A brave Uttoxeter woman has revealed how the nightmare of her husband’s suicide left the family’s lives changed forever.
NHS accountant Mark Stanaway was 41 when he took his own life in November 2009.
He had recently celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary with wife Joanna and the family were looking forward to spending Christmas together in their Uttoxeter home.
Joanna, who was 40 at the time, was still on maternity leave following the birth of the couple’s third child.
Mark’s death caught her completely unaware – but Joanna hopes she can help others by telling her story.
Joanna who works as a performance manager in Stoke-on-Trent, said: "At the time, the children were aged nine, seven and five months.
"The day before it happened, we’d been out doing a bit of Christmas shopping. And then the next day Mark said he had some work to do, so I took the children out on my own for the day.
"I’d had no inkling about what he was planning. And when I got home and found him, it was my worst nightmare unfolding.
"I suppose people would say we were a normal family. Both hardworking and raising a young family; blessed with three wonderful children. We were all in good health. His death was an incredible shock – and not only to me. It was a shock to everyone who knew us, too.
"Being bereaved by suicide is a loss like no other. I still have so many unanswered questions, and always will."
Mark had worked for the Post Office for many years, before turning his hand to accountancy and eventually joining the NHS.
He'd had a short period of depression during his working life, but had received counselling and medication – and Joanna believed he had been doing well. But she knew he had been under "immense" pressure at work.
She said: "While working for the NHS he was under increasing pressure – it was that kind of environment.
"He was trying to do too much, and he did raise his concerns with his managers.
"I guess there are some things I’ll never understand, but I do know he truly loved his family and in that moment he saw it as his only way out of the angst he was going through inside.
"At his inquest, the coroner concluded that work pressures had contributed to his death, and recommended an internal review was carried out."
After Mark’s death, Joanna received support from many sources, but still has concerns for the way those left behind can be affected.
She added: "There is nothing to prepare you for what you go through, for what your children go through.
"The police sergeant who came to the house that evening was fantastic, as was my church, my GP, employers, and close friends and family.
"I also, by chance, heard about Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS), an organisation I’m closely involved in now.
"Since Mark’s death we’ve set up a group in my home town, and it still continues to be an eye-opener to me by how many people are affected by this type of loss.
"The mutual support I’ve drawn from this group has been invaluable. I’ve made strong friendships here – in other ways, bereavement by suicide shows you who your true friends are. But no-one really knows how to help you.
"It never goes away, the feeling of loss. It’s different to when someone dies of natural causes because you’re always asking 'why?' – there’s no real closure."
Joanna found it particularly hard when explaining Mark’s death to their children.
She added: "I wanted to be as honest as possible, but they were so young. It was hard to know which words to use, but I sought the help of the Dove Service, which was fantastic.
"People have got to understand the impact of what’s left behind. Suicide is not about being selfish, because when you are in that state of mind, there’s no way you can think about anything other than finding a solution to your problems.
"But those people need to realise there is help and support out there. I hope that by telling my story, someone who is thinking suicide is their only option will be able to stop and think that there is hope."
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the suicide rate has fallen by 4.7 per cent in the last year. Deaths by suicide in Great Britain in 2016 fell from 5,870 to 5,668, the lowest rate since 2011.
The ONS says the fall is likely to be due to prevention work by the Government, the NHS, charities including Samaritans, and the British Transport Police. But Samaritans chief executive Ruth Sutherland says more work needs to be done.
She said: "Even though a fall in suicides compared with the previous year is welcome, 5,668 people dying in Great Britain in one year is still too high.
"Samaritans is working hard with partners, including the NHS, other charities and local authorities, to bring these figures down further. Every suicide is a tragedy."
If you need support, or if you are worried about someone else, there are a number of organisations you can call.
- Samaritans – 24 hour helpline : 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Papyrus – prevention of young suicide: 0800 068 41 41 or email email@example.com
- Mind – mental health charity: 0300 123 3393 or text 86463
There are also charities that can offer support if you have lost someone to suicide.
- SOBS – support for people bereaved by suicide: 0300 111 5065 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Dove Service – bereavement and loss counselling charity: 01782 683155 or 0300 102 3683