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World Mental Health Day: The devastating impact of suicides on families

By Heather Large | Health | Published:

More than 800,000 people around the world die as a result of suicide every year. This means every 40 seconds, someone ends their life.

Ian, Callum and Jenny Ward

Suicide is devastating, and has a lasting emotional impact on the heartbroken families and friends who are left with memories and questions.

Sadly the number of people taking their own lives in the UK is rising. A total of 6,507 suicides were registered by coroners in 2018 – 686 more than in 2017.

And it’s an issue that doesn’t just affect adults. Children and young people are increasingly vulnerable because of issues such as bullying and peer pressure.

Today it is the annual World Mental Health Day, and this year’s event is themed around suicide prevention. People around the world will come together to raise awareness of the issue.

The aim is to get more people talking about mental health to encourage those who may be struggling to speak out.

Callum Ward’s family are among those who are still coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.

The 22-year-old, who had achieved a first class honours degree in business marketing management at Manchester University and was about to start his dream job, died in August 2017.

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His death was a shattering blow to his father Ian, mother Jenny and sister Freya, not to mention family and friends, especially as there had not been any obvious signs that he had been struggling.

They believe his depression was partly contributed to by the pressure of social media.

“Callum was a friendly, outgoing, kind and very engaging young man,” Mr Ward says. “He had an amazing set of friends from school, college and university.

“He achieved a first class honours degree and landed his dream job with international opportunities. On the face of it, everything seemed good in Callum’s life.

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“It was only the week before he took his life that there was a slight indication something was bothering him.”

During a meal with Callum and his sister Freya, they discussed a photo they liked of Callum which he had posted on Instagram.

Callum told them he ended up deleting the photo because it had “only received 30 likes” and appeared upset which was really out of character for him.

“He was really together about social media and didn’t like Facebook because of the negativity. I said to him ‘Callum, you of all people know it’s not real life’ and he said ‘Dad, that’s just it, this is is real life’.

“Freya, Jenny and I agreed to keep an eye on him. That was on the Thursday and on the following Tuesday, he took his life,” adds Mr Ward.

 
   
 

In Callum’s memory, the family has been raising money for mental health charities by holding an event called CalFest in All Stretton.

Last year it included the performance of a play called Game Over – a black comedy about suicide organised by Jenny and the family - and this year it featured live music and a car show celebrating Callum’s life – Calfest 2019

As well as helping the charities, the family hopes to encourage young people to talk about mental health.

“All we are trying to do is get people talking and feeling that they can talk about mental health without having any stigma attached to it. People need to know that they are not alone and help is out there,” Mr Ward says, speaking on his family’s behalf.

“Ultimately its about providing a platform where people feel they can be listened to. More often than not people just want someone to hear them to talking about how they how feeling rather than having all the answers.”

There is increasing public awareness about mental health issues.

Now a national text service for people who feel they have nowhere to turn has been launched by Wolverhampton-based Kaleidoscope Plus Group.

The 24 hours a day, seven days a week service is intended to save lives by giving people in need an easier way to seek help.

Run in partnership with crisis support organisation Shout, it will be managed by both staff and trained volunteers.

It is open to anyone, of any age, anywhere in the country. The charity believes a text service will also be more effective for teenagers and young people as well as men under the age of 45.

The charity’s chief executive Monica Shafaq says: “When you have a mental health illness, speaking and reaching out is the most important thing to do as it’s the first step to getting that support you need.

Monica Shafaq

“But the nature of the illness makes that really difficult because when they are speaking to someone they are worried about being judged and they might think from the tone of the voice or the way they are being looked at that they are being judged and it puts them off.

“With text, the voice, face and body language isn’t there. As a society the way we communicate has changed and we message each other all the time, we rarely pick up the phone.

"I know the difference this is going to make and I know this is going to save lives and make people safe.”

Dr Alberto Trimboli, president of the World Federation for Mental Health, said although suicidal behaviour has existed throughout human history, in the past few decades it has reached “alarming” levels which is why suicide prevention was chosen as the focus of this year’s awareness day.

“The object of making suicide prevention the theme of World Mental Health Day in 2019 is to attract the attention of governments so that the issue might be given priority in public health agendas around the world.

“Getting people to talk about a subject that tends to be taboo and about which many hold mistaken and prejudiced ideas will help the community to learn about the risk factors so that they can identify and learn to address them,” he adds.

Need help?

Help and advice for those having a mental health crisis is available from a number of agencies in Shropshire.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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