Suzanne McAllister: A family working to tackle suicide in Sheffield
After Dan McAllister died by suicide in May 2015 his family set up SToRMS, an organisation working to prevent deaths like Dan’s. Suzanne, Dan’s mum, talks about what they hope to achieve. Trigger warning: suicide
We set up SToRMS following Dan’s death by suicide in May 2015. We realised pretty early on that the circumstances of Dan’s death weren’t unusual; that suicide is the biggest killer of both men and women under the age of 35 and that a third of people who take their own life are not in touch with any health services.
We never even considered that we might lose Dan in this way. He was a normal, healthy 19 year old, clever, funny, lots of friends, from a loving home. A bit grumpy sometimes and we knew he didn’t like university, but this didn’t seem any different to all the other 19 year olds out there who don’t take their own life. There was nothing obvious that would start ringing alarm bells about suicide.
Before this, if someone had tried to talk to us about suicide prevention we probably would have thought “That doesn’t apply to us. We’re OK. We’d know if they were struggling and would be there like a shot. It wouldn’t ever happen to us” None of the other bereaved families we have talked to saw it coming either…
These “out of the blue” suicide deaths are now recognised as a real thing. But how do you prevent them, (they are all preventable), if you can’t tell who’s at risk? SToRMS’ strategies aim to intervene way before things have got to the point where someone can’t go on any longer.
We believe that the only way to reach people who don’t know (or won’t admit) that they need help is through an approach that reaches everyone; improving the early, low level support for someone who is struggling with what is going on in their life or getting them the help they need.
Our key message is that we all need to talk to someone honestly about how we are feeling and that it is ok to admit that things are getting you down. For that to work there also needs to be someone there who will listen, properly listen, when we tell them how we feel. It could be a friend, family member, someone at work/school or maybe even a complete stranger. Too many times one or other side of that particular interaction falls down.
Getting that connection to happen effectively may be enough to save a life. We can’t save Dan, and that makes us sad every day. What is certain is that if we had known even a 10th of what we know today, Dan would still be alive. We hope to pass some of that knowledge on to other families, friends, colleagues so they may be able to help support those around them and maybe even save a life.
You don’t have to be a doctor or counsellor. If you are worried about someone, ask them: “I’ve noticed you seem down and I want to help”. Keep an eye even if they brush you off. Don’t take a smile or an “I’m fine” as proof that everything is okay. Trust your gut. Let them know that you are willing to help and offer support.
We are still a very small charity, reliant on our own spare time and the help of volunteers. Over the last 3 years, we have worked alongside local and national charities, businesses, schools, universities, sport clubs, and health centres to deliver our vision of suicide prevention, which is that everyone has a role to play in saving a life. We hold annual fundraising events on Dan’s birthday in early August, which also aim to raise awareness and to bring together people who have been affected by suicide. We also offer informal support for families and loved ones of people who have died by suicide. We have also developed a free online WISETALKERS course which is designed to help people pick up the early signs, and to deal better with those difficult conversations in all parts of their lives.
If you want to know more about our work, you can visit our website www.stormsdmc.org
We always welcome new ideas which go above and beyond traditional health service approaches, and engage people in different ways such as through music, art, or sport.
If you want to contribute ideas, get involved or wish to find out more about our WISETALKERS course, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org.