It’s with a heavy heart that I do this, but I want to share with you my husband’s story to raise awareness and understanding that mental health is just as important as physical health.
Last year, Chris’s life took a devasting turn as he suffered a mental health crisis due to stress at work. It developed with rapid speed and had catastrophic consequences and his life was cut short in tragic circumstances.
With no previous mental health issues, Chris reached out for help in February 2019. His mental state deteriorated dramatically and within three months the anxiety and depression got hold of him with an even tighter grip and despite the help he received he became consumed. On 24 April 2019 he took the devasting action to take his own life. I cannot emphasise enough how acute his illness was and how mental illness can take over so quickly. It was completely out of character for Chris. He was just 48 years old.
Throughout Chris’s 30-year career in construction, he worked with some of the biggest companies in the UK and at the time of his death was a Senior Construction Manager. He was a well-respected member of the industry and was on track to become a Chartered Member of the CIOB. He was exceptionally hardworking, loyal, dependable and conscientious. He remained physically fit, a devoted Park Runner and was immensely proud when he completed the Luton Half Marathon.
Chris was a caring and loving husband, father, son, brother and uncle. He was always there for everyone, including the wider family and friends circle. We met on my 21st birthday and had such a happy life together bringing into the world our two beautiful children. Chloe, now 21 attends Loughborough University, and Thomas is 18 and an apprentice electrician. We were his world. He was an extremely popular guy and all who knew him are in disbelief; they too and are finding what happened extremely hard.
To give you some background on Chris’s career he obtained an HND in Surveying and Construction Management and progressed from Site Engineer to Project Engineer and Senior Construction Manager.
In his senior roles, Chris was responsible for engineering teams and was the perfect mentor for many young engineers who have gone from strength to strength under his guidance. His projects included The Grafton Centre, The Centre for Mathematical Sciences and Cancer Research facilities, to being involved with Crossrail and London School of Economics projects in London.
Chris began to feel immense pressure to prove himself. He started to exhibit signs of stress, was losing sleep and behaving in ways that were very out of character – withdrawn and less outgoing than usual, at home and work. Chris did ask for help. He reached out to his employer, his GP and a private counsellor but I now know this just wasn’t enough to save him.
He visited his GP after feeling low and anxious for a few weeks to help with his sleep. I thought if he could sleep, then everything else would get easier and he would be able to manage his workload. Things went from bad to worse, Chris felt he wasn't performing well at work and he became consumed by the idea that he was going to lose his job; his thoughts became more and more irrational.
After weeks of torment we both agreed that the only solution to relieve him of this mental pain and to get the old Chris back was for him to hand in his resignation even though he didn’t have another job to go to, his protective factor was always his family. Rather than resigning, he was guided by his employer to take time off as they valued him as an important part of the team. He did take sick leave and to this day I will never know if that was a blessing or a curse. While Chris was at home his personality was progressively changing and he stopped enjoying the things he loved. He was constantly distracted, pacing the room and becoming forgetful.
Chris decided to cut short his sick leave and return to work earlier than was agreed. He felt on edge being away from the workplace and struggled with the thought that people would think badly of him for having time off. Tragically it was the following week he took his own life. He got to the point where he didn’t know which way to turn. His mind was shattered, and his body exhausted. Life was too hard to bear, and nothing made sense to him. It’s hard for people to read this and understand how he could have left his loved ones. How he thought we would be better off without him; we all should take on board that mental illness kills.
I would like to conclude by saying that mental health training is paramount in any organisation. Nothing will bring Chris back. If it can happen to Chris it can happen to anyone. Paying attention to your mental health in the workplace has never been more important.
If the story in this blog has raised any issues for you, please contact:
The Samaritans: call 116 123 for free
Anxiety UK (via the CIOB Benevolent Fund): www.ciobbenevolentfund.org.uk/anxiety-uk