Dawn, who lost her brother to suicide, encourages people to speak about mental health

Dawn Cowling, who lost her brother to suicide. PIC: Richard Ponter
Dawn Cowling, who lost her brother to suicide. PIC: Richard Ponter

Between 2016 and 2018, Scarborough had the joint eighth highest rate of suicide in England, according to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics.

The suicide rate – 15.6 per 100,000 – was the highest of any local authority in Yorkshire and the Humber, and the rate for men – 23.5 per 100,000 – was the twelfth highest in the country, and well above the English average of 17.2.

10 highest age-standardised suicide rates in England by local authority between 2016-2018. Graph: Flourish

10 highest age-standardised suicide rates in England by local authority between 2016-2018. Graph: Flourish

READ MORE: Scarborough has joint eighth highest rate of suicide in England, latest figures show

As shocking as these new figures are, for Dawn Cowling, from Scarborough, they mean more than just numbers on a page.

Dawn lost her brother Kevin to suicide four years ago when he was 41, and continues to deal with her loss.

“It was a big shock,” she said. “We didn’t really know the extent of what he was going through because he sort of kept it to himself, but I did know he was suffering with depression, and he was seeking help, trying his hardest.

“He was just a nice man, he had a heart of gold and would do anything for you.

“He lost his way a bit as he got older. He did get himself sorted out but by then the depression was there, it had already made its place and that was something that he could not get rid of.

“That was part of his life from then on, something that he had to deal with that was difficult for him and I didn’t realise how difficult it was because he was keeping it to himself.

“He didn’t tell us anything, he just did it and that was it.”

Suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK, and Dawn is keen to encourage everyone, but especially men, to talk about their problems and seek help when they need it.

She continued: “Nobody knows what anybody else is going through and this is the problem, people need to talk.

“Don’t be embarrassed and don’t be ashamed to talk to someone if you feel low because we’re actually all in the same boat.

“Let’s just support each other and help each other.”

READ MORE: Mental health stall set up in Scarborough by suicide survivor

Having never suffered from problems with her mental health before, Dawn sought help earlier this year to cope with the loss of her brother.

“I was having down days all the time,” she said. “When I was with friends, I felt like I was grieving constantly and even when I was happy I would go back to feeling like that.

“You’ve got to look after yourself, because if you don’t look after you, who else is going to do it for you?

“Yes you’ve got family and friends but they can’t physically make you feel better, you’ve got to make yourself feel better, and the first step is seeking professional advice.”

For Dawn one of the hardest things to deal with has been the unanswered questions she has for her brother.

She said: “For me, to lose somebody to suicide, I always say they decided to check out, but it was so difficult to understand why.

“You just learn to deal with it and cope with it a lot better than you’ve done in the past but you’ll never understand why.

“Some people say people who take their own lives are cowards. Well no, to actually do that you have got to be at such a low point in your life that you cannot see a way back.

“That’s why we need to get people talking and get people expressing and getting their feelings out if they are feeling like they need some help.

“I wish I could have been there to get more of an understanding of what he was going through because I didn’t know the extent of how he was dealing with it on a daily basis.”

Dawn feels strongly that the stigma that still exists around mental health issues should be broken down.

She wants anyone feeling low to know people are ready to listen to them, and we shouldn’t feel like our problems are a burden to others.

With a worrying upward trend for suicide in the local authority area – the number of people to take their own lives rose by 250 per cent between 2014 and 2018 – Dawn hopes through sharing her experience, it may prompt someone to seek help and prevent others from suffering the loss of a loved one as she has.

READ MORE: Funding boost for mental health crisis services in Scarborough

Dawn and her family continue to be affected by the loss of Kevin, a grief she can’t quite put into words.

“It’s a completely different grief,” she said. “To lose someone to suicide is the weirdest feeling, it’s a strange grief, you feel like you’re on your own.

“I’ll never get over it.

“People think that just because you talk about mental health, you’re absolutely bonkers but it’s something that we should talk about because it is ok to.”

How to get help:

If you feel like you need help you can contact the following services:

• The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies service accepts self-referrals online at www.northyorkshireiapt.co.uk or 01947 899270.
• Crisis resolution and intensive home treatment teams are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 01723 384645.
• Scarborough Survivors, 9 Alma Square - Run a Resource Centre from 11.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Thursday and 11am to 1.30pm on Fridays, and a Crisis Cafe from 7.30pm to 1am Friday and Saturday and 8pm to 1am on Sundays.
• North Yorkshire Mental Health Helpline - A confidential, anonymous and free to use service, 24 hours a days on 0333 0000 309.
• Samaritans - You can talk to the Samaritans any time you like about whatever’s getting to you. You don’t have to be suicidal. 08457 90 90 90.
• CALM - The Campaign Against Living Miserably has a helpline for men in the UK who need to talk or find information and support. The helpline is open from 5pm to midnight – 0800 585858.
• In an emergency, always ring 999.