7th June 2017 – It’s three months today since my dear friend Francesca was found dead in her apartment. She had been suffering from long-term depression, anxiety and a very sad and deep self-hatred. The darkness of her mind was so strong she had become unable to let any light in and she believed the only way out was to take her own life.
Myself, her friends and her family knew she had been struggling for some time and we were doing all we could to support, encourage her and show her love. We will never fully understand what happened. Why she was unable to get better, why she didn’t want to get better, why she finally gave up on life.
Her situation is more common than we realise, more common than is talked about. Nearly every other person I speak to about this tragedy either knows someone who has taken their own life or knows someone who has regular episodes of feeling suicidal. Some friends don’t just know one person, they know two, three, even four.
I don’t know the statistics, but I do know it is effecting too many people, not just the individuals who are suffering from their illness, but the loved ones around them who so desperately want them to get better and have their own struggles trying to cope with the difficult circumstances.
In universities, student suicides are increasing and student support services are becoming increasingly concerned for the wellbeing of their students and are taking action to prevent such a tragedy within their student community. The ripple effects of suicide are huge and hopefully by increasing awareness on how to recognise that someone is struggling and how best to support them can help to save lives.
I continue to think a lot about how I could have supported Francesca differently or how I could have understood her suffering more to have been in a better position to support her. I want to share some of my thoughts with you here.
Don’t be afraid to ask your friend if they are feeling suicidal. I have one friend who has been struggling with her mental health for years. Although she is having counselling, I asked her for the first time the other day if she had been feeling suicidal. It’s not an easy question to ask at all, but acknowledging that your friend may be feeling that way gives them a safe space to open up, and as a friend knowing what is going on for them will allow you to support them better and to encourage them to get help. I was relieved that my friend’s answer was no.
Be conscious to ask questions. If they are feeling suicidal, don’t be afraid to ask questions about why this is and what they doing to address these feelings. When Francesca first told me she had been feeling suicidal I listened and encouraged her that she was doing the right things to get better as she was trying to get help, but I didn’t ask the right questions to enable me to fully understand just how big a risk she was to herself. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but one that I have learnt needs to take place.
Knock on their door. Speaking with mutual friends after Francesca’s death it became clear just how much she had isolated herself and had stopped meeting up with friends, responding to calls and messages, and doing the things she loved. All those times she cancelled on me or didn’t get back to me, I wish I had just turned up at her apartment to give her a hug and to see if she wanted some company over a cup of tea. As humans we are social creatures and the quality of our social connections has a massive impact on our mental health. Be mindful if someone you know is increasingly disengaging themselves from those around them.
Get support from friends and family. If a friend confides in you that they are feeling suicidal or you are concerned about their wellbeing, it is appropriate to let close and trusted friends and family know. I was in touch with two of Francesca’s close friends who in turn were in touch with her family. Although we weren’t able to prevent such a tragedy, keeping in close contact to find out how she was and if there was anything we needed to be extra concerned or vigilant about was helpful for us all.
If the friend is a fellow student, let university staff know so they are aware of the situation and can take action to support the individual. It could be your personal tutor, a student union advisor or someone from the Student Support services, but it is essential to let someone from the university know. They will then be in a more informed place to support them.
Get support from a suicide prevention group. Supporting someone who is suicidal is not easy and it’s important that you look after your own emotional and physical wellbeing. Feelings of helplessness are not uncommon and the worry can be hard to deal with at times. There are a number of support groups available – call them. I looked online for information, but I would have benefited more speaking to someone and being signposted to expert advice. Your university will be able to offer guidance on this.
I believe I did all I could to help and encourage Francesca with my awareness of how she was feeling and my limited understanding of what it really means to be suicidal. Regrettably, it wasn’t enough to pull her from the darkness, but I do know how I will do things differently if I have to, which I hope and pray I never do.
If you are reading this and you don’t feel that anyone would care if you weren’t alive, that friends and family would be better off without you in their lives – I promise you that could not be further from the truth. The effects of suicide are devastating to the loved ones left behind.
As a friend, having to report your friend as missing to the police and then to walk past their house to see detectives coming out wearing blue gloves is truly devastating. To have to tell mutual friends of the tragic news, to feel the numbness, the disorientation and inability to concentrate, the ongoing questioning of why, trying to find logic in something where there is none. To want the person you care for so dearly to be back in this life, to be going for coffee, hanging out and sharing good times. To be feeling such sympathy and love for the family members who have lost their loved one. This is the reality of suicide and you are worthy of being in this life, of being loved and of finding your way to a brighter path.
The human mind is so fragile. Please look after your heart, your mind, your spirit and look out for those around you.
With love, Natasha x
If you are affected by the issues discussed here you can get help from these organisations:
CALM – A suicide support group dedicated to men. Call 0800 585858 (national) or 0800 8025858 (London), 5pm to midnight, 365 days a year.
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide – National Helpline 0300 111 5065, 9am to 9pm every day