James was a breath of fresh air. Thirty-four and full of youthful energy. Just the kind of person you need in a small 4 person events company.
He came to interview for a salesman role and straight away we knew there was something special about him. His energy and positivity was infectious. He was the perfect fit and we hired him pretty much on the spot. For four months James sat literally feet away from me and in that time I learned about his life through snippets of conversations between calls. I remember him telling me how much he adored his 4 year-old daughter Mamie and how he wanted to see more of her (she lived with his ex-partner in North London). Having a new born baby girl myself I could completely relate to this unbreakable connection.
It was a sunny Tuesday morning and my wife was away in Amsterdam on a business trip. I had just arrived in the office after having dropped our daughter at nursery and was prepping for the day ahead when I glanced up at the clock and noticed that it was already 9:45am and James wasn’t at his desk. It was very unlike him to be late so I asked our other employee Steven if he’d heard from James. He hadn’t so I tried calling his mobile and emailed. As the morning went on and there was no reply I begun to worry.
By lunchtime I couldn’t concentrate on my work and had emailed my wife to clarify if James had booked the day off work (perhaps I had forgotten to put it in my diary) but he hadn’t and the night before he had said ‘see you tomorrow’ as he left work. It just didn’t add up and the sick feeling in my stomach wouldn’t go away so I sent a number of voice messages and emails to James over the next hour, gentle and concerned messages asking if everything was ok. My mind raced and I considered the strained relationship with his ex and also considered that something had happened to his daughter Mamie.
After midday and still no sign I found James’ brother David’s contact details and rang him on his mobile. I tried my best to stay measured and calm while expressing my concern and we both agreed that it was unlike James to be absent with no explanation. David said that he would pop by James’ flat to check on him. Then once I hung up I thought it couldn’t hurt to ring the local hospitals to see if James or his daughter had been checked in. There was no sign so I rang the police. Still Nothing.
It was 15:30 and time for me to collect my daughter from nursery so I left work while Steven stayed to finish and lock up. Steven said he would pop by James’ flat as it was on his way home anyway and that he would let me know if he heard anything. That night I had a visit from the local police in response to my enquiry and I gave them all the information I had.
The next morning I had just walked into the office when the phone rang, It was James’ brother David. “I just wanted to let you know that James died last night.” I have no clear memory of my response and the next weeks are a blur. I heard nothing and were in the dark about the circumstances. His family must have been devastated and I didn’t want to intrude on their grief. All I could think of was his daughter Mamie growing up without a father.
At the beginning of the third week, as I tried to keep things in the office going I received a call from James’ brother David about the funeral details and also that James had taken his own life. Despite having a loving, supportive family James was troubled with a history of anxiety, depression and had been on medication for many years. He also had problems with addiction, including alcohol, recreational drugs and gambling. The impression I got from David that it was only a matter of time before something like this would happen to James.
Unfortunately, this story is far from unique. According to a BBC article from March 2019 suicide is still the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. The Samaritans state that men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women and in the Republic of Ireland the rate is 4 times higher despite the statistics showing that more women are actually diagnosed with depression.
It seems too simplistic to say that men bottle things up and women are more open with their feelings as there are many factors which contribute to these statistics. However, data shows that men are less likely to admit feeling vulnerable and are more often reticent to visit a doctor. A UK British Medical Journal study found general primary care consultation rates were 32% lower in men than women.
James fits the profile of thousands who fall prey to suicide every year in the UK. While battling his inner demons he had perfected a happy exterior to show to the outside world, and yet speaking with his family after the funeral it was clear that James had always felt unable to share his thoughts and worries with loved ones, instead believing that he had to do it all on his own.
Sadly there is no happy ending to this story but my hope it will highlight the fact that if you yourself are struggling or if you know someone close to you who is hiding an uncomfortable truth or an illness then there are ways that can really make the difference between life and death. A visit to a GP, The Samaritans, CBT, medication, meditation, journalling.
I wish I could have done more but the fact is that James had perfected his act. He simple didn’t want people to perceive him as weak and so he remained hidden until the pain was too much to bear. He didn’t understand that a sign of real strength would have been to open up and ask for help.
If you know someone who is disconnected, unhappy, depressed or is putting on a brave face please offer them an opportunity to speak about it or refer them to some of the many incredible resources out there who can help. Do what you can to let them know they are important and they matter, and that everything will be ok. I urge you stay on the watch and be there for others before it’s too late.