BELINDA and Robert Stringer’s 18-year-old son Hector took his own life after they encouraged him to seek help for his self-harming.
People who self-harm are 50 times more likely to kill themselves than those who don’t and Hector was just one of the 2,000 teenage boys in the UK who hurt themselves intentionally each year.
Hector was a popular 18-year-old with a big circle of friends
The morning he was found, everything seemed normal at the family home in rural Hertfordshire.
Belinda, then 54, had just woken and was about to get ready for work at the dog rescue centre where she was deputy manager and Robert, then 49, was up the road tending to the family’s horses.
But the normality ended when Hector’s older sister Lotte, then 25, looked out of his bedroom window and saw the shed door open.
“The day before, I never would’ve thought it could happen,” Belinda said. “But when the shed door was open, somehow I knew.”
The Stringer Family Hector was the youngest of Belinda and Robert’s three children – none of the family suspected he was at risk of suicide[/caption]
Belinda raced outside to find her teenage son had hanged himself.
Confronted by the devastating scene, she had to run to the kitchen for a knife and cut him down, while Lotte rang 999 and then tried to do CPR.
But it was too late. Hector was gone.
“I just felt this terrible numbness,” Belinda says.
Robert’s phone had no signal and by the time he returned home, the police and paramedics had arrived.
“Imagine driving in and seeing police cars,” Robert says. “I was in total disbelief.”
YOU'RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost – to suicide.
It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes. And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet, it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun has launched the You’re Not Alone campaign. To remind anyone facing a tough time, grappling with mental illness or feeling like there’s nowhere left to turn, that there is hope.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others. You’re Not Alone.
For a list of support services available, please see the Where To Get Help box below.
Hector died in April 2011 and had been self-harming a year earlier but the Stringers thought they’d helped him through it.
“I saw a cut on Hector’s arm at home one day in the kitchen and I noticed that he had some cuts so I asked him about it, and he told me that it was just something he did.
“Hector often wore short sleeves and he didn’t try to hide the cuts. So I patched him up and took him to the GP, who told me it was just a thing some kids did.”
‘Hector wanted his pain to end’
Belinda, now 61, says she wasn’t given much information about self-harm and that Hector’s explanation for it was that he did it because sometimes he “felt numb” and it “helped him feel”.
“It was such a shock, and I had no idea at the time that it could be a sign of depression, because Hector hid it all so well – he was the life and soul of the party,” says Belinda.
She took Hector to a private counsellor and after two hour-long sessions around a fortnight apart, he said Hector was fine and didn’t need to go back.
“Hector did seem fine at the time, and he probably was then,” Belinda says.
“But we know now that young men can be very, very spontaneous. We believe that’s what happened when Hector took his own life. In that moment, he wanted his pain to end.”
The Stringer Family Hector hanged himself in the garden shed – it became a place of tribute[/caption]
As Hector was 17 at the time, and over the legal age of consent for medical treatment – his parents weren’t able to discuss his wellbeing with his psychologist or his college tutors.
“He was very distraught at college because he hadn’t kept up with his work,” Belinda says.
“I only found out after Hector’s death because his lecturer wasn’t allowed to tell me.”
Belinda says the family never suspected Hector was at risk of suicide. He hid his pain too well.
KNOW THE SIGNS From drinking too much to a lack of sleep…10 signs your loved one could be at risk of suicide
The family describe him as a popular, sensitive boy, who played guitar in a band.
“He’d spend all night talking to his friends about their problems but he kept his own to himself,” Belinda says.
As word got out about what Hector’s death, his friends started arriving at the house.
As devastating as it was, Lotte understood they’d want to see the green-painted shed where Hector spent his last moments.
She put some marker pens out and Hector’s friends started writing song lyrics for him on the shed walls.
The Stringer Family Hector spent lots of time helping friends with their problems – but he kept his own to himself[/caption]
The family say finding themselves surrounded by their son’s friends kept them going in the days and weeks following Hector’s death.
With grief weighing on the family, Robert says he felt a responsibility to hold it together for them.
Yet there were moments when anger would take over and he’d escape to nearby Wendover Woods.
“I walked and walked,” he says. “Sometimes I’d go out and shout, and I bent trees and branches in the woods with my hands. It was the only thing I could do.”
Robert and Belinda had counselling together. It helped, although Robert still panics if he sees a police uniform.
“My heart beats fast and I go hot and sweaty,” he admitted. “Lotte says I have a bit of PTSD and I ought to sort it.”
WHERE TO GET HELP
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
Hector’s House, www.hectorshouse.org.uk
Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
Lotte speaks from experience. Although she also had counselling shortly after Hector’s death, it was too soon to help with everything that unravelled afterwards and for a long time she didn’t know that she was suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘My brother’s suicide left me with PTSD’
“PTSD crippled me for three years,” she says. “Seeing blue lights, smelling a joss stick and really loud noises would send me into a panic.”
Eventually, when she was on holiday in the Lake District, she went into a panic after missing three phone calls from family, convinced it was because something bad had happened.
She says that’s when she realised she needed help.
“I had rewind therapy,” Lotte explains. “It’s where they take you back to the situation that triggered the PTSD and remove the emotional trigger.”
Lotte says the therapy made her realise that she’d become “like a scratched CD, constantly skipping to an emotional state of panic, re-living the awful feeling from the day Hector died over and over again”.
The Stringer Family Hector’s sister Lotte gave him CPR when he was found but she couldn’t save him – she later developed PTSD[/caption]
‘We’re at much higher risk of suicide now too’
Now, seven years after Hector’s death, she’s been released from that emotional merry-go-round.
“My mental state is very well now,” Lotte said. “But I know that we are at much higher risk of taking our own lives because we’ve been exposed to suicide.”
Because of that, she makes sure that she takes care of herself. Lotte says she’d go straight to her GP if she felt she were unwell.
Lotte urges other families who are dealing with self-harm to take it seriously and get help but don’t tell the person who is harming themselves to stop it.
She says this is because self-harm can be a coping mechanism and if someone is convinced to stop self-harming, they may turn to something else to stop their pain.
The Stringers say that’s why suicide can follow self-harm.
Hector’s self-harming was a coping mechanism and stopping could have contributed to his death, say his family
“Young people are feeling things,” Lotte said. “Their pain can outweigh their coping mechanisms and self-harm is not just a cry for help, so don’t brush things off.”
“You can’t try to fix it,” Robert agreed. “You’ve got to listen.”
As for Belinda, she misses her son every day. But she wants some good to come from what’s happened to their family.
“My life will never be the same but, while we don’t want to glamourise it, Hector’s death has helped other people,” Belinda says.
The Stringers have set up Hector’s House, a charity to prevent suicide and steer people in the right direction to get help.
The Stringers have now moved their family home to near Aberystwyth, and they have another shed in the garden that they call Hector’s House.
Not that Belinda needs anything physical to feel close to her son.
“I feel his presence all the time,” Belinda said. “I don’t feel like he’s completely left me. It’s how I cope with it.”