“The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my kids that Daddy isn’t here anymore”
In twelve cities across the UK, bereaved families and those recovering from crisis have spent the past two weeks walking and running across the nation.
Traversing Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester, Belfast, Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham, Milton Keynes, Brighton and London, more than 800 wounded souls carry a baton aloft on their journey.
Made of semi-precious metals, the Baton of Hope’s purpose is to break the taboo around suicide and to remind those in crisis that it is always possible to climb out of despair.
Supporters cried, talked, laughed and mourned their loved ones while they planned for a better future for those in anguish, and today they are gathering in London at 10 Downing Street to tell politicians what more must be done to prevent the biggest killer of under-35s.
Seventeen people will take their own lives today; more than will die in traffic accidents and more than will die from cancer. Survivors Mike, Nadia and Victoria tell metro.co.uk why they are involved in the biggest ever suicide awareness and prevention initiative the UK has ever seen.
‘We need to teach our children that it is okay not to be okay‘ Horse breeder Victoria Wright, 36, from Nottingham, lost her husband Matthew to suicide.
‘Nobody would have known what Matthew was going through. He was a brilliant father to my three young children, now 12, eight and six, and a brilliant husband. He would always suffer in silence and struggle at home. He was an equestrian; and had represented Great Britain in three day event riding, which was a highly pressurised environment.
Matthew had always struggled with his mental health. He had depression and tried to reach out and get help, but other than going to the doctors and being prescribed medication, he didn’t know what support was out there. And I think that is the problem, especially for men. They see it as a sign of weakness, or they can be too afraid to reach out for help.
He had attempted suicide previously and he would talk to me about how he felt. I knew how bad it was. The problem is that, when you see your friends, you want everyone to act completely normal around him. So you just keep it to yourself. It was a very private situation that was going on at home and the mistake I made is that I didn’t reach out to enough people to help.
That’s the message that I want to spread with the Baton of Hope; that there are some amazing charities and organisations that offer therapy in so many different brilliant ways. I want people to know that help is out there.
Losing Matthew in 2021 was devastating. The hardest thing I ever had to do was tell my kids that Daddy isn’t here anymore. It is a day that will haunt me forever. That first couple of weeks afterwards felt completely surreal. But my children had the rest of their lives ahead of them and I had to be strong for them.
I want them to have a fulfilling lives. But I also want them to know that Daddy would have hated the thought of anyone suffering and he would want to help other people. So I grieved by making a difference. I set up a charity and took part in the Baton of Hope so that other people don’t have to go through a similar thing. We need to teach our children that it is okay not to be okay. We have to create hope for those who are struggling. And we have to break down the stigma.’
Victoria runs Riders Minds an online charity dedicated to supporting the mental health and well-being of all horse riders, drivers and equestrians.
‘I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want anyone to worry‘
Nadia Sayers, 29, from Belfast, is the development manager for mental health suicide prevention charity Hope4LifeNI. She says that when she reached rock bottom, an unexpected text saved her life.
‘By the time I was in my final year at uni, I had experienced a slow deterioration of my mental health that I hadn’t noticed.
Generalised anxiety disorder had left me with overwhelming bouts of panic that raised my heart rate, made me feel sick and sent my thoughts a million miles an hour. Then I got very depressed; it was a drip, drip effect.
I had been struggling with disordered eating, the general stresses of university and I wasn’t looking after myself. You learn how to eat your five fruit and veg a day, and to be active to look after your physical health. But no one ever told me I had to maintain my mental health. I didn’t realise that you carry all those little things like a bucket that just slowly gets more full until one day you drop it.
Physiologically, everything started to go. I couldn’t talk to people, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t even stand up and brush my teeth. But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want anyone to worry. Then, seven years ago, I hit rock bottom. I thought – “I don’t think I can be here tomorrow.”
I was seriously contemplating ending my life – then, out of the blue, I got a text message from a family member, asking how I was. They didn’t know anything was up, but it was like a light switch and it brought me back. The window of the active suicidal moment can be quite short and sometimes it takes something to snap you out of it.
I thought: “Why would I take my own life? I can’t do that.” It didn’t fix the way I was feeling, but it kept me safe for that night. I know that if I hadn’t got help after that, I would have likely revisited that moment again.
A few days later, my friends reached out to my mum and she removed me from my uni house, brought me home and took care of me. She made me eat when I couldn’t, made calls for me, and washed my hair. I went to the doctor and was really honest with them about what had nearly happened and was put on a wait list.
My mum said: “She’s just told you that wanted to end her life a week ago and you’re telling her she has to wait 12 weeks?” She found Women’s Aid and I saw them every single week until I got to see a highly specialised clinical psychologist who I was with for two years and I have been in and out of therapy since.
I want people to know that things do get better. I now have a job that I love and I’ve been to the US to compete at Miss Universe which was a dream come true. I’d never have thought when I was at my lowest that these things could ever have been in my grasp.
I’m okay now. Sometimes I feel anxious and that’s normal. And sometimes I have to phone the doctor and I go back on medication for a while. As someone who has been there, I want people who may be in crisis to know is there is always someone that cares, even if you don’t feel it. And you don’t even need to have the words to explain what is going on for you, but you can just say a word to start the conversation. You will never regret it.’
‘There is no darkness deeper than losing my son to suicide’
Former journalist Mike McCarthy, 65, is the founder of Baton of Hope and carried the torch through each city in memory of his son Ross to fulfil a promise.
‘Ross had an incredible sense of humour and was the life and soul of a party. He was the best son a dad could have wished for. He loved his family, and we loved him. If you saw him in the pub with his mates you would never think he would be the one to to do something like this. But as is very often the way, he got very good at hiding his sadness.
Ross had a steady job, was due to get married and he had a little boy who he adored. But the one thread that unites everybody lost to suicide is that there has been a breakdown of hope. Ross had depression, and we spoke about this with him a lot; we had many conversations about his anxiety and mental health. He tried to take his life once before.
The last time we saw him, at Christmas 2020, we were all celebrating the fact that he’d made such excellent progress with his mental health. We couldn’t go into the house because of the lockdown so we spoke to him through the window. It was just a lovely day and it was great to see that he was doing so much better.
But his mental health took a sudden nosedive and the next time I saw him was on a mortuary slab in the hospital. He took his own life in February 2021. He was 31.
There is no darkness deeper than losing my son to suicide This is as bad as it gets. But we are just one family. This is multiplied thousands of times in homes around the country. So it’s time to stop pretending suicide doesn’t exist. It’s time to speak out and demand improvements.
Ross was put on a six-month waiting list when he was suicidal. And he died two weeks into the wait. When he took his life he left a 12-page farewell letter to say his goodbyes to each member of the family. He wrote: “Please fight for mental health; the support is just not there.” When I got back on my feet, I researched as much as I could about suicide. I felt guilty that in a 40-year career as a journalist having covered wars, terrorist atrocities and crimes, it had never crossed my radar. Suicide is an epidemic and it was as if nobody was noticing it.
If you go to hospital with terminal cancer, they would not turn you away for six months. Whereas if you’ve got cancer of the mind, which is what Ross had – and thousands of others – why isn’t there the same help? The system is completely overloaded and understaffed. Where are the debates in Parliament? Where are the conversations in the classroom? We are demanding improvements and that this issue isn’t swept under the carpet any more.’
6th July 2023, Metro News