With Britain’s younger generation facing a mental health crisis, Fabulous investigates the shocking rise in child suicide rates
Hugging her teenage son Brandon as he broke down, Mina Rayat had never felt more helpless. School bullies had reduced her kind and loving boy to a shell of his former self.
“Like any mother, I tried my best to console him,” says Mina, 42. “But he ran upstairs to his bedroom sobbing.”
Brandon Rayat took his own life at the age of 15[/caption]
After barricading his door, Brandon did the unthinkable on that sunny day in August 2016, and took his life at just 15 years old.
Yet the tragedy of Brandon’s death was not an isolated incident. According to a recent YouGov survey carried out for the Prince’s Trust, the number of young people in the UK who say they don’t believe that life is worth living has doubled in the last decade. And figures show the number of teenage suicides in England and Wales increased by 67% between 2010 and 2017.*
Last year, 11-year-old Ursula Keogh from Halifax made headlines after she took her life by jumping off a bridge. Moments before, she’d texted her mum: “I love you but so sorry.” The inquest into her death in November found that Ursula had a history of self-harming and had been viewing web pages about suicide.
With such shocking statistics and stories, there’s little doubt Britain’s younger generation is facing a mental health crisis. But why are children taking their own lives?
Ursula Keogh took her own life at the age of 11 by jumping off a bridge[/caption]
Speaking exclusively to Fabulous, Jackie Doyle-Price – who became the UK’s first Minister for Suicide Prevention in October 2018 – admits: “This generation of young people is under huge pressure due to a number of factors, including bullying, body image and social media.
“When you are a teenager these pressures can feel very intense, leading to feelings of low self-worth. I am deeply concerned about suicidal and self-harm content online and its impact on young people. Also of concern is the role that traumatic experiences can play, as we’ve learnt from research that childhood abuse is a common factor in suicides by young people.
“The government is working with experts to better understand the reasons behind the increase in suicide by young people, and we’ve been clear with online providers that we expect them to remove harmful content.”
According to Laura Peters, head of advice and information at charity Rethink Mental Illness, children aren’t always aware of the finality of their actions.
Chloe Bellerby attempted to take her own life at 16 after experiencing suicidal thoughts[/caption]
“Suicide is often the result of wanting to bring a certain feeling to an end rather than a desire to die,” she explains. “It can be difficult for young people to consider the long-term consequences as they don’t have as much life experience as adults.”
Mina, a hairdresser, who lives in Leicester with husband Raj, 47, and their younger son Jay, 13, says Brandon endured months of bullying in the run-up to his death.
“Before the abuse started Brandon was a happy child,” she says. “He was really clever and dreamed of becoming a doctor. But when he turned 14 he changed completely, becoming very withdrawn and going straight to his room after school instead of chatting about his day.
“When I asked if he was OK, he’d insist he was fine. I knew something must be wrong, but not for a second did I think he was depressed. He was so young.”
Brandon was a happy child before he started to experience bullying at school[/caption]
In April 2015, Brandon broke down and confessed to his mum that over the past three months he’d been bullied at school and over social media.
“He was beside himself, screaming, shaking and crying,” says Mina. “I’d never seen him like that before and I was scared. He said his mates had started calling him names like ‘faggot’ and ‘paedo’ for no reason.
“They’d also been sending messages from accounts in the name of Jimmy Savile and threatening to rape me. It was horrendous and I was devastated that Brandon had been bottling it up.”
She instantly deactivated his Facebook account and visited their GP, who diagnosed Brandon with social anxiety and prescribed antidepressants, as well as referring him to the Child And Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS). But by May 2015 he began refusing to go to school.
Brandon with mum Mina[/caption]
“I removed him from school and his mental state improved a little while he was at home,” remembers Mina, who took five months off work to care for Brandon. “But as soon as he went back in September the bullying started again.
“He would come home saying he didn’t want to live any more and have violent outbursts where he’d smash things or slam doors. It was clear he was suffering from mental health issues, but I didn’t know how to help. I spoke to his teachers and thought about moving him to a different school, but was scared that might make him even more anxious.
“It became so bad that he stopped leaving the house at weekends for fear of bumping into anyone from school. Raj and Jay tried to get him to go out with them for lunch or for a drive, but he refused. Watching him go from a popular, happy child to being so isolated and lonely was excruciating for all of us.”
In December 2015, Brandon was offered counselling appointments every two weeks. However, over the next six months he made multiple attempts to take his own life, drinking bleach, slashing his wrists and overdosing.
Brandon with mum Mina, her husband Raj, and their younger son Jay[/caption]
“The sessions didn’t seem to make any difference,” says Mina. “When he first tried to kill himself I felt so powerless. I’d have given anything to take his pain away.”
The family begged medics to hospitalise him, but mental health professionals from CAMHS said it would only increase his anxiety levels. However, by June, Brandon’s antidepressant dosage had been increased four times and Mina hid all their knives and medication, as well as taking the lock off his door.
“He’d become a totally different person,” she says. “He was so angry and would fly into a rage at the slightest thing. Some days he’d be OK, but I knew another depressive episode would be round the corner. Often he told me he didn’t want to be here any more, and it broke my heart because I knew he had so much to live for. I could only hope eventually we’d get through it as a family.”
But on August 9, 2016, Mina’s worst nightmare was realised when Brandon hung himself in his bedroom after blocking the door with his bed.
Since Brandon’s death, Mina has started to campaign against bullying[/caption]
“I was banging on his door but couldn’t get in,” she says. “He was rushed to hospital but died the following day. The pain I felt was indescribable.”
In May last year, an inquest into Brandon’s death ruled that opportunities to save the 15 year old had been missed by mental health services.
“To this day the whole family is still struggling to come to terms with what happened. Jay isn’t coping well and gets very upset, while Raj is heartbroken. When I think about all of the things Brandon still had to experience, like university or falling in love, it’s unbearable,” Mina says.
While suicide is more prevalent in males, the number of young females taking their own lives is rising, too. In 2017, 56 girls aged 15-19 killed themselves – the highest number since records began in 1981.
Ursula had a history of self-harming and had been viewing websites about suicide before she died[/caption]
Chloe Bellerby, 19, understands more than most why young girls are feeling this way. Aged 11 she started experiencing suicidal thoughts before turning to self-harm and trying to take her own life at 16.
“I’d never been educated on mental health issues so didn’t know what was wrong,” reveals Chloe, from Harrogate. “Suicide seemed like the only way out.”
Growing up, Chloe had been a chatty, fun-loving child, but after turning 11 she noticed a change in herself. “I was thinking about death a lot,” she says. “I was unhappy with my body and had just moved to secondary school. A few kids at school had self-harmed and said it helped them feel better, so I thought I’d try it, too. When I first cut myself it was a relief from the psychological pain in my head.”
Like 22% of teen girls, Chloe carried on self-harming.** For the next five years she hid the scars from her parents Lorraine and Andrew, both 52, and sister, now 16.
The bridge where Ursula took her own life[/caption]
“I used anything – knives and blades, or I’d burn myself with a lighter,” Chloe says. “Then the night before my 16th birthday, something in my head switched – I didn’t want to be alive any more. I felt hopeless, like I’d never be happy again and there was no point to life.
“After that I self-harmed every day until I was covered in scars. I wasn’t trying to kill myself, but it was my only escape. I barely recognised myself in the mirror and I kept everything from my friends and family. My school work suffered as I lost all motivation.”
Four months later, in June 2016, Chloe told her mum everything. Lorraine took her to the GP and she was put on a three-month waiting list for counselling. In that time she attempted suicide by taking an overdose.
“I couldn’t see any other way out,” says Chloe. “I was taken to hospital by ambulance and I remember being disappointed that it hadn’t worked. My family were devastated, but I was tired of feeling so awful all the time. I didn’t think about what dying really meant, both for myself and everyone around me. I just wanted what I was going through to end.”
Chloe age 11, before she started self-harming[/caption]
Is your teenager suicidal?
Laura Peters from Rethink Mental Illness shares her advice on how you can help:
“It’s not always easy to tell if someone is contemplating suicide, but you should look out for a notable change in someone’s personality or behaviour, for example if they become isolated or reserved.
“Talking or writing about death or suicide is also a huge red flag and should be taken very seriously.
“It can be understandably stressful for parents, but if your child is reluctant to talk about things then take the time to reassure them that you care about their wellbeing and you’re there if they need help.”
Chloe was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, prescribed antidepressants and admitted to a psychiatric ward for a month. “It was a mixed ward so I was in with adults, and it was extremely scary and overwhelming,” she says. After she was discharged, Chloe started planning another suicide attempt. Thankfully, a teacher could see something wasn’t right and pulled her aside.
“He told me that he knew I might not want to listen to him but he was going to help me anyway,” she says. “When I got home Mum said the same thing and I felt like I was hearing her clearly for the first time in months. I realised I didn’t have to go through this on my own, so I went back to therapy and took it more seriously. It was hard, but slowly I started to feel better again.”
Three years on, Chloe is no longer taking antidepressants and is studying psychology at Sussex County Community College in New Jersey after landing a football scholarship and moving to America in July 2018. She now sees a life coach each month and writes down her feelings every day to help clear her mind.
“A lot of young people are really struggling and don’t know where to turn because we aren’t educated about depression or anxiety, and there’s still a huge amount of stigma around mental health,” she says.
Mina Rayat wants the government to produce stricter guidelines for police when it comes to bullying[/caption]
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“For many, self-harm or suicide becomes the only release. Without the people who supported me, I wouldn’t be here right now.”
Meanwhile, since Brandon’s death Mina is campaigning to get the government to tighten anti-bullying laws by producing clearer and stricter guidelines for police.
“We need young people to understand there are other options,” she says. “No one should feel so alone that they end their life before it’s even properly begun.”
- For support call the Samaritans free helpline on 116 123 or visit Samaritans.org
- Sources: *ONS **The Children’s Society
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