Almost four years after losing his son to suicide a father has spoken out about how his life changed and how he learned to cope with the grief.
The 45-year-old’s son, identified by Jack, took his own life just after Thanksgiving in 2015. He was just 18 years old, and in his first semester at university, when he took his own life.
Now, his dad, who has chosen to go by the pseudonym Steve, has shared his story with UNILAD.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was 2015’s second leading cause of death in the US for 15 to 24-year-olds, behind unintentional injury, with 5,491 people in that age range alone taking their own lives. 4,359 were males, while 1,132 were females.
Meanwhile, in the UK, suicide is the leading cause of death in people aged between five and 19, followed by transport accidents, according to a 2017 Public Health England report, which also states suicide is the leading cause of death for men and women aged 20-34.
Every 40 seconds, someone dies by suicide. That's one too many
— PAHO/WHO (@pahowho) September 10, 2019
In fact, suicide takes more lives than all forms of violence – including homicide, terrorism, armed conflict and executions, UNILAD reported on World Suicide Day last year.
Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day 2019, many of those who have lost loved ones in this manner – just like Steve – are still left asking why.
There are a myriad of factors which contribute to people taking their own lives but no one, except the person in question, will ever really know for sure what lead them to believe there was no other option.
This is what haunts Steve. The 45-year-old told UNILAD of the many questions which have run through his mind since losing his son: “Why did he do it? Is there anything I could have done? Why didn’t he try and talk to me about whatever was troubling him?”
Everyone who has ever lost someone to suicide likely asks themselves these same questions as they come to terms with the loss.
After Jack passed away, Steve described how he experienced ‘shock’, ‘pain’, and ‘disbelief’. He spoke of crying out loud and how he felt ‘pure emotion that had no words.’
Knowing someone felt they’d no choice but to end their life is a truly heartbreaking thing to acknowledge, and no one knows that better than the loved ones who are left behind.
However, it is vital to emphasise there is always another option.
Steve described suicide as ‘selfish’ in that it allows the person suffering to give up on themselves, taking away the opportunity for both them and their loved ones to explore how to better the circumstances of the person experiencing suicidal ideation.
The father explained:
That is the thing about suicide. It is an incredibly selfish act. The person that is hurting doesn’t know how to deal with their pain and gives up. After they are gone people who loved them are left behind to deal with the hurt.
Both my wife and I are still impacted daily by the loss of our son. After investing nearly two decades in him it feels as if our future has been taken from us.
We will never get the chance to see him fall in love and be wed. We will never get to hold his babies. We will never get to see all the things he could have done as he grew into a man.
When a person chooses suicide they close the door on all other options. They take away the chance for anything to ever get better.
The 45-year-old went on to say how it felt as if he and his wife died along with their son when Jack took his own life.
He described how he became ‘so depressed [he] couldn’t function’ and said the company he was working for eventually ‘made up a reason’ to let him go ‘because it was too difficult to have an employee crying at their desk daily’.
If you're wondering why our #suicideprevention training is so important on #wspd2019 please read Christopher's story and how he used the skills he learned on the course to help a friend in trouble https://t.co/W2yFRLFd0A @cmalla_kennedys pic.twitter.com/awKPpGLbwe
— Zero Suicide Alliance (@Zer0Suicide) September 10, 2019
Steve spoke of how his grief overwhelmed him, saying:
I could not cope. The hurt was so deep that it overwhelmed me to the point where I could not do my job. So within six months of losing my son I also was unemployed.
Thankfully we had lived in a manner where we did not have much debt and had some savings to live off of while I was in that fog of grief.
The entire year of 2016 is just a blur to me. I was lost and I was very nearly lost for good.
The key to your happiness lies with you. only you have the power to activate your joy. Choose to be happy no matter what.
Don't cave in!.. choose strength!.. Goodnight Champ❤️#mentalhealth #asads #feelings pic.twitter.com/SWtaZq6FHL
— Anti-Suicide and Depression Squad (@Asads_ei) July 14, 2019
As well as dealing with his pain and grief, Steve explained how he felt ‘deep feelings of shame’.
His day to day life changed not only by the loss of his son but in the way people treated him afterwards, with some simply pitying the family and others completely avoiding them.
From then on you are ‘that family’ in the minds of others.
The IT consultant sought help through a counselor, an experience he said can be effective ‘if you are open to the process’ and once you are ready for it. He was diagnosed with depression and has been on medication for over three years now.
Although you can never get over the loss of a loved one, Steve explained how counselling helped him find a way to ‘live with this new normal’.
As well as seeing a counselor, the bereaved father said things got better with time. He spent months running through other scenarios surrounding his son but eventually came to accept there was nothing he could do to change what happened.
Suicide is strange. It isn't just like mourning death as usual. There are all questions and no answers. There's no finality. Their death is the beginning of an unwelcome story line in the rest of your life.#SuicideAwareness #suicideloss
— KAMM (@KAnne_McKenzie) July 13, 2019
Steve told UNILAD:
This year it will have been four years since we lost our son. I cannot explain it to you but the passing of time somehow helps. I think it is because I have already thought through all the scenarios and cried myself until I was out of tears.
It isn’t that I am numb now, it’s more that I have accepted he is gone and nothing I say or do can change that.
Although he has reached a place of acceptance, the father still struggles to this day with family get-togethers, where he sees other children ‘growing and prospering while [his] is gone’.
Do you feel like life is not worth living?
If you are struggling, take #40seconds to kickstart a conversation with someone you trust about how you are feeling. It's okay to talk about suicide.
— World Health Organization Philippines (@WHOPhilippines) September 10, 2019
Steve continued to say he then feels guilty for having those kinds of thoughts and described the experience as a ‘nightmare which impacts every part of your life’.
When someone is in such a dark place they are considering suicide, it can become totally consuming without intervention from others to demonstrate such an end is an avoidable tragedy.
Some believe the world would be a ‘better place’ without them, or that they wouldn’t be missed but, as a father who lost his own son, Steve argues that isn’t the case.
He urged anyone who might be considering taking their own life to realise others will be affected by their absence, saying:
While they may view taking their own life as a way out that will set them free of whatever is troubling them, it will just be the beginning of the pain for every single person in this world that cares about them. You matter to so many others.
Steve went on to offer two pieces of advice to those who are struggling with their mental health. The first is to talk someone about how you feel; someone who can offer real help.
There is always someone who will listen.
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In preparation for this year’s #Y72019, the UK G7 Youth Summit delegates penned an op-ed for the OECD imploring global leaders to take mental health seriously as it stems from environmental, gender, technological and economic social inequalities. Drafting public policy in these arenas will bring us one step closer to combating the global youth #mentalhealth crisis that already affects more than 20% of the youth population worldwide. Check out the link to learn how inequalities are driving a global youth mental health crisis: https://www.oecd-forum.org/users/263214-james-da-costa/posts/49686-how-inequalities-are-driving-a-global-youth-mental-health-crisis A big thank you to the UK Y7 delegation for prioritizing youth mental health at this year’s Y7 in France! @dacostaja @youth7uk @y7France #195forMentalHealth
Find someone who understands your suffering to talk about things with. Friends may listen but they do not have the knowledge to actually help you work your way through things.
Seek out an actual counselor and if you don’t like the counselor you find seek out others until you find one that you click with.
The person you confide in needs to challenge you. You have to have that type of relationship for it to be effective.
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#Repost @fortismentalhealth with @get_repost ・・・ #Talk to someone, never hesitate to seek #help. #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealth #supportsystem #support #mentalhealthawarenessmonth #mentalhealthrecovery #mentalhealthsupport #mentalhealthmatters #mentalhealthmonth #mentalhealthweek #mentalwellness #talkaboutit #itsoktotalk #helpingpeople #helpyourself #helpmehelpyou #helping #seekhelp #MindSpace
The second piece of advice the father offered was to ‘wait’, pointing out that if you end your life you take away the opportunity for things to ever get better.
As bad as you are hurting right now or as bad of a day as you are having, it may be the very worst it will ever be.
Choosing to take your own life takes away all of your other options. You never get the chance to grow and learn from life. Things don’t get a chance to get better.
Once you take your own life that is it. It is over. No more chances, no more anything, except for the pain of losing you for those people who love you.
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If you see a friend in need, don’t hesitate! @afspnational is there for you with resources and leading the charge in suicide prevention awareness #StopSuicide #NSPW #195forMentalHealth #YMentalHealth . . . . . #195formentalhealth #ymentalhealth #whymentalhealth #mentalhealth #mentalhealthmatters #dosomething #stopsuicide #suicide #suicideawareness #mania #bipolar #suicideprevention #breakthesilence #breakthestigma #stigmafree #fightthestigma #heretotalk #mentalhealthliteracy #recovery #recoveryisworthit
Mental illness can be all consuming; it can lead you to believe nothing matters, no one cares, and nothing will ever change. However Steve’s experiences prove otherwise while demonstrating how severely suicide can affect those who are left behind.
The 45-year-old is an example himself of how talking about your feelings and seeking help can allow you to work through even the darkest of times – something which should be noted by anyone suffering with their mental health as well as those who have lost loved ones to suicide.
Though at some points it may seem impossible to carry on, life always has much more to give.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence, please don’t suffer alone. If you are in the UK call Samaritans for free on their anonymous 24-hour phone line on 116 123. If you are in the US contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline for free on 1-800-273-8255.
Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.