Ken Day shares his story of losing his son to suicide

September 22, 2020

As part of our month of activities marking World Suicide Prevention Day, we spoke to Ken Day, Healthcare Assistant at EPUT, about losing his son Archie to suicide and the stigma that still surrounds men’s mental health.

Photo of Ken and Archie

Archie Day was 20 years old when he took his own life on October 5 2018. He had moved away from home to attend the University of Salford and had been celebrating fresher’s week on the night he died.

‘It’s a tough thing to talk about, but that makes it even more important. We want to celebrate our openness with mental health, but the truth is we’re nowhere near where we should be when it comes to having an open discussion about mental health, not just in young people, but people in general. It affects all of us.

‘Archie’s death was on 5 October 2018, with an inquest in late January. It never really occurred to me, but at that point, it becomes a public document and a journalist was there. I had said to my daughter afterwards: I know we’ve got the first Christmas out of the way and it was extremely tough, but the inquest and the verdict is the last thing we have to deal with. The following Monday I received a message from someone I didn’t know very well saying that they were sorry to see what’s been written about my boy.’

‘Newspapers had reported that Archie took his own life because he lost his mobile phone, which had a devastating effect on our family, as it encouraged a lot of negative comments. They failed to focus on Archie’s ongoing struggle with his mental health. His death was a culmination of years of struggling, not simply because he had lost his phone. The media reporting had completely trivialised Archie’s mental health and his death. We know that suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 50, and Archie’s story could have been useful to highlight mental health struggles in young men, so that is what I now want to do.

‘Archie and I had spoken less than 24 hours before his death, discussing how much he was enjoying university, where he was studying broadcast journalism. When the phone call came, it was the last thing I expected. I knew that my son had struggled, but this came completely out of the blue. He had been out late various times that week and had been drinking, but this is not abnormal for students during their first week of university.

‘Archie was very much a larger than life character. He was funny, he was quirky and he always looked at things from his own perspective. He was a successful Youtube vlogger who had a real character. The way he dressed and the music he listened to demonstrated his uniqueness but, despite that, he struggled with anxiety and depression and he didn’t tend to open up very much about it.

‘It seemed to begin in his mid-teens, around the time of secondary school. Sometimes struggles can be put down to teenage angst, exam pressure and peer pressure, when really we should dig a little more to find out if there is something more serious going on. We need to start these conversations at a young age.

‘I often spoke to Archie about it as I’ve had my own struggles with anxiety, so I was always very open with him when I felt down. He was always keen to reassure people that he was fine. Sometimes he would admit to having a tough time, but there was never any point that I thought this could happen.

‘Archie had counselling, he took medication and he also used the CAHMS facility, but this was not enough for him. Counselling or therapy is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution and sometimes you have to find the treatment that is right for you.

‘There was no note, there seemed to be no intention and there was no warning, so how can we look out for our loved ones? We need to put a stop to toxic masculinity and put an end to the phrase ‘man up’.

‘I have picked apart every second of his 20 years, wondering if there was something I did or whether there was something I could have said, as any parent would. It was horrific for Archie’s flat mates to experience this in their first month at university too. The most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do was drive to the university in a van to collect his stuff from his room, but the university were brilliant in helping us through it.

‘Part of coping with my grief is to use Archie’s story to speak out and raise awareness to help combat the stigma surrounding men’s mental health. The toxic masculinity culture among men must be stopped. Men are often expected to just get on with it and to not talk about it if they’re struggling. Men still don’t think they can show weakness and this must change. I’ve always been passionate about mental health and much of my work as a personal trainer was helping people in this area. However, it is my son’s death which gives me the strength to work with patients who are unwell and often suicidal.

‘The images of what the world expects of us are fed to us all day long. We need to utilise platforms that young people are using, such as social media, to raise awareness of men’s mental health and spread the message that it’s ok not to be ok.

‘Exercise can also act as a great form of therapy. When I’m feeling stressed I go to the gym. There are so many other outlets that we can use to start these discussions.’An example of this is Lions Barbers. Their aim is to raise awareness for mental wellbeing and suicide prevention. They encourage barbers to create a safe place for men to open up and offload. They then use this opportunity to signpost to charities and organisations that can help.

Archie’s family and friends have raised money for Mind and Papyrus charities that also support mental health.

Photo of Archie