When you hear the word ‘suicide’, how does it make you feel?
Perhaps you get uncomfy and want to change the subject or maybe you have suicidal thoughts yourself, but without talking about it, we can’t prevent it.
Their story is bittersweet, with husband and wife co-founders, Michael Mansfield and Yvette Greenway-Mansfield, kickstarting their quest after both experiencing loss due to suicide.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, acclaimed barrister Michael told us about the morning of May 1 in 2015 and how it changed his life forever.
Michael said: “You never normally get an early morning or late-night call unless it is bad news. I was due to be in court that day, representing the Hillsborough family.
“My phone rang at 6am. It was a family member who, probably due to shock, disbelief and inability to know where or how to start, simply said, ‘Anna’s dead!’
“Anna was one of my beloved children. She was a 44-year-old mum of two. I knew she had been struggling at work and personally on and off for some time.
“That very Saturday, she was due to come and see myself and my wife Yvette to talk things through. We never got to have that chat.”
Michael describes the moment he was told as an out-of-body experience. When the words eventually sunk in, he started to bang the mantelpiece in anger before collapsing.
Needless to say, he didn’t go into court that day.
Determined to find some positivity out of this tragedy, Michael began thinking of ways to continue Anna’s legacy by helping others who might be in need.
Michael said: “Before May 1, 2015, I never thought suicide was something that happened to anyone I knew. Or indeed, might happen to my own family.
“At the reception after Anna’s funeral, I said the unspoken word… ‘suicide’. I said what no one would say, and mourners thanked me for my honesty and openness.
“So many other stories came out. At the funeral itself, suicide had touched almost half of all mourners’ lives. All in silence until that time.”
Following the funeral, Michael and Yvette, who had also lost a friend to suicide, did an interview with Newsnight which triggered a powerful reaction from viewers.
They knew they had to ‘do’ something in response and SOS Silence of Suicide was born.
To begin their mission, the couple held a local meeting that was live-streamed globally.
Reflecting on the day, Michael said: “I will never forget a Jamaican postman who attended the meeting. He just came and stood at the microphone, silent.
“He had never shared his story of losing his father to suicide. That same father who whistled and sung a tune every day and inspired him to be the best version of himself. Then one day, again, there was silence. His father took his own life. Unanswered questions and guilt.
“Our first SOS meeting was a form of release or therapy for him and the other people who attended. The resounding message was and still is that you are not alone.”
Fast-forward to today and SOS Silence of Suicide continue to hosts events to help reduce shame and stigma, as well as running their dedicated helpline which is manned by volunteers.
This vital lifeline, open seven days a week, saw a staggering spike in calls last December during the pandemic as demand increased by 670%.
Michael said: “We want to help as many people as possible, particularly younger people and vulnerable young adults. We desperately need more volunteers to commit to regular three or four hour telephone shifts. Full training is provided, and applicants work from home.
“We also want to get back to the live interactions as soon as possible. After the pandemic, people will be needing even more humane and group environments to feel safe and heard.
“We see how people physiologically evolve during live events. They are all in the same room with one unifying experience – suicide. Sharing experiences is hugely powerful and moving. No one else offers these type of sessions so we want to build on these around the UK.”
As well as helping young people are who struggling, the team strive to shine a light on the people left behind by suicide as Michael believes there simply isn’t enough support.
In particular, he recalled one colleague whose son and his wife took their lives in the same way, the mother one year after the son had died.
Michael said: “My colleague said to me he wished he had had the opportunity to talk to wife as he would want her to know what she left behind before she did what she did.
“Might this have impacted upon her decision to take her own life? We don’t know but it is an interesting and sobering consideration.
“There is always one word that people use after being bereaved by suicide. WHY? Why didn’t they tell me how they were feeling, why didn’t I know, why didn’t I do more?”
When asked about how he would like to see education around suicide and suicidal ideation shift, Michael said Yvette is particularly keen to further examine this area.
He said: “We were utterly horrified by the number of snuff movie sites and groups that are accessible to young people.
“Primarily, we would want to develop this work with schools, universities and public sector departments to demystify the allure of such shameful content and possible tragic outcomes – this might even become part of citizenship responsibilities.
“What is key is that primary school children are taught how to value themselves and respect others. Building self-esteem and personal resilience, whilst acknowledging differences in each other, could make a huge difference in the way these young people develop.
“Let’s aim for future generations who practice #compassioninsociety, our theme for 2021.”
Michael knows first-hand how education can inspire young people, having had an art teacher at Highgate School that remains in his memory to this day.
He concluded: “For two terms, he more or less told us not to pick up a paint brush, he simply wanted us to become more present and engaged with the environment around us.
“Covid-19 has woken up the globe. What that means in real terms for the future of our planet and interactions as human beings is yet to be defined.
“As the late Caroline Flack said: ‘In a world where you can be anything, be kind.’”
For more info or to join the SOS team of volunteers, visit: SOS Silence of Suicide.
The dedicated suicide helpline number is: 0300 1020 505 (4pm-midnight).