Life after suicide

“Benjamin was 3, and Alexis was 13 when their Dad took his own life, very unexpectedly. After Mark died, we just kind of got on with things. I had an amazing family and wonderful friends and everything was fine for about nine months. Then I just felt as if one day I was just carrying on and then everything just stopped. It was almost like after nine months the enormity of what happened just kind of kicked in and registered. So I went to the doctors, because I wasn’t really sure what I was feeling, because I just felt disorientated.

“The doctor put me in touch with the Liverpool Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide support group (SOBS). I had never been to a support group in my life, I had absolutely no idea what to expect and cut a very long story short, because the people in that support group were so honest and open with me, it gave me a real insight in to what I was dealing with and how to kind of manage the children through this.

“I think that because of the help I had from the support group, it enabled me to cope, and because I was coping with things it meant that I could help them to cope with things, because if I wasn’t coping no one was going to cope. I just felt strongly that being open and honest about it, and what I was seeing in the support groups bringing that home and then continuing that openness was pivotal to the way we all dealt with it and then twelve years later being able to make a film about it openly and honestly. It felt like at that time [when the BBC approached] that it was a natural progression from all the hard work we had done to that point.

“The BBC film Life After Suicide that we made, really looks at what happened when we lost Mark in 2003 and what happened in the initial time after Marks death. The film also involves me going around the country to meet other people and interviewing them about their experiences of suicide. I also get to meet a professor who talks to me about the changes in peoples thought patterns just to give me an understanding of what might have changed in Marks mind before he took his own life. The film is all about what happened to us as a family, but also where we are today.”

“I realised the importance of what we were doing because there aren’t that many documentaries about suicide or there might be, but there weren’t that many about the actual experience. They would be scientific but not showing the actual effects so it would be like people are depressed and then they kill themselves and this was because of this, this and this. But it’s not that simple, there can be so many different factors. It was kind of they needed to show not just the effects, but who is effected and in what way and how to prevent these things from happening – and I guess that was the reason I [got involved].

“The thought of putting the most sensitive and personal part of your life in the hands of strangers was incredibly scary – you have to have complete trust in them and believe in them completely.”

“The first time you meet the families, is the first time that I meet all the families. When I was meeting David Rob, I remember sitting in the car for half an hour waiting for the director to go in and the lighting people to go in and the camera guys went in to set everything up, and I was thinking why am I being kept outside but then I think it was because on the program then there is a real honesty there because the first time I meet them is the first time you meet them.

“The first time I walk into the Maytree is the first time you walk into the Maytree, so in a way it is like we we’re all in the journey together – there was no let’s have this conversation and then we will do it again in front of the camera – it was all very honest. Very quickly the cameras just fade away, you are completely unaware of them because during that interview we were just one bereaved person talking to another – it’s like people say Big Brother you forget that the cameras are there – well actually that is what happens because I was very interested in what David had to say and David was interested in my experience so very quickly the cameras aren’t there. Even at the end of the film, me and Ben are having an impromptu conversation when we just filmed the lunch – another lunch – we just happened to still be miked up so that wasn’t a conversation where it was like “right now can you ask Benjamin about this” it was just wasn’t like that at all – and I think that honesty comes across in the film.

“It was so important to me and to the director that there was a level of honesty that I think makes it connect with people – you are physically and emotional on the journey with us. The whole process of working with the BBC was stepping into the unknown and I think that we ultimately found it such a positive experience and we were so well supported by the BBC and the team. There was one moment in the film when I got upset talking to someone and I just had to take a moment, take a few breaths and I looked over and the director and the cameraman and the sound guy were all in tears too – that really continued throughout the whole film – we were a team and we worked on it together – it was just as important to everyone behind the camera as it was for us.

The feedback has been that everybody needs a Benjamin in their life – I have been tweeted that several times. I guess any concerns or worries that we had before the film went out – Twitter kind of told us during the film that we had nothing to worry about and that people were just responding in such an incredibly positive way. The responses have just been overwhelming in a positive way. I think that people really responded to Ben and Alexis honesty in the film. There were 1.37 million people that watched the film on the night it went out – that will be why the lady in the garage recognised us! I’ve been stopped several times, but it’s always been to say thank you for making the film and well done – just people genuinely being nice. I had couple of guys who live in the YMCA, I thought they were going to say something profound about the film but all they wanted to say was that they wanted one of my Mums dinners. The most interesting aspect of the response has been the fact that people are definitely openly talking about their mental health issues. Talking about how important it is to really address the issue, to openly talk about suicide, to talk about suicide bereavement, to talk about how to prevent – I know peoples situations are much more complex – it’s not as simple as just talking about it, but talking about it is the best start so I think that really the film has helped been a platform for conversations.

“I had people emailing me saying “after watching your film last night, today I am having a conversation with my Mum that I have wanted to have for ten years because their dad had taken his own life”. To have an actual impact on people’s lives like that is just very humbling.

“For every message you can see on twitter, there are lots and lots of private messages – really saying really positive things about Benjamin being a fourteen year old male open about where he is at. There have been 60-70 year old men that have found that inspiring.”

“For me one or two of the teachers at school, but nobody else. I wasn’t worried, no one can skit at me for it – nothing bad would come from it. I think we need to talk about it because suicide is the biggest killer for men under 50 years old. That’s a pretty big thing; it’s something that affects 1 in 3 people and it’s registered as taboo and there are people that just don’t want to talk about it. It’s the only way to prevent suicide is to talk about suicide.”

“I think the statistics are 75% of people who take their own lives are not in touch with anyone or any agency of any nature, whether that’s doctors to the likes of inpatient psychiatry but 75% of people who die are like Ben’s Dad.  Afterwards when we looked into things, Mark hadn’t been in touch with any services at all and I really, with all my heart, wish that he had been in touch with somebody because it might have been that he might of knocked on the door of the may tree or he might of told someone how he was feeling.

“Part of the sadness after Mark died was because he hadn’t, as far as I know, hadn’t told anybody. The last time he had been the doctors was because he had a chest infection, it wasn’t because of what was going on in his head. It may have been a case that his thoughts changed really quickly and it may have taken him by surprise. I think blokes are reluctant to ask for directions if they are lost, so you know asking someone to then say well actually I want you to talk about your inner most emotional state is actually a big deal.

“But even a small change in that is incredibly important, and again part of the regret with Mark is that he didn’t tell me how he was feeling and he didn’t tell anyone. I just think that’s horrible, but if we can prevent one family from being in our situation – if I can prevent one person from having to explain to their three year old why they are not going to see their Dad again then let’s do it. That’s really the reason why we said yes to the film, but it was like “who are we to say no?” and the fact the response tells me we have helped more than one person then that’s ok, because nothing will ever be as bad as it was then – talking about it will take you back there but it’s never going to be as bad as that day when I opened the door – it’s never going to be as bad as that. I just had to remember that when we were going through the filming process.

“I think really I just would really like to thank everyone involved; it must have been really difficult for those people that I interviewed – they were just incredible. It was very important to us that there was young voices within this film, obviously this film has shown that this isn’t something that just affects adults – it has a huge impact on young people as well and I think that some of the people interview were the same age as Ben when he lost his Dad – it was so important to me in that film to represent the young people and their experiences of bereavement.

[The message I would give out to people is] don’t worry about it – it is not your defining feature being affected by suicide you are still your own person, there is no need to make it a part of you or anything like that. It shouldn’t change how you act or how you behave or anything. Don’t make it the defining feature of you.  It’s not always easy but it can be OK.”

Mymind wish to thank Angela, Ben and Alexis for sharing their story about the impact of suicide on all members of the family.

Follow Angela on twitter - @Angelasamata

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