Jenny and Andrew Sutton’s son, Ben, took his own life eight years ago on September 10 – World Suicide Prevention Day. He was 20 years old.
Ben’s body was found at Hadleigh Castle in his favourite clothes and among his most special possessions: his phone, iPod, a book – Way of the Peaceful Warrior, by Dan Millman – an empty can of Guinness and some Jack Daniel’s whisky.
“I just screamed,” said Jenny, describing the moment police broke the news. “I felt like somebody had just ripped out my insides, as though my soul had gone.
“I had strived to be married and to be a mum. I had just got my first baby through his education and it was all taken away.”
Andrew felt numb. Henry, the family’s cocker spaniel, refused to eat and remained in his bed, reviving only after being taken to visit Ben’s body in a chapel of rest.
The hundreds of relatives, friends and acquaintances, who joined his parents and sister, Sophie, at Ben’s funeral in Great Burstead days later, could not understand why such a popular, intelligent and handsome man had taken his own life.
To most of the world, especially the customers Ben helped in his part-time job at Waitrose, although not to Jenny and Andrew, the Billericay student was an empathetic joker – “the life and soul” – not the sad, troubled, hyper-sensitive soul who found some relationships difficult, had no self-worth, and battled with his desire not to conform.
But even his parents were fooled by the mask of happiness he wore when he saw them for the last time, insisting: “Don’t worry about me because I’m going out with one of my friends. I’m feeling much better.”
“That night was the best we had slept for a long time,” said Andrew.
But their son, who had previously been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, had been consumed by “the darkness”, as his father called it, and knew the drug overdose he planned to take would ensure he was lost to them forever.
Eight years on, Jenny, 56, and Andrew, 54, have adjusted to their “new normal”, “saved” as they put it, by their temporary involvement in the Dartford branch of Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), and their later decision to set up the charity’s Brentwood branch, which they still run.
The couple’s message to the 30 people who attend their monthly meetings also applies to those who are considering taking their own lives.
“Things change, people change, situations change and your feelings can change,” said Andrew. There is, he and his wife say, always hope.
Both are supporting the Trust’s bid to encourage staff, patients and the public to download free suicide prevention app Stay Alive from the App Store.
Created by Grassroots Suicide Prevention, the app includes rapid access to Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust’s crisis service telephone numbers; advice about staying safe; information on helping people in need; and details about suicide myths.
“Ben had nothing like the app,” said Andrew. “If it had been an option when he was struggling, it might have just put him in a better place.
“What we find with the SOBS group is that for people who take their lives, it’s often a few issues that make them come to that decision.
“One thing that’s slightly better could change their decision on the day, and the app could be that thing.”
Andrew and Jenny are also backing the Trust’s call for people to complete the Zero Suicide Alliance’s 20-minute online training course.
“It’s very easy to brush suicide under the carpet and think it’s not going to happen to me or anyone in my family,” said Jenny.
“The Trust’s campaign can only be good and improve things.”