More support urged for witnesses to suicide

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has urged more support for people who witness incidents such as suicides, as he revealed he still suffers nightmares after seeing a person take their own life.

The party’s health spokesman said that while he sought counselling following the incident, it had been “inadequate”.

He was speaking as he met Janice Malone, who was also affected badly after witnessing the same suicide.

He recounted the incident on Twitter, saying: “Janice and I were walking in opposite directions but our paths intersected at the base of a tall building.

“We both remember a lot of shouting from above and stopped to look to see what was up. At that point a man took his life from the top of the building and died on the pavement beside us.

“It didn’t seem real at the time, the scene was traumatic, like something from a war zone. I remember reaching for my phone in a daze and dialling 999. Janice and I then had to try to stop people walking down the pavement until the emergency services arrived.”

He said both he and Ms Malone suffered an “initial shock response, with mood swings, loss of sleep and heightened anxiety” in the aftermath of the incident.

The MSP added: “In the longer term, things settled down for me. I still find workmen shouting in scaffolding overhead an anxiety trigger and I still have nightmares, but the road back was much harder for Janice.”

Ms Malone “battled depression and anxiety for many months until specialist talking therapy finally helped her to get well again”, he revealed.

He met her again on Wednesday, and said: “Our discussions fixed on the realisation that there is next to no provision for people like us. People who have seen something terrible and are left to just get on with things.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton said both he and Ms Malone “want to ensure that anyone who witnesses distressing or traumatic incidents, like the suicide that we saw, can easily get help and find someone to talk to in the weeks and months afterwards, when they may not be feeling like themselves”.

He added: “People die in the arms of strangers every day but we never think about the strangers afterwards. In the wake of these tragedies many witnesses are left with horrendous anxiety, or bouts of depression and PTSD.

“Janice and I want to use our experience to help other people. I hope the Health Secretary will support us in addressing the insufficient mental health support for the witnesses of suicide or trauma.

“There is a horrible ripple effect on the friends and family of anyone who commits suicide. But it’s time we recognised that the ripple also effects witnesses and strangers walking by. We need to make sure they get help, too.”