Most of us have read about the recent suicide of the TV presenter, Caroline Flack. Her death made me sad, she was only forty and until recently seemed to have the world at her feet having won a series of Strictly Come Dancing and been a major success in Love Island. The outpouring of sorrow from those who knew her has been huge and in some ways has reminded me of when Princess Diana was killed, the genuine grief being fuelled by the media so that in the end, this ordinary human takes on an almost saintly persona.
Since 2014, suicide rates in the UK had been on the decline but they have begun to surge again, especially amongst young men.
Lots of us will have lost family or friends to suicide and understand all too well, how painful this can be. When my friend Simon took his life in 1991 the HIV community where I worked, were all devastated. Simon was a beautiful person, a tall, gangly, young gay man who was HIV positive. His father was a preacher and when Simon came out he was banished from the church, his dad telling him he would taint the holy atmosphere with his unholy behaviour. In-spite of this, Simon was gregarious, warm and very funny, a delight to be around and extremely well loved by almost everyone he met. No matter how much he was loved by us, nevertheless his father`s words must have had a major impact on Simon`s self-esteem. When he split up with his older boyfriend, he engaged in a relationship with an older, married woman, (not me) so he was certainly unsure of himself and his sexuality. At the time I thought this relationship was unhelpful to Simon and maybe I was right. I shall never know.
The day that Simon died he rang me to chat and I realise in retrospective moments, to say goodbye. He gave me no clues; he quietly took himself off into the countryside, attached a hose pipe to his exhaust and passed away in the sunshine. He just couldn`t do life anymore. When I was told of his death, I felt like someone had punched me in the chest. I was tasked with ringing up his ex- boyfriend to tell him the news, it was awful.
Simon`s father must have relented in some way as he chose to conduct his own son`s funeral. Finally admitting Simon`s body to taint the air of his church, it was a sombre affair and bore no resemblance to the bright, vivacious friend we had all lost. The church was packed out, standing room only and we wore all the colours of the rainbow. We were not welcome to join his family at the wake, so we all piled back to Body Positive and had a wake of our own and celebrated the wonderful young man we had lost.
If Caroline Flack`s death has done anything at all, it has highlighted that the media must take responsibility for some of how she was feeling and must learn lessons from that. In the last few months of her life tabloids, trolls and social media have harassed and harangued her following an alleged assault to her partner. It must have helped to push her to the very edge in it seems, an already complicated life.
The biggest question I asked myself after Simon died was, “why couldn`t he come to me for help? I could have helped.” But this is the thing with suicide, when people have really made up their minds, they make a plan and the plan does not include asking for help. The Samaritans organisation exists partly to effectively help those who are considering suicide and that is a good thing yet some people cannot manage life, it is far too painful in which case death must come as a welcome release.
RIP Simon, Caroline and all those who have decided their time has come. You are and will always be missed.