help to keep the connection.
“Huddled together in silent despair as the police, RNLI and Coastguard searched, I can still remember someone saying to us that we were a ‘proper family’. I still take comfort from those words.
“The kindness and consideration of how we were told, and all the horrible death admin was made as bearable as it possibly can be.
“The words matter, they sink in deep, and I think it was especially important because losing a child brought so much guilt about what more we could or should have done.
“Dom was such a bright and fun-loving child. He wasn’t a saint, but he was loved and loved us. I know that from reading his last message to me. He deserved to be alive. He was ill, but the treatment just wasn’t good enough.
“And now? Well, I am still an optimist but with an edge of caution learnt in the school of rock-hard knocks.
“I wrote a best-selling book, Take My Hand, to share what I’ve learnt. I’m determined to talk openly about my experience and share the great news that the skills to support each other are not hard to learn.
“We just have to overcome the fear and stigma of asking directly. We all deserve to be here, living this one incredible life.
“It’s too late for Dom so we have to save the next one.”
Our thanks to Pat and her family for letting us share their story.
If you, or someone you care about, is experiencing some kind of mental or emotional distress, we can also recommend a brilliant resource called Hub of Hope which is provided by national mental health charity, Chasing The Stigma.
The Hub of Hope is the UK’s leading mental health support database bringing local, national, peer, community, charity, private and NHS mental health support and services together in one place for the first time.
All you need to do is type in an address, city or postcode and it’ll bring up a list of all the help that available is near to you.
The services and support listed on there are not only for when things become unbearable – a crisis point.
They are also for those times when we notice we are starting to struggle, or when we need extra support as we start to emerge from a particularly difficult time.