Things you only know when someone in your family dies by suicide

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  • Marking World Suicide Prevention Day, one writer reflects on how she eventually came to terms with losing her dad

    Words by Jessica Davis

    In 2014, just before I went to university, my dad died by suicide after a long battle with depression. Six years later it’s still hard to say out loud, yet it’s something that desperately needs to be talked about. Especially with the Samaritans admitting the pandemic is the biggest challenge they’ve ever faced.

    The latest data from the Office of National Statistics, published September 2020, found that female suicide rates were at their highest since 2004 in the UK, while the rate for men in England and Wales in 2019 was the highest for two decades. Men accounted for about three-quarters of suicide deaths registered in 2019.

    Alarmingly, there are other worrying trends, such as an increase in suicide rates among young people, especially women under 25. The ONS report also revealed an increase in recent years of suicide rates among people aged 25 to 44 continuing in 2019. To this day, suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45, with Samaritans pointing out that males, aged 45-49 are the highest risk group.

    When my dad took his own life, one thing that struck me was how little advice I found on how to deal with the aftermath. Although mental health is becoming more widely addressed there is still more to be done if we are to combat the culture of silence around suicide, and help families to grieve. This is what I’ve learned in the years since my dad’s suicide.

    Counselling isn’t always the answer

    Like anything in life – whether it’s a style of dress or pizza topping – we’re not all suited to the same thing. I felt that I had to go to counselling because it was the done thing to do. Counselling is amazing for some people, but if it doesn’t work for you, try other means of expressing your feelings, like relaxing with yoga or just talking to a friend. I used to paint a lot and write letters to my dad. It may sound silly, but it feels good to get your emotions out on the page. We all deal with things differently and at different paces, there are no guidelines on what you should feel and when. Take every day as it comes and remember that with every really shit day, there’s a good one.

    It’s ok to not be ok

    This took me a while to learn. After my dad took his life, I went into survival mode and tried to be strong for my family. But ultimately, your bottled up emotions will eventually bubble up. Scream, cry or book yourself into a boxing class, because suppressing those toxic feelings will make everything a million times worse.

    People might change

    Death does weird things to people and some people around you might prefer to stick their head in the sand than acknowledge what happened. People are often scared of saying the wrong thing or upsetting you further but trust me, a few kind words (however awkwardly delivered) are better than saying nothing at all.

    There are positives

    It might sound strange, but there comes a point where you realise you don’t have a choice but to try and see the positives. As a result of my dad’s suicide, I’ve learned the importance of appreciating the little things in life that make you happy. I now understand mental health a lot better, I have gained a clearer perspective and my relationships are stronger. Dealing with the suicide made me a stronger person and it’s now a part of who I am.

    Life does goes on

    When I was told about my dad’s suicide I felt like someone had kicked me hard in the stomach. It was suffocating and I didn’t believe I could get past it. Initially, I would think it was wrong to be happy again and feel guilty. But then I realised that’s not what my dad would have wanted. Life does go on and things do get better. Time is a great healer, and although the memories will never fade, the anger and the hurt does.

    Whatever you’re going through, Samaritans can be contacted free any time, from any phone, on 116 123

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