We had last seen Chris and Elaine at New Year, they live in Yorkshire, so we'd had a few days outr with them and other friends to see in the new year. Eleanor couldn't join us as she was in a clinic undergoing treatment for mental health related issues. Chris and Elaine were really worried, as any parent would be. Sadly, there is such an epidemic of mental health related issues amongst teenagers, that I was not shocked or surprised at the news. I've known Chris for well over 35 years, before Chris and Elaine had children, we'd travelled widely with them, going around Europe in my old camper van and across the North East of the USA. We'd watched their four children grow up, all lovely kids. Eleanor, the youngest was a quirky, beautiful girl who was always fun, She was the same age as my son, so our kids spent many a day playing together when they were younger. As she got older, Eleanor and her Chris joined me with our HCPT group, taking disabled people to France. She was a very caring girl and great member of the group. When Chris's parents started to require more help, sadly they could no longer join us. I've not seen so much of Eleanor since.
Our families have a tradition of spending new year together, so that was where we'd catch up. Chris is a great guy. A natural comedian, who worked in both IT and nursing. Yesterday, when he gave a truly amazing eulogy, along with his eldest son Jason, who showed immense strength in speaking, this shone through. Chris managed somehow to sum up Eleanor in a way that was funny, accurate and heartbreaking. I can think of no one else who would have managed such a feat, in such circumstances. As a parent, this is perhaps the worst nightmare of all. We all want to see our children happy, healthy and thriving. For your daughter to commit suicide is the worst possible thing anyone could face. I am sure any parent would swap any amount of pain to change such an outcome, but sadly in the real world, that is not an option. As Eleanors small coffin entered the church, the true horror of what Chris and Elaine must be feeling hit me. The church in Penistone was packed to the rafters with friends, family and local well wishers. The vicar's daughter had been a school friend of Eleanor. One of the jobs for vicars is to preside over funerals and counsel those who are grieving, yet he acknowledged that even he could make no sense of the situation.
His address was one of the finest I've heard. His message, to a church packed with teenagers was to be kind and support one another. He stated that social media was not the real world, but the pain it can cause is real. He emphasised that we are a community.
There is an old cliche that there was not a dry eye in the house. This was certainly true, in a way I've rarely seen.
I rarely ask for readers to support anything. However, if you have a few spare pounds, one of Eleanors friends set up a page to raise money for Mental Health UK. Whilst most readers will not know Eleanor or her family, sadly I think we all know people who have issues with Mental Health.
Please give a donation.
The page was set up by Tyler Beever one of Eleanor's friends. Like many of her peers, he is struggling to come to terms with what has happened. This is what he said
But sadly there is more to the story, there are a few things that need to be said. Eleanor was lucky to have extremely supportive parents and a loving home. Sadly, the story reveals some major flaws in the way the UK deals with teenage mental health problems. I had a long chat with Chris last week. He told me a couple of things which shocked me. The first is that one of the biggest problems was that when Eleanor turned 18, she was no longer dealt with as a child and her whole mental health support team changed. There was no sensible transition from Childrens to Adult care. When you have built up a support network and this suddenly stops, this causes a massive problem. We have seen this amongst other friends in London, so it is a national problem. My view is that there should be a gentle transition for teenagers under the care of mental health services. I would suggest that rather than a sudden cut off at age 18, it is transitioned over a period of perhaps three year, with a proper plan in place. I know that the current system caused Eleanor, Chris and Elaine all manner of problems. The whole concept that fragile people can be dropped by their care workers on an almost arbitary date is horrific. Chris told me that the care and support the family has been receiving since Eleanor passed away is far better than the support Eleanor received once she became an adult. Clearly they need a massive amount of support to get through the family crisis, Chris described this like a bomb being detonated in the family home, but if the support had been in place for Eleanor, maybe this wouldn't be needed at all.
Our young people are precious. They are delicate. As a society they are our future. The sad thing is that in the case of Eleanor, she seemed to be the only person who couldn't see what a fantastic person she was and what a bright future she had.
As a friend who cares dearly for the family, I have to question if there is anything I might have done that might have made any difference. I have had several sleepless nights asking myself this. I came to the realisation that it is the wrong question. The right question is "How can I stop anyone else having to go through what Chris, Elaine and the family are going through?". What can any of us do? Well, the first thing we can do is to make support for young people with Mental Health issues a priority for the NHS and local councils. Like all of Eleanors friends, we can support mental health charities. As the vicar said in his Eulogy, we can remember that the people we interact with on social media are real and they have feelings. Be kind.
In memory of Eleanor, I am committing to making support for people with mental health one of the missions for this blog. This will be a theme we return to. One rather strange thing, which I can't fully get my head around, is that on the 18th Feb, the day after Eleanor passed away, I felt a compulsion to post a blog about the need to support people with Mental Health issues. This was inspired by the sad suicide of Caroline Flack. I had literally posted the blog and put the kettle on when we heard the news of Eleanor. My daughter had seen a post on Facebook by Eleanor's sister Faye and phoned us in absolute bits. The shock had made me forget the blog, it seemed irrelevant, but I was reminded yesterday of this by one of our friends at the funeral, who asked why I'd not mentioned Ellie, assuming that it was inspired by her passing. I gave a couple of links in that blog for people who are suffering issues. It seems sensible to repost them here.
If you are experiencing issues, there is advice from the NHS here - https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/mental-health-services/how-to-access-mental-health-services/
If you need support in dealing with any issues related to mental health or are concerned about a friend, here is a list of various available services
If you live in the Borough of Barnet then there is also Barnet voice for Mental Health
For those in South Yorkshire, there is Mind
And of course Mental Health UK, who Eleanor's friends are collecting for
I will finish by saying that with every year, I find the world harder to understand. It is beyond my comprehension why someone as lovely as Eleanor could see no future. We can't fix all the problems on the world, but we can be there for our friends. If you've been meaning to pick up that phone, or pop around to see someone who might need a bit of support, but you've been a bit busy, then do it. That is all we can do, when it comes down to it.