ITV News Lookaround 17 August 2017: Rising suicide rates in Dumfries and Galloway

Suicide rates have risen in Dumfries and Galloway, with 20 people lost to suicide in 2016. It’s a shocking figure and very difficult time for their families. Please see below transcript of ITV News Lookaround's interview with Frank Ritchie and John Brown from 17 August 2017.

Ian Payne: Returning now to the very difficult issue of suicide, with the story of one man determined to help other people after his son took his own life.

Pam Royle: Frank Ritchie’s son Alan died two years ago after years of depression and anxiety. His father is now working with a variety of support groups to try to prevent other families experiencing a similar tragedy. Hannah McNulty reports.

Hannah McNulty: The Samye Ling Tibetan Monastery is a special place for Frank Ritchie. He spent a lot of time here over the past 20 years, and so did his son, Alan. It’s where a tree is planted in memory of the 31-year-old, who took his own life in 2015, and Frank is determined his death will help him make a difference.

Frank Ritchie: You know, my options were to hit the bottle; to lie under a duvet; to follow Alan, or to try to reduce what really is 100% of a waste to 99% of a waste.

Hannah: Alan suffered from anxiety and depression for many years, and in the two years since his death, Frank has become involved with various mental health and suicide charities, both locally and nationally.

Latest figures show that although there’s been a decrease in the number of suicides on the Scottish borders, down to 12 from 18, there’s been an increase in Dumfries and Galloway, up to 20 from 14.

Frank believes there should be more money available, but doesn’t believe that there’s any one solution.

Frank: I think funding is just one piece of the jigsaw; I think there are other pieces like the family and friends, wanting to engage in dialogue with the person who is in distress, and to open up, for the person to open up, to allow them to seek the help that they need. There are many many other different forms of therapies, and, like most things with human beings, some medications don’t work; you’ll have a reaction. Some therapies don’t work, but you keep seeking the ones that you believe will work for you and will help you.

Hannah: For Alan, Samye Ling offered him support in terms of friendship, and also different activities like meditation, which Frank says gave him support, for which he is grateful.

Frank: He very much threw himself into the community; and he was part of the community and he was loved by the community and the people in the community, and he loved them as well, and he helped them and they helped him.

Hannah: It’s a place where he can remember his son, but also where he finds the strength to channel his grief into something positive. Hannah McNulty, ITV News.

Ian: We’re joined in the studio now by John Brown, of the Cumbria branch of the support group, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide. Good evening John, you know Frank through your support groups and the group that you found that was born out of your own personal experience with this type of tragedy. Hearing Frank tell his story there, how important is it that we all speak about this?

John: I think it’s absolutely crucial; I think the difficulty we have is that in society, people are scared of the idea of suicide and they’re scared of what to say; they’re worried they’ll say the wrong thing and it’s important that we enable and encourage people to feel confident enough to talk about it and not be afraid of the word and the idea, awful as suicide is.

Pam: You say that people are afraid to approach the subject, even though they may feel like they want to be of some help and support, can you give us an idea of what’s the right and the wrong thing – is there a right or wrong thing to say or do?

John: I think the crucial thing is, when somebody’s been bereaved by suicide, is not to walk away; you know, not to change isles in the supermarket; not to cross the road because you’re worried about saying the wrong thing. Essentially, the key thing really is listening, you know, a touch; just that kind of reassurance that you know you want to take - you care, and you want to show that you care and how stressed you are, is really the way forward. The only thing about loss through suicide is that at the end of the day there are no words that are actually going to help. It’s much more about just being alongside the person.

Ian: And that guidance that you give there is almost the same as if you were worried about somebody for fear that they might be contemplating suicide. It’s the same sort of thing, isn’t it, to talk and to listen?

John: Absolutely. Certainly within the Eden district, we’ve got a group together to encourage the community to take this on board and for everyone to think about what part they can play and give them the kind of confidence to just say to somebody ‘are you okay?’. I mean, you know Alan, Frank’s son Alan, when he died, you have to wonder whether if somebody had seen him; maybe just said ‘are you okay?’ or drawn to somebody else’s attention the fact that, you know, he was perhaps looking distressed or agitated.

Pam: Support of groups like yours is absolutely vital, where generally can people go for help when they’re in this kind of situation, a very unique kind of loss situation?

John: I think, you know on the medical side obviously their GP and that side of things, but in a way I’d kind of like to wave more to the social side and I think, certainly in our group, SOBS, people describe, when they’ve plucked up the courage to contact us, they describe it as rather being like a life belt on the wall, you know there are people there, all of whom have been bereaved by suicide. Nobody’s ever going to say “it’s time you moved on”, or “you need to start getting over it” or anything like that which, probably for normal bereavement it might be appropriate.

Ian: And of course the practical support that you can offer as well, John thank you so much for coming in and for telling us more about it. We will offer more advice thanks to your support group on our website and the link, of course as you know is if you care to look there for any resources.