As shocking suicide figures are announced from the Office of National Statistics, John Brown and Paul Mart share their stories and personal experiences with Radio Cumbria. See interview and transcript below.
John Brown (Survivors of bereavement by suicide Cumbria group): JB
Paula Mart (Daughter Jaymie Mart lost to suicide): PM Mark Smith (Head of suicide prevention and mental health for British transport police): MS
Sian Hall (news reader): SH
Male Presenter: MP
SH: One person in Cumbria takes their own life every week, that’s according to figures from the office for national statistics. A charity working to help those who are bereaved says 700 people in Cumbria are directly affected by the suicide rates and is calling for more of them to be helped to prevent further deaths. Mark Smith is head of suicide prevention and mental health for the British transport police, speaking to BBC Radio Cumbria this morning he says they try and give staff as much guidance as possible on suicides.
MS: We keep quite a substantial amount of information on our system in relation to people that do threaten suicide/ attempt suicide and also the locations where those events occur and we use that to inform our patrol patterns in working with the industries security staff and volunteers to try and put ourselves in the place where perhaps you can expect to find people in distress.
MP: One person in Cumbria takes their own life every week, and according to the office for national statistics there’s no sign in any reduction in the misery this causes for those who are left behind. One place it sometimes happens, is sadly, on a rail way line. Mark Smith is the head of suicide prevention and mental health for British transport police. Earlier, he told me the force is working with the NHS to try and reduce the number of people who take their own life.
MS: Mental health nurses, police officers and police staff, work together all day and what they do is they review the incidents that have occurred in the last 24 hours, they will possibly speak to officers that are dealing with incidents on the network and they will try and make sure that people get into the appropriate care pathways locally to get support and hopefully get on the road to recovery. And this is generally after someone has either tried to take their own life or presented in crisis on the network.
MP: Well let’s talk about this some more now with two people who unfortunately know the pain of a suicide all too well. Paula Mart, from Penrith, whose daughter Jaymie took her own life joins me now, along with John Brown, who’s set up the Cumbrian branch of the national charity, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide or SOBs, following the suicide of his father. Good morning to you both, thanks for coming. It can’t be easy still for you now but I appreciate you coming in and in the next few minutes or so hopefully the conversation we have you know if you just help one person it’s been worthwhile. Paula tell us a bit about Jaymie, what was she like?
PM: Jaymie was a bit of a whirlwind, happy, bouncy. Tried to get me to do everything that she wanted me to do and sometimes I just had to say ‘Woah’ you know because she had a boundless energy and a wonderful, wonderful personality. If it was to be done, she did it. And an amazing, just an amazing young person, that sort of got everything there was to get out of life.
MP: Did you have any indication that she would end her own life?
PM: No. We didn’t have any indication whatsoever. She did struggle with an awful lot of problems through her life and you know I sort of knew sometime that she perhaps would you know need some further care but I never thought for one minute that she would end her life. I thought perhaps one day that she would sort of come off her bike, because she was a downhill mountain biker. And that perhaps I’d have to deal with that one day but she wasn’t the kind of person that you would think that you know would end her life the way in which she did it.
MP: And John whilst Paula lost her daughter, you lost your father?
JB: Yes I did. I mean it’s over 20 years ago now. 26th January. Anniversaries never go away, they’re always powerful reminders. 26th January just last month. My dad was a rural GP, he suffered with what was then called manic depression or now bipolar disorder, for many years. And there can be an increased risk with that particular condition, because of the nature of it, so in a sense for me, there was always the possibility that this might happen. But that’s in complete contrast to many, many other people who die through suicide. Where it’s a complete total shock, absolutely out of the blue.
MP: What prompted you then to set up SOBS in Cumbria? What made you really want to push on with doing your bit, as it were?
JB: Well what happened, was in 2009, John Ashton, the then director of Public Health was very concerned about the incidents of loss through suicide in Cumbria as you’ve already said a person every week, above the national average and he set up a working, well he had a two-day conference to look at how might agencies address prevention and a consequence of that a suicide prevention group was set up. Very ably chaired by Jade Matterson from Public Health, now at the County Council and at the time I was a non-executive director at the partnership trust and had a particular interest in patient safety for obvious reasons. And I said I would like to be involved and one of the things that quickly became evident through the early work of that group was that there nothing specific in Cumbria for people who’d been bereaved through suicide and that is a very, very isolating experience.
MP: You say isolating, what do you mean?
JB: Well I mean Paula will I’m sure come in, but you know for instance people, friends, neighbours, colleagues. A – there’s the complete shock and trauma and B – there’s the ‘I don’t know what to say and I might say the wrong thing’ so quite often people will back away, shy away, not say anything. Rather than, connect with people. And I think what I would say in response to that is you know it’s not about words, actually, it’s about trying to get alongside people and be with them rather than try and use the words.
PM: That’s right, yes, I know of people where this has happened and where they would go across the other side of the road rather than talk to someone.
PM: Yes, who’s been through that, and fortunately for me, I’ve been very, very lucky because I have an amazing group of friends in Penrith, who’ve been extraordinarily supportive and the people of Penrith as well as far as I’m concerned, you know so many people have come up and given me a hug which is so important. Just because you have that little bit to go on and at one point I felt as if I was a leaf being taken along with a lot of ants.
PM: You know, with the support that I have had, its lots of people there supporting. But I know that that is not a common experience.
MP: Can you, I mean that’s a wonderful analogy that you’ve picked. A picture you’ve painted as to the support you’ve gained. But can you just give us an idea as to the, because one of the things we’re talking about this morning is the impact on the families and friends who are left behind, what was the impact if you could put it into words Paula for you and your family.
PM: At first of all it was a shock. And sort of trying to come to terms with the fact that that person is no longer there and I know that there is some of my friends who still haven’t come to terms with it. And you know my son, for example, he’s trying to find his way through it as well. I think for me, because Jaymie was such a force to be reckoned with, it almost feels as if she’s still here with me. And I don’t think I’ve come to terms with that even now.
MP: Do you think you ever will?
PM: I don’t know, and for some people the grief or the pain is immediate and it goes on. For other people, it’s different. And I think because people don’t feel it immediately doesn’t mean to say there’s something wrong with them. Because everyone deals with it in different ways. And no way is a right way to deal with it.
MP: John, clearly it’s important to help those who have been impacted by suicide. You two are prime examples of that. Surely though, it’s just as important to try and prevent the suicide happening in the first place?
JB: Yes, absolutely, I agree completely. And this group I’ve talked about are absolutely committed to that its’s a multi-agency group and you’ve got voluntary organisations, you’ve got the Samaritans you’ve got us you’ve got mind. Alongside the police, the partnership trust, the county council and so on, a huge amount of effort goes into looking at what are we doing, what can we do, how can we change that statistic. I mean I’m very cautious about statistics because at the end of the day every death is a disaster and the fact is we have far too many of them and the consequences roll on for years and years. But I think that group is doing what they can but I think strongly that with my background as a social worker that the community have a big responsibility here. We have to get local people to think about having a positive approach to mental health and mental wellbeing, and thinking about how to provide support. The problem is if somebody seems as though they may be not quite right people’s instinct is to back away, they are scared of mental illness, they’re scared of saying the wrong thing. You know they intend to back away, but what we want to try and encourage people to do is turn the telescope round, look at it from the other end, so that prevention isn’t simply seen as ‘oh you’ve got to go to the experts’ but actually that we as local people have a responsibility and within Eden District where we both live, I mean I was in social services there for many years, so built good networks, we’re trying a bit of an experiment, we put an advert (this is myself and Julie Gray from Mind who does a lot of training around suicide prevention) and what we did is we put an advert in the Herold (local paper) saying we think suicide prevention should be a community concern, if people are interested let’s have a public meeting and see what happens. We thought we might get 6/10/15 people, we had 50 people come in, from the community, standing room only.
MP: Very quickly I’d like to just end on a couple of positives. Just tell us Paula, first of all, about JayFest? What’s been done in honor of Jaymie?
PM: Well Jayfest was a little festal set up in Peebles and it ran for two years, now they’ve taken a break last year and I think this year because lots of people have got other things to do. But they are hoping at some stage to sort of come back and they raised a lot of money. Some of it went to SOBs, some of it went to prevention in Peebles and so on. And the other thing I wanted very quickly to say is that when it does go to professionals, please, it would be great if people (friends and families) were involved and if they could have numbers for GPs and crisis teams and so on. So that when these people are in crisis they know who to get hold of.
MP: Lovely, Paula. And John, very quickly the website address for SOBs?
JB: Yeah, it’s www.sobs-cumbria.org.uk
MP: Thanks and thank you very much for talking to us this morning and sharing your very sad and tragic stories with us and hopefully by being positive and by giving the website address we’ve given some good this morning. Thanks both.