Truth be told, for many, suicide can be the one thing someone finally does for themselves. And that’s a hard truth. I get it. It is so much easier to blame someone for your pain, but then I realised, in essence, I am lucky.
While I’ve suffered with my own mental health struggles, I’ve never known what it feels like to be in so much pain. Consumed with so much mental anguish and turmoil that death is a preferred alternative.
Tragically my friend did.
While he was open about his mental health struggles, no one knew the intense degree of pain he was fighting daily. And, how would we?
Kevin (pictured) was a masterpiece of kindness, generosity and selflessness. Kevin loved giving. The gift of cooking. The gift of a new experience. The gift of listening.
Kevin actually trained with Jamie Oliver. Cooking was his ultimate passion. And gosh did he love sharing this. My favourite memory in fact, was when I was telling Kevin about being gluten-free and how I can’t have biscuits anymore. A look of horror on his face, he responded with “BUT WHAT DO YOU DUNK IN YOUR COFFEE THEN?”
Two weeks passed and I received a parcel in the post. Two boxes of homemade - trialled and tested by Kevin - gluten-free biscotti. I don’t think it’s possible to count just how many smiles Kevin was behind.
And that’s the thing. Kevin was busy making so many people smile that no one would notice just what was going on under the surface. Kevin was social, enthusiastic and had unparalleled energy for the small things in life which was contagious.
I struggled understanding how someone could mask so much pain while being so genuinely cheerful. Until someone said that often “a star burns the brightest before it burns out”. That has stuck with me. It also means Depression doesn’t always look like what you think it does. Nor being suicidal. You never know what someone is silently battling.
The day Kevin went missing I had hoped that he had gone on a ‘find yourself adventure’. But as the months went on that hope dwindled. I remember that This Morning was doing a feature on missing persons, and Jamie Oliver had even volunteered to make the plea for Kevin to come home himself on the Morning TV show. But before it could air he was found, dead.
It’s difficult to write the next part. I am going to get angry. Not at Kevin. But at those who profited off his misery.
Kevin left home at 12.30pm on 12th October 2011, telling his mum he was off to work. He didn’t return. 101 days later his body was found, ironically, in a local area called Happy Valley. Kevin had bought a DIY Suicide Kit off a website promising “painless deliverance”.
I still can’t bear the thought of anyone being in so much pain, let alone a friend, searching Google for a “way out”.
I was wracked with guilt. Going over and over in my head if I could have done more, asked more. Should I have stayed up later on Facebook Messenger? It was usually late at night that we put the world the rights. I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. You could tell at his funeral that everyone was asking similar questions. Until his Mum, speaking his eulogy said something I’ve never forgotten. How she wanted not one person to feel guilty, because Kevin lived for his friends and making those he loved happy and in fact had most likely contributed to being here much longer. And that there is why suicide is such a complex thing to understand. It is at once selfish, but also not. It causes so much pain to those who love the person, but ultimately the pain that person is undergoing feels unsurmountable.
And that’s why no one, NO ONE, should be alone in this darkness. It is tragic how many good people feel this pain is theirs to shoulder alone. Their burden. Their fight. If only they knew how many people want to be there for them. To sit with them in the darkness. To lighten the load. To offer safety for as long as it takes.
Throughout Kevin’s funeral and the weeks thereafter so many stories came out about Kevin. The volunteering he did, which few knew about. The memories of him supporting friends in times of crisis. The little ways he found to put a smile on those around him. Four people at his funeral, told his mum that day, how Kevin had saved their lives – how he had talked them back from the brink when they had felt they couldn’t go on – made them feel as though their lives were worth living.
It breaks my heart knowing I couldn’t do the same for him. But he didn’t say anything. Not about this. He just continued helping everyone else. And that’s the part that is agony. The world needs so many Kevins.
It was only after having to say goodbye to Kevin that I realised the horrifying reality of suicide levels in the UK. In fact, suicide remains the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45. The year Kevin died, more men under 35 died from suicide than road accidents, murder and HIV/AIDS combined. And this statistic has worsened not improved. Kevin’s mum, Patti, galvanised her grief into a lasting legacy of Kevin with creating Kevoirdos BIG LOVE Foundation. An organisation aimed at breaking the stigma around what mental health “looks like” and provides support for those at risk of suicide.
And this is why the type of work that Lancashire Mind does is critical. Not only does it also offer a safe and supportive environment to help those in such distress it offers preventive support: ensuring as many people as possible get the advice, support and help needed to reduce the likelihood of needing crisis intervention.
But we also all need to play our part. No one really needs to be a superhero to save a life. It’s the simplest acts, we take for granted, that will.
All the typical things I think to myself when answering “what would Kevin do?”