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World Suicide Prevention Day: When some hear our story they say: ‘People who kill themselves are selfish,’ but it just makes us angry

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. It is also one week away from the 14th anniversary of my husband’s death by his own hands.

Yes, my husband took his own life. The first time he attempted, he slashed himself with a carving knife and myself and our 17-year-old son witnessed the aftermath and got him to hospital in time to save his life. The second time he jumped out of a bedroom window and we weren’t there to help.

He had been under a lot of financial and personal pressure, but that wasn’t what made him take his life. His mental health had deteriorated to such an extent that he couldn’t see a future. He felt that the family he loved had suffered too much, that it was going to get worse and he was doing the right thing by us. How wrong he was, but mental illness is not rational.

Juan Carlos Menendez with his children, Sebastian and Elisa

His own father had killed himself, in the same way at the same age – 45 – he knew how that felt, yet he still couldn’t stop himself. He wasn’t capable of reasoned thought at the time of his death.

His psychiatrist explained to me that in middle age – particularly in men – attempted suicide is not a cry for help or an impulsive action. It’s because people can not see a way out, that black abyss of despair just swallows them up and they can’t fight their way out. There is no choice.

When people hear our family’s story they sometimes say: “People who kill themselves are so selfish,” because they want to try and ease the pain, to sympathise, but it makes us angry. My husband loved his family and his children with all his heart. He would never want to hurt us, but he just couldn’t fight it.

He hid the pain of his depression so well for so many years that even I had no idea. He never sought treatment because he thought he could handle it himself without worrying us and by the time he was offered specialist help it was too late. The drugs simply stopped him feeling.

Caroline Flack once said: “People see the celebrity lifestyle and assume everything is perfect, but we’re just like everyone else. Everyone is battling something emotional behind closed doors — that’s life. Fame doesn’t make you happy. Anti-depressants helped me get up in the morning, and stopped me from being sad, but what they also do is stop you from being happy. So I was just in this numb state. I stopped laughing at jokes, and that’s just not me.”

The appropriate course of action is to seek emergency psychiatric assessment, which would necessitate inpatient admission, either voluntary or involuntary.

My husband was admitted voluntarily but the psychiatric unit terrified him. He begged night and day to come out. He was released into our care. He went home to Spain with his mother to recuperate, but took his life within days. He always intended doing it. I felt that from his last long, lingering hug. It was saying ‘goodbye and sorry’.

Juan Carlos and Sebastian

Talking to someone and being kind to them may help ease someone’s anxiety, but more importantly it may flag up the fact that person is suicidal. That’s why it’s good to talk. If you suspect for even a millisecond that someone may be of the mindset, ask them how they’re feeling. Show you care. Be there for them.

But if, like my husband, that person won’t or can’t talk, what on earth can you do?

In the 14 years since my husband died, the NHS has introduced ground-breaking initiatives – like Zero Suicide Alliance (https://www.zerosuicidealliance.com/) – to promote awareness and offer online training to help recognise the signs.

I wish wholeheartedly that they’d been around at the time. It may not have saved his life because he was determined, but we may have got him help sooner and we’d have had a fighting chance.

Everyone should undergo this training because anyone can suffer with mental illness, they don’t need to have the level of stressors that my husband endured. But the lesson to be learned is that we need to care more for people who are struggling and keep a close eye on them.

As Caroline Flack said: “In a world where you can be anything, be kind”.

https://www.merseycare.nhs.uk/about-us/striving-for-perfect-care/our-zero-suicide-initiative/

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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