Listen to the interview on BBC Radio Scotland by clicking here.
John Beattie: “Now, it’s World Suicide Prevention Day today, and for one Glasgow woman, it’s especially poignant. Both her parents took their own lives. I was looking at the numbers before we came on. Three times as many people take their own lives in Scotland as are killed on the road; although the numbers are going down.
“And, although it was a long time ago now, Nicky Denegri still thinks of them every day and she’s written a blog to help others and I spoke to her, a wee while ago.”
Nicky Denegri: “My parents were called Jenny and Archie Bain and they met when I think my mum was 19, he was 29, so there was a little bit of a family scandal and opposition to them getting together. He was a divorcee with two young children.
“My dad was probably the cleverest person I knew, John. Very articulate, very intelligent. He had spent seven years in hospital with TB as a young boy and claims to have read every book in the library, although whether or not that’s true, I’m not sure. But it meant that, having had very little formal education – he of course left school at 15- he had a series of jobs and ended up as, I suppose, a senior manager in the Post Office. My mum, Jenny, was a geriatric auxiliary nurse and they were both, in their own way, quite quiet people.
“Certainly, my dad had the tendency to be gregarious, in the right circumstances, but otherwise they loved one another immensely and loved their home and building that together.”
JB: “What happened?”
ND: “My mum, I would say, had a tendency towards episodic depression. Now, I don’t know that it was ever formally diagnosed, and I suspect certainly not treated. She was of a generation where you didn’t talk about those things. Her own mum was 43 when my mum was born in 1948, and so, you either sought help from within you family, or not at all. And I think there was a number of things happened within a fairly short space of time.
“My granny developed dementia, and came to live with us. My dad had had very bad flu which ended up in what I think you would say a post-viral fatigue and, really, trying to manage all of those things would have triggered an episode of depression for my mum and, whether she asked for outside help or not, I don’t know, but certainly none seemed to be forthcoming.
“So, she died first. She died in March of 1992. She was 43. She was a week before her 44th birthday and that was her second attempt. My dad then died at some point, either in the night of the 19th, or the morning of the 20th of December that same year. He was 54 when he died. I think, with my dad, he felt so terribly guilty – really devastated – that he hadn’t been able to stop my mum’s death and, typically, men tend to have fewer friends of their own. Especially from that generation. The friends would have been my mum’s friends or their friends together and he certainly didn’t take people up on their offers of help and became increasingly isolated and, I imagine, depressed.
“So, and you may know this, quite often people may have suicidal ideation, the act of suicide itself often happens very impulsively and, with my dad, it was just coming up to Christmas, which is a tricky time if you’ve lost someone, especially through suicide. He was on his own in the house, so it was a very quick descent really, for him, after her death and, for my mum, probably the episodic that lead to hers.”
JB: “You know we used, well, maybe not used to, but we know that young men are especially at risk and here you were with young-ish parents, and you chose to write a blog. Tell me about how the blog helped you and what you hope the blog will do for other people?”
ND: “I wrote the blog last year which was, when you think, 25 years down the line, and I realised that, if I’m being totally honest with you, I had been ashamed of what had happened, I had been ashamed of the stigma around suicide and perhaps people might think it was going to happen to me; but of course, it hasn’t and it won’t.
“But I felt that I could share with people my experience of how you can look after yourself after you’ve been affected by suicide and I was astonished by the positive response. I’ve had lots of people emailing me and commenting on the various social media sites, and it was lovely, and people saying that it helped them. And you may know that today, as well as talking to you, I’m doing a couple of talks about it.
“So, it’s not only been about looking after yourself if you’ve been affected by suicide. It’s also about what you can do if people round about you have been affected and, or, you think that they themselves are experiencing suicidal ideation; reaching out to them and asking them ‘how are you today?’ and even asking ‘are you having suicidal thoughts?’ because there’s been such a long stigma around this, and it is changing, but it’s not changing fast enough, so the more that people like myself, or anybody, can do to bring it to people’s attention, the better.”
JB: “Do you know, what you say is very, very, very… it cuts deep, doesn’t it? Because, you know, your folks were of a generation that didn’t talk about it and my folks… I’m from a generation that doesn’t really talk about, didn’t really talk about it. Didn’t. But now we do, now we talk about it. But what you’re saying is we should be really blunt in the way we discuss this, we should be very up front with people and people should be very upfront if they’re not feeling the right way, or if they’re having thoughts about dangerous behaviours. Talk to people listening. How frank should we be with each other?”
ND: “Your choice of word ‘blunt’ is an interesting word. I might say ‘be open and be direct’. We’re maybe quibbling over the words. I think, alongside the openness and the directness there has to be a care and a compassion and an acknowledgement that ‘I am noticing that you are doing or saying these things and I am worried about that and that’s why I want to ask you how you are.’
“You may have come across the Samaritans’ campaign that was launched this year that was called ‘Small Talk Saves Lives’? That was something particularly centred around train and tube stations and there was a long-held thought that if you were to ask people directly, or bluntly, that would increase the chances of them taking their own lives but, in fact, it doesn’t do that. There’s something about people being given permission, almost, to express how they are feeling that they find enormously helpful. And simply expressing it without somebody else providing them with solutions. You know, people don’t need that, they just want to be able to talk and be accepted for what they are saying.”
JB: “What would you say then. There you are, the daughter of two people who took their own lives. What would you say to listeners?”
ND: “I would say I spent probably ten years in a state of shock and in something of denial. If you’d have seen me from the outside, you’d have thought ‘Nicky’s absolutely fine, she’s travelling the world, she’s got fulfilling work, she’s doing lots of study, she’s got lots of friends, great family’ -I’ve got two fantastic sisters – ‘She’s got a great support network.’
“And that was true. But, also, underneath that, I was in shock and denial and I was terribly angry and it wasn’t until I was at least 30 or 31 that I went for my second attempt at counselling. The first one didn’t work because of various reasons, but I went for my second attempt and that was extremely helpful in being able to acknowledge the things I’ve just shared with you and to realise that, in fact, the way to help yourself is by being open and by asking for help, and by not blaming yourself but by keeping an eye out for anything that could challenge your own mental health or your belief system longer term. So, it’s a life’s work, John, no doubt about it.”
JB: “That was Nicola Denegri. And I did look up… We are in a time, now, when we do talk about this, and there was a time when we didn’t. Last year in Scotland 146 people were killed on the road and 680 people took their own lives and that’s down, it’s going down, but it’s still incredible that that happens now, so thank you to Nicola for talking to us.”