SUICIDE is the single biggest killer of teenagers in Britain today but more must be done to stop it being a taboo subject, says the Gnosall chairman of a charity fighting to help stamp it out.
Stephen Habgood, whose own son Christopher committed suicide, is the chairman of national charity Papyrus Prevention of Young Suicide and says people are often too afraid to talk about suicide – especially with teenagers.
He says more needs to be done in schools, colleges and other organisations to get people talking and ensuring teachers are not afraid to approach it with pupils.
And the charity is campaigning to get websites, which encourage people to take their own lives, taken down.
In Stafford and Stone figures vary from year to year with latest statistics up to 2012 showing there were 11 teenage suicides in the area in 2009, seven in 2010, 13 in 2011 and four in 2012.
In South Staffordshire, including Penkridge and Wheaton Aston, there were 17 in 2009, six in 2010 and 2011 and seven in 2012.
Neighbouring Stoke-on-Trent has the most worrying trend with numbers rising each year, from 15 in 2009 to 37 in 2012.
Mr Habgood, 60, of Wharf Road, said: “It is about asking someone if they have ever contemplated suicide. This is often what adults, including teachers are not good at.
“They may notice someone is having difficulties but they would not ask them if they had thought about suicide. But asking that simple question opens up the discussion and gives permission to talk openly about it. Have they thought about suicide and if so how would they do it?
“Challenging young people and providing them with an opportunity to say how they feel really does address the stigma. People worry that they might be putting the idea in someone’s mind but you can’t really do that.
“It is such an awful subject to talk about. People do not realise what a killer suicide is, More young people die from suicide than any other single cause.
“At Papyrus we run a helpline and we do intervene if we get a call from a young person saying they are contemplating suicide.
“Many of us within the charity have lost children to suicide and we don’t want other children to suffer as ours have done.”
Mr Habgood’s son Christopher was 26 when he died five years ago this month. He was at Staffordshire University studying forensic computing.
Mr Habgood, a former prison governor, said he knew his son was unwell in the October prior to his death and got him to see a psychiatrist and doctor.
“It wasn’t until after he took his own life that the doctor told me Christopher had previously attempted to take his own life. In his letter Christopher said he had been depressed from the age of 13.
“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that my son had been suffering and I knew nothing about it.
“He was very bright, very funny, very good looking. He was staying away from home.
“One of my previous roles in the prison service was as a senior investigating officer for deaths in custody. I had never lost a single prisoner.”
Mr Habgood also found out his son at looked at websites on ways to commit suicide and which offered encouragement to do it.
He now speaks to many parents whose children have taken their own lives.
“A couple of weeks ago a mum phoned me and said her son had taken his own life and there had been no indication or no letter. She was dumb-founded. I talked to her about Christopher and said you must be prepared that details might come out that he had been suffering and had been trying to seek help elsewhere. She later found out he had seen a doctor and a counsellor but had said nothing to his parents.
“It is so important that we get young people to say how they feel and get adults to listen and talk about it with them.
“To lose your child is really difficult. It hits you so hard. I am so upset to listen to the stories of those who have lost their children in these ciricumstances. It is so hard.”