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Canterbury: Heartbroken mums whose sons died by suicide speak out for Kentish Gazette's mental health campaign

Four mothers broken by the effects of losing sons to suicide are telling their stories in an attempt to help end the stigma surrounding mental health issues in men.

As the number of people suffering in silence continues to rise, so does the number of suicides in Canterbury, with rates doubling in the last five years.

Alarmingly, 75% of those taking their lives are men, and just this week there was yet another tragic story of another young man who felt suicide was his only option.

William Woledge, Toby Parkinson, Ryan Nimmo and Liam Kavanagh all tragically took their own lives. (6923351)
William Woledge, Toby Parkinson, Ryan Nimmo and Liam Kavanagh all tragically took their own lives. (6923351)

In an attempt to examine the causes and raise awareness of the help available, KentOnline’s sister newspaper the Kentish Gazette is this week launching its own campaign - End the Stigma.

Over the coming months we'll be speaking to various agencies on the frontline of mental health provision in the district, as well as charities doing valuable work to help stem the tide of often-avoidable tragedies.

We'll also be examining the overstretched and under-funded mental health services in Kent, with news this week of yet more expected cuts to vital bed numbers.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the county, and in Canterbury the number of people taking their own lives has risen from 10 in 2012 to 20 in 2017.

But for every tale of tragedy there is another of a man who, in speaking about his troubles and seeking help, managed to turn his life around.

Only by ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues, particularly in men, can we begin to see more stories with happy endings.

William Woledge

Jenny Woledge with a photo her and son William (6796799)
Jenny Woledge with a photo her and son William (6796799)

The horror of finding her son William hanged in their home in Canterbury will never leave Jenny Woledge.

She still regrets not reading the signs until his mental health had deteriorated too far.

But she has found "healing" from the trauma and pain in the work she is now doing to try and reduce suicides in young people.

She welcomes the Gazette's campaign to raise awareness about the issue, which is especially prevalent in young men.

Her determination to prevent future tragedies has led her to train in applied suicide intervention skills and even take a break from her job as an HR manager to travel the country with her workshops.

"I would like to think that I have already had some success in that, which gives me a great deal of comfort," said Jenny, speaking from her home in Ersham Road.

"It was as if his world had caved in and he lost all sense of being a worthy person" - Jenny Woledge

She was racked with feelings of guilt when William died in 2015, having told her he did not want to live anymore.

But she now recognises that a sense of loss of worth is a common theme in suicides among young men.

In his heart-rending note, later found on his mobile phone, William, said: "Just know I'm happy now I'm no longer here and I honestly mean this.

"I've been sad too long. I'm so blase about this because I welcome it with a salute and a smile.

"I've tortured my body for nine years and my soul wants to stay but I'm detached now. I can't go on like this."

Jenny said: "It was as if his world had caved in and he lost all sense of being a worthy person."

Now her suicide prevention work takes her all over the country, talking to conferences, schools, universities and even employers about the signs to look for in someone who is suffering depression.

"Unfortunately, with the high number of suicides, we are not getting through to them enough, although there is a great deal of work going on behind the scenes, even in places like barbers' shops and football grounds, where a lot of young men visit.

"The campaign by the Gazette is extremely timely and I wish the newspaper every success with it because anything we can do together to prevent these tragedies is vital."

Jenny welcomes inquiries from groups and organisations about her talks and can be contacted on jennywoledge@sky.com

Toby Parkinson

Joy Parkinson with a photo of son Toby (6867644)
Joy Parkinson with a photo of son Toby (6867644)

Joy and Barry Parkinson hoped their son Toby would find happiness when he followed his love for music on a course at Canterbury College.

Playing guitar was his main passion, rather than academic studies.

But the depression that had shrouded his teenage years, and seen him spend some time in a mental health unit, eventually became too much.

Tragically, he was found hanged in woods near the house he shared on the Poet's Estate in Canterbury. He was just 20.

Speaking from her home in Oxford Street, Margate, Joy revealed how Toby refused to discuss his mental health problems or receive counselling.

"It felt like there was nothing we could do because he wouldn't talk to us," she said.

"He saw us as the enemy, I think, and because he had moved out to Canterbury, we couldn't see the downward spiral he was getting in to.

"We didn't hear much from him and all we knew about his life was what we saw on Facebook."

"It felt like no one could help him because he wasn't prepared to help himself" - Joy Parkinson

Joy, 49, a pathology lab technician, believes that while girls will talk about their feelings, boys are far more reluctant to.

"I'm sure that's the case, certainly among their peer group," she said.

She says that Toby's depression was compounded by his excessive drinking but, although he had self-harmed in the past, she never suspected he would take his own life.

"We didn't realise how serious it was," she said.

"When the police came round after Toby was found we were obviously shocked because we never thought that he would actually kill himself.

"But it felt like no one could help him because he wasn't prepared to help himself."

Toby was one of five brothers and, since his death, Joy says that other family friends have disclosed how they have become more aware and vigilant about their children's moods and emotions.

She also believes that websites like Facebook, used by so many young people, could play a bigger role in deterring suicides and directing vulnerable people to the relevant support.

Tellingly, the night before his death, Toby had posted: “I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not going to have a mid-life crisis. My life is a [expletive] crisis.”

Liam Kavanagh

Jackie Kavanagh with a photo of her son Liam (6844137)
Jackie Kavanagh with a photo of her son Liam (6844137)

To many who knew him, Liam Kavanagh was the "life and soul of the party".

But his close family knew that behind his happy go-lucky facade was a man battling bouts of depression and anxiety.

And it tragically culminated with his suicide when the father-of-two hanged himself at Whitstable railway station last April. He was just 31.

His death devastated his close-knit family and, nine months later, mum Jackie says she still feels "numb" and can barely believe he has gone from their lives.

"I took three months off work but I still think I'm on autopilot," she said.

"When people ask me how I feel, I can't tell them.

"Liam had a good way of hiding things and took to drink, which probably made things worse.

"He wasn't perfect but he was devoted to his family and especially his two young children, which is why we have struggled to understand why he did it."

"I don't feel angry with Liam but I do believe more could have been done to help him" - Jackie Kavanagh

At the time of his death, Chelsea fan Liam was living with Jackie, 53 at her home in Ivy House Road, Whitstable.

He was getting support from mental health services but Jackie believes it was inadequate and he should have been taken into a secure unit.

"He had tried suicide in the past and when I got his medical records, I was quite shocked to learn it had happened so many times," she said.

"I don't feel angry with Liam but I do believe more could have been done to help him."

Jackie believes the high rate in suicides in men like Liam is a worrying trend that urgently needs attention.

"There is far too many and the numbers are growing," she said.

Jackie, who is a shift leader at a centre for children with special needs, hopes their will be more of focus on treating young men with mental health issues which put them at risk.

The family have also been devastated to learn that Liam had researched websites giving detailed information on how to commit suicide.

They are so appalled that his sister Natasha has started a petition calling on internet providers to be forced to take down the sites, which has so far gathered more than 33,000 signatures from around the world.

Jackie says: "I welcome the Kentish Gazette's campaign because if it helps saves one life it will be worth it. I don't want another family to go through what we have."

Ryan Nimmo

Pixie Nimmo with a photo of Ryan (6873265)
Pixie Nimmo with a photo of Ryan (6873265)

Pixie Nimmo prefers to remember the happy times with her son Ryan, when they would laugh and play games together - not the troubled young man who took his own life.

It ended tragically last March when the 22-year-old Canterbury Christ Church University student hanged himself from a tree near their home - leaving a note which read: “I am sorry for everything I have done. Every day is bad. I do not want to live any more. I do not want to hurt anyone any more.”

But his suicide was the culmination of years of mental health problems which were aggravated by his drinking and drug-taking.

"He began taking drugs because he thought it helped his depression but, of course, it only made things worse," said former nurse Pixie, who manages the Cancer Research shop in Canterbury.

"Yet he had everything to live for. He was extremely bright and studying to be a surgical operating theatre practitioner, which was what he wanted."

But, disturbingly, she later found he had researched websites on how to hang himself.

"Too many people are taking their lives and this has to stop" - Pixie Nimmo

Pixie, 54, blames Ryan's downfall on "getting in with the wrong crowd" and at his inquest criticised mental health services for not detaining him secure unit for treatment where he would have been safe.

Instead, having been sectioned following previous attempts to take his life, he was discharged by doctors. A week later, he was dead.

Now Pixie is focusing on keeping his memory alive and creating a lasting legacy, which she hopes will help other young people in emotional turmoil.

She has started fundraising for Ryan's Promise Project which will provide a minibus which can visit various locations in the area offering a drop-in service where anyone with emotional issues can have an informal chat and cup of tea with a trained counsellor.

She said: "Ryan always helped people and believed that working for the NHS and the community was a privilege and an honour.

"The aim is to provide help and support with advice to vulnerable people and to prevent and reduce the risk of suicide. Too many people are taking their lives and this has to stop."

To support her appeal, go to www.gofundme.com/ryans-promise-project.

For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time.

If you want to talk to someone confidentially, click here

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