World Suicide Prevention Day 2020: Liz’s story

September 10, 2020

In our first live session to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, we were joined by Liz Farrell, who shared her experiences and advice after her husband took his own life. For those who missed it, here is Liz’s story:

Before 12 June 2015 I didn’t know that suicide is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45.

I didn’t know that there were over 6100 suicides in the UK in 2015 and that nearly 75% of these were men.

I didn’t know that difficulty sleeping, stomach problems, escapism or risky behaviour are signs of depression in men.

I didn’t know that if a child loses a parent by suicide, they are three times more at risk of taking their own life.

I didn’t know that suicide not only takes one life, but it destroys so many others.

So why do I know this now?

On the 12 June 2015, my husband Marcus took his own life at work.

The moment the police came to our house and told me, I knew that our lives had changed forever. The memories we made as family felt tainted, our future plans were lost and our children’s innocent and happy childhood was no longer.

I didn’t know how to tell my two little girls that their dad had died and that he took his own life, that how he saw life was so bad that the was unable to see any other option. I told them that their dad had chosen to end his life, but I realise they were not the right words to have used, as that implies that he chose death over being their dad. The simple truth was that his mind made him believe there were no other options and no other solutions to how he was feeling.

Marcus was not suffering from a diagnosed mental health condition and there was no cry for help. We had just returned from a lovely family holiday and had lots of plans for the future. The night before he died was like any other night. He’d helped the girls with school work and we all sat down as a family to have dinner and spoke about the plans for the weekend. I had no idea that in reality, he wasn’t going to be there. I believe Marcus knew that night that he would take his own life the following morning. He had planned it and yet, despite being with me for 17 years, despite him being my best friend, I had no clue that there was anything wrong or that he was suffering in this way.

From the moment I was told that he had taken his own life, I felt like I failed him. I was his wife and I failed him. I did not see any signs. I can only describe that the first few months I felt like I was on a hamster wheel desperately trying to understand and comprehend how this could have happened to him, to our happy family. The questions remain unanswered and never go away, you just have to learn to live with them. Some days this is easier than others.

In the following weeks after my husband’s death I heard from his work colleagues that his behaviour on the day before he died was odd, so odd it was a topic of conversation amongst colleagues. I didn’t know that there had been recent discussions regarding potential redundancy and salary cuts and that he took these badly. I do not blame his colleagues, but I do feel that opportunities to reach out to him were missed. We also need to understand more about what factors make one person more vulnerable than another, what affects their resilience and what makes one person reach out for support but another doesn’t.

This is why since Marcus’ death, I have felt it is so important that employers take mental health seriously, and for managers and colleagues not to be afraid to ask someone if they are OK, especially if they seem different, or if there are known pressures at work or home. I have worked with colleagues to implement a pool of Mental Health First Aiders in my workplace, but more is needed to raise awareness and to encourage people, especially men, to reach out and not be fearful of doing so.

Family and friends felt that in the months leading up to his death, Marcus was in a really positive place. He had lost weight, was eating healthy and had taken up cycling. Some would say that he was the happiest they had ever seen him. However cycling, in hindsight, became his escapism and it started to consume him. He had to go out and get faster and faster at it. For me it became his way of removing himself from family life and withdrawing in a way that no one would question. I am not sure Marcus was even truly aware that he was doing this. I don’t think he really knew how bad his mental health had become, but he knew enough to hide it from me, from family and friends. I can only imagine how tiring it must have been for him, putting on an act that he was happy and that everything was OK.

I don’t think Marcus, or any individual who takes their own life, can foresee the devastation that their act will cause. They wrongly tell themselves that their family and friends are better off without them. I would like to tell anyone considering suicide that I am not better off without my husband, my children are not better off without their dad and that their loved ones would not be better off without them.

I have been in and out of counselling because I am very aware of my own mental health. I know if it wasn’t for my daughters, I would have become very unwell and maybe would have made the same decision he had. But I was once told that my daughters’ little eyes were watching how I dealt with the tragedy and I knew that I had to show my children that no matter how tough life is, no matter how alone you feel, there will always be someone to listen and help and that suicide is not the option. It’s true what they say: suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

I have been lucky to have supportive family, friends and colleagues around me and my children. It has only been in the last two years that I’ve felt I’m no longer simply existing and no longer living under the black cloud of suicide. My daughters have shown immense strength and courage, but they live with the constant reminder, especially during key events of their life, that their dad is not here with them to celebrate or support them. My youngest daughter now suffers from anxiety, and even though it can be so bad that it results in her being physically sick, she is determined that it will not stop her living her life and continues to battle it on a regular basis. My eldest recently shared with me how she lost friends at school due to how her dad died.  These are constant reminders to me of the impact of suicide to those left behind.

I truly believe Marcus did not want to die, but that week, a perfect storm was created in his mind that left him feeling in despair, feeling there was no way of seeking help. My husband left me a note; many who take their own lives don’t, but within that note he told me that he felt so lost, but he had no way of telling me. We have to find a way to reach out to those individuals who do not speak up, who suffer in silence. We need to continue to raise awareness of mental health and to let people know that having suicidal thoughts is not wrong or selfish. We need to break down the stigma of suicide. We also need to raise the awareness of the impact of suicide on others and the impact that it leaves behind.

Thank you for listening to Marcus’s story.

Here at EPUT, we’re marking World Suicide Prevention Day with a month of activities. Find out more and how you can get involved by visiting our website.