BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008, 12:27 GMT
No-one even knew he was depressed
By Dan Bell
BBC News

James Walsh
James Walsh was too ashamed of his depression to tell anyone
Maggie Day used to hate the way people said her son would never really die.

They said he'd always live on in her memories, but she didn't want memories, she wanted him. The memories used to make her curl up in a ball on the floor.

But now, two and a half years after James took his own life, she sees it differently, and some nights all she does is sit at home and try to remember everything about him.

What she cannot forget is the phone call she got just after lunchtime on May 16, 2005. James had walked deep into the woods by a motorway slip road on the outskirts of Manchester and hanged himself. He was 26 years old.

Although James had been struggling with crippling obsessive urges, paranoia and low self-esteem for more than five years, his family only knew about it for the last two of them, and it was just months before his death that he sought help.

Of the 800 people who attended his funeral, only a handful even knew he was depressed.

Ashamed of being sad

James's death added to one of the most shocking and little-known statistics on public health. The second most common way for a 15-to-34-year-old man to die is by his own hand. Suicide is a much bigger killer than knives and guns, and is only just outstripped by road deaths.

We will never know how bad it was, and it was a lot worse than what we ever knew
Maggie Day

James's mother and sister are certain his depression was as much about the shame he felt at having a problem and needing help, as it was about the illness itself.

"I think the pressure personally on him to hide it from friends and family and everybody made him very, very depressed...But we didn't realise, it was only towards the end that he started to let things out and talk about them," says his sister Gemma, 31.

"He didn't get any help, he didn't particularly ask for help until it was too late, basically," says Maggie, 54. "To be honest, we will never know how bad it was, and it was a lot worse than what we ever knew."

James was good at hiding how he felt. His mum and Gemma remember how they would all laugh when it took him an hour to iron his jeans, or when he used to panic over a speck of dust on his jumper, or a tiny crease in his Saturday night shirt.

Too little, too late

James would just smile and laugh along with them, even when they teased him about those jerky little hand gestures, or the way he had to touch the door frame, just so, each time he entered the room.

And it wasn't as if his tics stopped him going out on the town with his mates, most of whom he had known from primary school. As for girls, it was also a family joke that he was fancied by most of the girls in Manchester.

When he did finally seek help, what he got was too little, too late. According to his sister, James visited his GP and was told to "pull himself together and not expect everyone to do everything for him."

But James knew that he needed treatment, so he went to hospital twice, only to be handed anti-depressants and an appointment for five months later.

Those friends would have turned every grain of soil to find him
Maggie Day

"Each time it was like, right, OK, so you're suicidal? Right, so we're sending you home now, and we'll give you an appointment. Here's an appointment for July," says Gemma. "Of course part of you wonders, would he still be with us now if he had got appointments sooner?"

One of the most tragic things about suicide is that its aftermath often shows how much someone was loved. The moment James's friends heard he hadn't come back after lunch to his dad's building site, they all left their own work to look for him.

As James walked alone into the woods under the motorway, hoping that if he went far enough no one would find him, his friends were leaving scores of messages on his phone, and there were already half a dozen people waiting back at his house hoping that he would come home safe.

James's body was found by seven of his friends just hours after he had gone missing. "What he didn't realise because of the way he was feeling, was how much he was loved," says Maggie. "Those friends would have turned every grain of soil to find him."

Male suicide figures on increase
07 Mar 07 |  Scotland
Scots suicide rate highest in UK
30 Aug 06 |  Scotland
Football bid to aid mental health
11 Jun 06 |  Scotland
Study looks at suicide attitudes
15 Feb 06 |  Scotland


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific