From the Leatherhead Advertiser, Surrey, 17 August 2011
THIS year marks the 50th anniversary of the Suicide Act 1961, which decriminalised the act of taking your own life.
But despite that change, and the fact that an average of one person dies by suicide in the UK every two hours, it is still rarely discussed, according to the Samaritans.
Two weeks ago the Advertiser reported the story of Louise Walsom, from Westhumble, who battled with severe myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), otherwise known as chronic fatigue syndrome, since January 2010, after contracting glandular fever.
The ME caused her to become severely depressed and, after spending months in hospital, she took her own life at the age of 18.
Louise’s parents, Susan and Roger Walsom, knew she was struggling with her illness, but did not realise the extent of the problem until she attempted suicide last September.
From that point on, they tried to keep a constant watch and shortly afterwards they admitted her to the adolescent psychiatric unit at the Priory, Roehampton.
Mr Walsom said: “She felt happier in the Priory. It was the first time she had been with people who really understood how she felt. But, unfortunately, neither the Priory nor the adult psychiatric unit at Epsom Hospital, where she had to be moved when she became 18, were able to get her better.”
Despite being open with her parents about how she was feeling, Louise struggled to talk to friends about her problems.
Mrs Walsom said: “Many people – let alone teenagers – don’t know how to deal with someone who is very depressed. Louise would have liked to be more open about how she felt, but knew that many of her friends wouldn’t know how to react and she didn’t want to scare them off. She just wanted to be a normal teenager again.”
Mr Walsom feels that it’s important for people to become more open about depression and suicide. He said: “I don’t feel any embarrassment about how Louise died; it was part of her illness.
“What she did takes either guts or utter desperation and you can’t criticise somebody for either of those.
“Anyone who thinks it was selfish or cowardly has no comprehension of what she was going through or how terrible life seemed through her eyes.”
Mrs Walsom agrees combating unhelpful and uninformed attitudes will help remove the stigma.
She said: “We have been left devastated, but we don’t blame Louise because she couldn’t help it and she would never have wanted to hurt us.”
She added: “Some people don’t regard depression as a serious illness. They think you can control it, which you can’t. You can’t just make yourself feel happy if illness makes you feel utterly miserable.”