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Arthur - Interview 27

Age at interview: 70
Brief Outline: Arthur's son, Leon, had mental health problems. In 1991, Leon took his own life, in a fume filled car. This was a devastating shock to Arthur. Arthur helped to start the organisation, Papyrus, to try to prevent other young suicides.
Background: Arthur is a retired architectural technician. He is divorced and has 1 grown-up daughter. He also had a son who died. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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In 1991 Arthur became aware that his son, Leon, had mental health problems. When Arthur spoke to Leon it felt as though he was speaking to a brick wall. Arthur took Leon to see his GP, who said that the waiting time to see a clinical psychologist was eleven months. Arthur was so worried about his son’s mental health that he took him to London to see a psychiatrist, paying for this privately. The specialist recommended immediate hospital treatment.
 
After returning home Leon agreed to go into hospital, but after four days he discharged himself because he disliked being with long term psychiatric patients. Leon went with his mother to visit his cousins in Canada and then came back to England.
 
On 15th November 1991 Arthur found Leon in a fume filled car in his garage. Leon was unconscious. Leon was taken to hospital but could not be revived. He died aged only twenty five.
 
Leon’s death was a shock to all the family. Arthur felt a tremendous weight in the middle of his chest. This feeling stayed with Arthur for about three months. Time seemed to “stand still”, and Arthur felt in despair.
 
Many people came to Leon’s funeral. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered round a young tree which was planted on National Trust property.
 
The inquest took place soon after Leon’s death. The coroner concluded that Leon had died by suicide, partly because he had left suicide notes.
 
On one occasion Arthur saw a bereavement counsellor. This was arranged by the hospital. He was so distraught that he needed a week in a psychiatric hospital. Arthur says that he was so wrapped up in his grief that he neglected his other child. A good friend helped him through this terrible time. It took months before he felt he could concentrate on work again.
 
Eventually Arthur had to return to work and he was so busy that this gradually took some of the hurt and pain away.  He felt glad that at least he had been able to take his son to see the psychiatrist in London. Arthur wrote to the psychiatrist, who said that he thought Leon may have had bipolar disorder. Arthur says that “time is a great healer”, but he still misses Leon very much indeed.
 
Arthur helped to found the organisation called Papyrus, a voluntary UK organisation committed to the prevention of young suicide and the promotion of mental health and emotional wellbeing. Arthur hopes that there will be more help available for young people with mental health problems and that there will be more drop in centres where young people can get help and counselling.   

Arthur was interviewed in November 2007.

 

Arthur paid for his son to see a psychiatrist because the waiting list (in 1991) was 11 months....

Arthur paid for his son to see a psychiatrist because the waiting list (in 1991) was 11 months....

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Looking back what’s your feeling now about the healthcare that he got?

 

I think the healthcare that Leon got would’ve … well would’ve not have been available but for me paying to see a specialist.  

 

Hmm.  You had to pay to go and see the specialist?

 

Well I had to because eleven months to see a clinical psychiatrist and even then I didn’t know he was suicidal. 

 

Hmm.

 

But I knew he was … I knew Leon was in crisis.  And I was desperate for help, absolutely desperate. 

 

And then he came back here and went into hospital, did he discharge himself from the hospital?

 

Yes he did.  I mean in all fairness one of the conditions I made was that he went in of his own free will, accord, to the hospital. 

 

Hmm. …Have you got any feelings about the care he received in hospital or … after?

 

The only thing I remember when Leon was in hospital he would sit all day long on his bedside. He wouldn’t obviously join in with any of the other patients, which I can well understand, because like I say in the interview, he said, “What am I doing here with these nutters?”. It was a terrible thing to say that in this day. I mean obviously I’ve suffered from a slight bit of mental, ill health, but that was his reaction from being there; a young man who had suddenly been transported from everyday living into, into an institution like that.

 

And, and when he left, did he have any follow-up, psychiatric care or help?  Was anyone following him up?

 

Well I think possibly not, simply because he was outside the area. Once he left the area I was in, and then gone to stay 30 miles away with his mother, there would be very little follow-up.

 

When Leon died Arthur felt as though he had a terrible weight in the centre of his chest. Time...

When Leon died Arthur felt as though he had a terrible weight in the centre of his chest. Time...

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But the one thing that I do remember of Leon’s death, if anybody had told me that you got heartache or you could suffer from heartache, I wouldn’t have really taken too much notice of it. But I do remember after Leon death I had a terrible weight in the centre of my chest here.  Whenever I turned, whenever I walked, whenever I stood up, sat down, this awful weight was always there.


Hmm.


And it was there for about three months this, this awful … and it was like a millstone in the middle of your chest rather than round your neck as they say.  And it really was a hard time.  It was a very, very long process of getting back to normality again.


Did that pain go on for years?


No it went on for probably … pain went on for probably, like I say maybe three months, fours months and gradually got less and less. 


What other emotions were you feeling at that time apart from shock and  physical pain?


The only thing I was always aware of was time standing still, it was almost as though time didn’t matter. Time … nothing was of importance. It was … it was almost like, I suppose if you’d been in a time capsule really. 

 

Arthur followed the ambulance to the hospital, where a doctor told him that his son had died....

Arthur followed the ambulance to the hospital, where a doctor told him that his son had died....

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You were at the hospital…


After the nurses had tried to console me, the doctor came through and said, “Well we’ve tried everything we could but we couldn’t help Leon, unfortunately we’ve lost him.” 


Hmm.


And then the … they asked would I like to go through and see Leon, which I did.  And I remember the thing that really was very, very important to me the nurse was stroking his head, his hair and said, “Would you like a lock of Leon’s hair?”  I said, “Yes I want anything of Leon’s,” it was so important at that point. 

 

The policeman was very patient and took his time getting the information he needed from Arthur at...

The policeman was very patient and took his time getting the information he needed from Arthur at...

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And because I was so distraught this poor policeman had to get all the details from me.  And I think it probably … even to now I can’t remember it must have been many hours because I was just in such an awful [state], so much sorrow. 


Of course.  So did the policeman stay with you in the house?


He stayed with me in the house taking the interview because we went, whilst there was quite a few people in the house, at the time, when the, the police arrived. I finished up in my office in the house being interviewed by the policeman. And there was just he and I which obviously he wasn’t … he didn’t want any information from anybody else. And that just took hours, literally hours to get the information he needed.  But one thing he did want of course was the letter that been left to me. 


Hmm. How did you feel about giving him the letter?


I can’t remember it because a lot of things was happened that were just vague at a certain point, points. 


Hm.  But he had a good approach you said he was kind…?


Oh yes provided I got it back I must have said to him at the time I would need the letter back which I still have now. 

 

Hmm. But you said he was very compassionate?


Oh yes he was, he was though he was very … he wasn’t rude in anyway. He just took his time. He let me tell him what I wanted to tell him as as and when I was able to …

 

Hmm.

 

…in between the grief.

 

Many friends were supportive but one particular friend helped Arthur get through the terrible...

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Many friends were supportive but one particular friend helped Arthur get through the terrible...

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Did you get any professional help yourself for your grief? Was there anybody else you could turn to?


Not really. What I did find though … oh there was, I’m sorry and this is something that I’m glad you brought up now. After Leon’s death, I was really in quite a nervous state myself. I finished up having a week in the hospital where Leon was taken to. But I had a very good lady friend in Belgium, who I rang immediately after Leon’s death and she came over straight away. And she stayed with me at the time. And I will say this, quite honestly that [my friend] got me through Leon’s death. She brought me back to sanity when I felt that, after a week in that hospital, I was disturbed. I was very disturbed by Leon’s death.


Of course.

 

And [my friend] was the person who got me through it.

 

By helping to start Papyrus Arthur felt that he was giving something back to Leon.

By helping to start Papyrus Arthur felt that he was giving something back to Leon.

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Well, I did mention a little earlier on in the filming that I was so grateful to Leon for giving me the chance to help him that I decided that I would try and do something and I, actually went to, with Samaritans for a little while, but wasn’t very happy with that. And then I eventually was listening to some, I suppose it would be, we’re going back a few years after Leon’s death now, probably about 4, 5, whatever it was, and a friend rang me up to say, “Oh there was a programme you should listen to, it’s on Woman’s Hour.” So, I thought that’s a bit strange so I tuned into this programme and one of the ladies speaking on the programme was a lady who eventually became part of our organisation. And I was so much at one with the various speakers on this broadcast that I rang the BBC and I got the names of a few people, or I was able to give my phone number across and they contacted me.

 

And it finished up with a lady who was involved with an organisation called SOBS [Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide] and I; let me put this in perspective, it was then that I got involved with the Samaritans but I really found that it wasn’t the sort of thing that I wanted to do and I, I eventually got to know of a lady locally who was involved with this SOBS operation and when I did talk to her about it felt that I couldn’t possibly be a prop for two or three years for somebody because like having gone through my own son’s death, I think that it was something that I had to do by myself. But this lady said to me, “Well there’s somebody I want you to perhaps talk to who is organising a, a little group and she’s going round, who’s lost her son to suicide and she’s going round speaking to hospitals”. So this lady, I eventually did get to meet, and found that this was the sort of thing that I wanted to do, explain to people about the impact of what it has on the family, and that there should be some better facilities able to cope with suicidal people and that when we get emergency and crisis situations we should have some drop in centres and things like that.

 

And it eventually finished up with a group of us all getting together through this lady who was giving the talks to forming an organisation called Papyrus. Which I’ve found very, very, very helpful to me in giving back to Leon this chance he gave me to help him. Say, “Look let’s all get together, let’s see what we can do”. And that’s how the group came to be formed. Where a group of very, few, initially I think it was about 13 of us, in the early days, there were probably four of us on the committee, thought, well, you know, we must do something about all this.

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