Some of our colleagues have been bravely sharing their personal experience of suicide including Jim Barwick, Chief Executive of Leeds GP Confederation. Jim lost his brother Alistair, to suicide. Jim has shared his experience in a bid to encourage colleagues to look out for their own, and each other’s, mental wellbeing - our sincere thanks to Jim for his honesty on this very sensitive and tragic topic.
"I lost my 44-year-old brother Alistair in 2007. I remember that day as if it was yesterday"
I vividly remember my dad calling me. I can picture it in my mind. My phone ringing, looking at my phone, seeing it was ‘dad’, answering it. I was on the platform in Leeds - I had just got off the train from London. He told me. It was as if someone was trying to push me down onto the floor.
Alistair decided to end his life on his 44th birthday; in one of the letters he left behind, he described how debilitating his depression was. Like ‘walking a tightrope over a deep gorge, just managing to get to the end, only then having to turn back and do it all over again’.
He just said he couldn’t do it again.
I didn’t think of him as being selfish for feeling that way; I just felt sympathy. It made me think about if there was anything I could have done – to protect him.
That questioning of myself was torture for me. I happened to be in London that day to give a talk, I chose to return home and I regret not seeing him that day - I could have saved his life. I still carry the tube ticket from that day with me, a reminder to do things that are important - to see people; speak to them.
Whenever you talk to anyone about suicide, it’s generally a really difficult thing to talk about but the important thing is that we do talk about it.
You hear lots of stories about people who take their own life and often, in response, people say: “But they had everything going for them” but I think, well no, perhaps that’s not what they thought. The truth is you just don’t know sometimes. That’s why it’s important to remain open and available to talk to one another.
Not just relatives but also your colleagues; that person in your team, or in the tea room, who just doesn’t seem themselves. In any group you interact with there might be someone who needs to open up and speak to someone they know. They may seem absolutely fine on the surface but deep down they might not be. You don’t have to go around questioning everyone, but you can be more aware. Knowing that a person can sometimes become so low that they may even consider not being here at all might change your behaviour with that person.
The pandemic and its enforced isolation has made it harder for us all – to keep conversations going and to nurture our own personal mental health. The situation has meant many are struggling with jobs, family, security – it’s likely to be affecting how many of us are coping with our mental wellbeing and its making it harder for us to reach out to one another.
We need to have more conversations about our mental health and Suicide Prevention Week; the Partnership’s Check-In campaign is a great opportunity, a reminder to us all to do that. I’m not suggesting that everyone’s circumstances are as extreme as the one my family experienced but I do want to highlight the importance of checking in with ourselves, our colleagues or friends and family. It’s a timely reminder to ask people how they are and then make sure we really listen to what they say in return.
We can’t meet up as we might normally do, but we can still check in and, when we do, we should talk about how we’re feeling. These conversations have perhaps never been as important as they are now, as we all navigate uncertainty and change during these unprecedented times.
If this article has struck a chord with you and you are someone who has been feeling distressed or you are someone who has noticed someone else who may need some help please reach out to ask for, or to offer, that help.
Whatever you do, please don’t remain silent.
Phase one: Educate
The first phase of the Check-in campaign is focused on educating colleagues on why Check-In is so important and why they should join in. Watch the video and become fully knowledgable on why this phase of the campaign is so important. All the campaign assets and logos you need to begin the campaign and on the check-in campaign website.