Saying Yes to Life, Despite Everything

Grief is the most shocking and visceral experience. I was standing in the hallway of my parents’ house. I felt like someone had forced their arm down my throat and grabbed my heart in their fist and twisted. It was excruciating. Just when I thought the pain was too much to bear, they squeezed harder…..My brother had just committed suicide. He was 32 and this was his first attempt. At his funeral, hundreds gathered from across the country to pay their respects. How could he not see how much he was loved by them? By his kids? By me?

I now believe, after many years, that I know the answer. He had simply lost hope.

When looking at suicide, relationship issues, mental health problems, alcohol and substance abuse, financial pressures are usually at the top of people’s lists of probable causes. But hopelessness and helplessness are the main emotions felt by those attempting suicide according to published research. Without hope, what are we?

One of the inspirational clinical staff in my organisation, John Walsh, quotes Viktor Frankl’s work on the power of hope, as set out in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. The original title may be more relevant here – “Saying Yes to Life, Despite Everything”. Frankl survived Auschwitz and lost most of his loved ones in the holocaust. He looked at why people survived the holocaust and the concentration camps. He concluded they were able to find hope in something bigger than themselves – whether religion, family, purpose, love. In brutal conditions in Aushwitz, he discovered:

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which Man can aspire…..I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved…..”

There are now many charities and organisations working how to address or mitigate suicidal risks. These often trade on this idea of building hope or finding meaning.  You probably know someone affected – since 13% of 16 year olds have self harmed and suicide remains the biggest killer of young males. If you or someone you know needs help,  get in touch with your GP who can signpost to some brilliant NHS services – trawl on NHS Choices too.

I would also point you in the direction of the fantastic  Campaign Against Living Miserably which is aimed primarily at men

CALM ambassador-philip-levine

“All men, at times of need, may not know where to turn or go. CALM gives this freedom to know there is always someone to listen and more importantly help. Suicide is preventable”

And UCanCope a partnership between Connecting with People, the Samaritans and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The latter has fantastic free resources aimed at:

 ‘Suicide mitigation: a compassionate approach to suicide prevention’ – the desire that health professionals and those people in a therapeutic relationship with someone who has self-harmed realise that ‘every encounter with a suicidal person is an opportunity to intervene to reduce their distress and, potentially, to save a life.


This short film says a little more

Today, on Phil’s birthday, this blog is a thank you to those people and organisations who work in this arena.

It is also part of my commitment to the pledge I made to the Time to Change campaign about stigma and mental health – that I would talk more about how I have been affected.


Perhaps if that stigma didn’t exist and if more time was spent talking about mental health and whether young men are OK, I could be wishing him a happy 43rd birthday. Instead, I will feel the fist around my heart, squeezing ever more gently as time goes by.


32 thoughts on “Saying Yes to Life, Despite Everything

  1. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. It’s an incredibly moving and affecting post, which I think will be significant in raising awareness about suicide and about the importance of hope. I couldn’t agree more about the points you raise.

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  3. A very emotional read but so important that you feel able to share this. We all need to talk so much more about this kind of thing. Thank you

  4. That must have been so hard to write Rob. As ever, you have used personal courage to offer inspirational leadership. Thank you.

  5. Dear Rob such a moving story and so brave of you to share – I feel inspired to look into how I can raise awareness of this impotant issue – kind regards Sandra

  6. Hello Rob,

    Thank yoiu for your inspiring and moving story. I just lost my husband, who was a GP, two months ago, he committed suicide. It also was his first attempt. This was his first depressive episode which lasted for 2 months. He also lost hope and had the feeling he could never become the excellent GP he was, the loving father he was the devoting husband etc..Thanks, Miranda from the Netherlands

    • Hello Miranda

      Thanks for sharing this with me. It has taken me ten years to start to be more open about my brother’s death. It has really started to help me and I hope that the more we tackle the stigma of suicide the more we can prevent it.

      I hope you are getting good support in what I know will be the toughest times. Take care.


  7. That most certainly brought tears to my eyes, as my husband died by suicide May 30. I am very passionate about working to save other families from the same fate as mine, which is why I began blogging … This is 2013! How can the world be SO technilogically advanced in some areas and then behind the dark ages in mental health?! Something HAS to change!!

  8. Thanks Rob for sharing your pain. My mum took her own life over 20 years ago. I felt that people recoiled when I told them, because of fear and stigma and that made it so much harder to deal with the loss. I’m now taking small steps, talking about it a bit more. My mum might be here now if she’d been able to access the help she needed, free of the fear of people thinking she was failing, in some way, for having a mental health problem.

  9. Hi Rob thank you for sharing your families story which will help anyone who reads this
    I am so sorry for your loss and like you believe that talking more about how we feel on the bad days is as important as laughing on the good days
    Take care

  10. Many thanks for sharing this Rob. Thinking of you and your family. My partner too his life almost 4years now. Still waiting for it to get easier.

  11. This is so thoughtful and moving. I have lost a colleague and a friend’s husband since 2009 to suicide. It affects everyone around that person in such a different way from any other deaths. Men do not talk about their feelings very well. Men use friends as A&E and women use theirs as Starbucks.

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  13. “Suicide is Preventable”… the hardest part for us that have lost a brother to suicide to swallow without self destructing. Paralyzed by the pain. Thank you for sharing this.

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