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'It shook me to my core' - Survivors speak out as suicide rates rise

PUBLISHED: 16:39 11 September 2019 | UPDATED: 13:57 12 September 2019

Suzy Clifford, from Bury St Edmunds, is the founder of Hope After Suicide Loss Picture: GREGG BROWN

Suzy Clifford, from Bury St Edmunds, is the founder of Hope After Suicide Loss Picture: GREGG BROWN

Families left devastated by suicide are sharing their stories after it emerged more people are taking their own lives in Suffolk and Essex.

Len Clifford, husband of Suzy Picture: SUZY CLIFFORDLen Clifford, husband of Suzy Picture: SUZY CLIFFORD

There were 67 deaths by suicide in Suffolk last year, up from 61 in 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics.

However, the rate of suicides has decreased over a 10-year period, from 10.8 per 100,000 people in 2008-10 to 9.9 per 100,000 in 2016-18. Ipswich had the highest rate per population in Suffolk in 2016-18, with 11.2 per 100,000.

In Essex, 166 people died by suicide in 2018, up from 149 the previous year and the highest number in a 10-year period. The rate of suicides has increased from 8.5 per 100,000 in 2008-10 to 11.7 per 100,000 in 2016-18 - and the Tendring district had the highest rate in north Essex in 2016-18, at 16 per 100,000.

Now, those affected by suicide want to share the plight of survivors and reassure people that help is out there.

'It feels inexplicable'

Male suicide rates in Suffolk are nearly three times higher than females, a trend broadly reflected nationally.

Suzy Clifford, from Bury St Edmunds, remembers the shock and guilt she felt when her husband Len took his own life.

"All loss is final, heartbreaking and potentially life-changing," she said.

Matthew Percy, who died by suicide in 2015 Picture: ARCHANTMatthew Percy, who died by suicide in 2015 Picture: ARCHANT

"But suicide is the only death where the person has died by their own hand. "It feels inexplicable, and it often evokes judgement unlike any other loss.

The founder of Hope After Suicide Loss added: "I remember the guilt I felt after my husband took his own life, fuelled by the voice in the back of my head that taunted me for failing to prevent his death.

"I was in deep shock, fighting the image of his forlorn body and trying to live with the relentless demands put on my thought process 24/7.

"I ran the risk of condemning myself to a life of misery or even taking the same route as my late husband.

She continued: "Grieving a suicide bereavement can open a Pandora's box of emotions as we come to terms with this forever decision. Without more compassion and understanding, we cannot hope to rid ourselves of the shame, stigma and judgement still attached to this loss.

"At Hope After Suicide Loss, our pledge is to invest in the long term mental health of all survivors with a underlying belief in hope."

'Recovery an ongoing process'

Holly Percy's son Matthew, 21, died after being struck by a train near Ipswich in April 2015.

James Reeder, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for public health and protection Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCILJames Reeder, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for public health and protection Picture: SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL

"It is a devastating loss that you are not expecting - total, total shock," she said.

"Other people asking questions and their reaction, together with the police and coroner's inquest, are all extra."

She turned to Hope After Suicide Loss, a charity set up to support survivors, which helped her to realise she could get through the grief.

"I've realised recovery is actually an ongoing process," she added.

'A huge weight was lifted from me'

Kristian called the Samaritans late one evening after he had taken steps to end his life.

"I found it hard to speak to begin with, but the guy on the other end of the phone waited," he said.

"When I'd had a chance to gather my thoughts I began to unload and it felt like a huge weight was lifted from me.

"After that call my whole life changed. I sought professional help and was referred for counselling, which has been really helpful.

He added: "Looking back now I wish I had called sooner. I didn't have to get to a crisis point and I would tell anyone going through something similar to call now, you won't regret it.

"I had no idea that someone listening to me would have such an impact."

'Help is out there'

Three years ago, the Suffolk Lives Matter strategy launched and since then the county council, the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, police and the Samaritans have taken joint action to reduce the number of deaths by suicide every year.

"One of the key aspects of our work is the Suffolk Life Savers campaign, which encourages people to make a personal pledge of support to talk more openly about suicide and to raise awareness of the support in Suffolk," said James Reeder, Suffolk County Council's cabinet member for public health.

"You don't need to be a mental health professional to help someone as you have all the experience you need to save a life. The most important point to bear in mind is that any conversation can make a difference to how someone is feeling.

"There are often no clear warning signs - simply letting people know that you are there for them when they need help is often the best thing you can do. I'm urging as many people as possible to visit the Healthy Suffolk website to pledge to raise awareness of the support available and to tackle the stigma associated with suicide.

He added: "I've pledged my support - I know from personal experience how devastating it is to suddenly lose a young family member.

"That's why I am passionate about doing all I can to break down the stigma associated with this subject and to help other people who may be struggling."

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has also recently appointed a specialist family liaison officer to boost support provided to people bereaved by suicide.

Jenny Carvey will work across both counties and offer a listening ear to families, answering their questions, supporting them through the inquest and signposting them to charities and other groups which could help.

'Step in and make a difference'

Bosses at Essex County Council said there are a number of steps people can take if their friends or family members are struggling or acting differently.

The authority's livewell campaign features information and advice to help people achieve a state of mental wellbeing in which they can realise their full potential and cope with the stresses of everyday life.

Key steps include:

1. Text, call, reach out to your friend

2. Ask how they are, listen without judging

3. Be yourself, do everyday things.

Cllr David Finch, Leader of Essex County Council, said: "Every suicide is a tragedy that impacts whole families and communities. We work hard, with our partners, to reduce the number of people who commit suicide in our county and to support people to live full and healthy lives free of mental illness; but we can do a lot more.

"That is why earlier this year I announced an extra £1m for mental health services, which we're using to support people at risk of homelessness, young people, employers and veterans who may be nearing crisis.

"I must acknowledge that there will be those people who we don't know about, who we aren't already supporting, and I'd like to appeal to them. Please speak to someone you can trust, a friend or national charities like Samaritans, find out what help is available and we will support you however we can."

- Help such as the Samaritans, who can be contacted free of charge, can be reached 24 hours a day on 116 123.

- Chat With Charlie, an online mental health support service, is open to students at the University of Essex thanks to the Charlie Watkins Foundation via this link.

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