“We all go around thinking that suicide will never come knocking at our door," says Steve Phillip from Harrogate. "I certainly never imagined that in a million years and yet here we are."
On 4 December 2019, Phillip received a phone call from his son’s girlfriend, Charlotte to give him the news no parent imagines they’ll ever hear: his beloved son Jordan had died by suicide.
Just the day before, Philip and Jordan had been chatting by text message. Phillip, who was away on business in Solihull, had suggested a telephone catch-up later that day; but Jordan had declined, saying he was too tired. "I'm gonna just have some chill time and get an early night xxx," he wrote. It was their final exchange.
“Jordan was very highly thought of by his friends, very much an upbeat member of his group," Phillip says now. "He was seen as the guy who, if you were in trouble, would jump in his car and travel half way across the country to look after his mates.
“He was a generous and principled guy. Lots of people have described to me how he'd walk into a room and you knew something special was going on.”
Jordan was 34 when he died. He had been diagnosed with clinical depression in 2015 and prescribed antidepressants. He had one round of cognitive behavioural therapy after he was first diagnosed, but in the following four years he did not receive any talking therapies whatsoever.
“When we look back over the years leading up to it, he was clearly struggling, his moods were very low on occasions,” Phillip admits. “When he was younger we might have thought he was just being a moody teenager, but now we reflect and think 'maybe that was something else'.”
In the weeks leading up to his death, Phillip and his ex-wife, Jordan’s mother, were concerned as he was clearly struggling. “It never crossed our minds that he could be suicidal,” says Phillip, but the depression was certainly getting deeper and everyone was keeping a close eye on him to be there if he needed help. Sadly, they were unable to be."
In 2019, around 18 people per day died by suicide in England and Wales. According to ONS data, suicide and injury or poisoning of undetermined intent are the leading causes of death in under-35 year-old men in the UK, responsible for just over a quarter of all deaths in that age group.
Despite conversations around mental health becoming much more visible in recent years, with celebrities discussing their own mental health problems, charities gaining prominence in national discourse and a minister for mental health and suicide prevention being appointed in 2019, suicide rates have remained stubbornly high.
According to the most recent statistics, published in December 2019 by Samaritans, the number of suicides has slightly increased.
Since his son’s passing, Phillip has become a suicide prevention advocate and spokesperson, founding The Jordan Legacy as a place to offer resources and outreach to individuals, community organisations, and businesses to help prevent suicides.
This work has led Phillip to speaking with dozens of people in crisis, but it has made him angry at the failings of the mental health movement in actually preventing suicides. While Phillip is careful not to overstate his case as the data for 2020 hasn't been released, he believes that amidst lockdowns and general the virus we'll see an increase in suicides. “We're not having the same conversation around suicide as we are around mental health,” he says. “In 2018 the government and the NHS introduced a five-year forward plan for the NHS and mental health, and that included suicide prevention. They set a target of 10 per cent reduction in suicide by 2020-2021. Is that it? Why just 10 per cent? We're now at that point and suicides have not gone down.”
Phillip is also angry at the ‘broken system’ which he believes lets down Jordan and other people like him. “I get messages daily, dozens of them each week, from people telling me their experience of being in crisis and calling national helplines and NHS helplines and in most cases not being able to speak to anyone because these services are overwhelmed.”
People who’ve approached him for help tell Phillip that they’ve been told to do breathing exercises when they’re on the verge of suicide. Others have been told that crisis teams are so overwhelmed the best they can offer is a consultation in six or seven weeks time.
“I know what it’s like to lose your child to suicide,” he says. “I'd be sitting there and suddenly feel like I'd been punched in the solar plexus. I'd almost be knocked back and gasp any time I had a triggering thought. We can't have that happening to other families. We just can’t.”
Ultimately, Phillip blames Britain’s suicide problem on low ambition on government ministers and health services. “There have been some well-documented case studies in Detroit and Australia, aiming for zero suicides. They recognise that is probably unattainable but that is the goal we should be moving forward to rather than this low ambition from the government which wants to aim for 10 per cent.”
What's more, Phillip thinks the mental health movement needs to do more to engage those who are supporting individuals who are suffering with depression and suicidal thoughts. “I'd tell parents in my position that if you’re aware that [your children] are struggling, it's your responsibility to learn more about mental health issues.
"It's everyone's responsibility to learn that little bit more, to spot the signs and know then what to do if those signs do appear. Wake up and take responsibility so we can all look after our friends, relatives and colleagues.”