Yorkshire mum shares heartbreaking story of son's suicide to mark Mental Health Awareness Week

A North Yorkshire mother has shared the heartbreaking story of when her "bright and fun-loving" son took his own life to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

Pat Sowa's son Dom was 17-years-old when he died by suicide.

Since her son's death, Pat has written a book with best friend Kerry Fisher, and has spoken out to raise awareness of mental health issues.

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She allowed her story to be shared on North Yorkshire Police's social media pages in order to challenge the fear and stigma of suicide.

Pat Sowa with her son died, who died through suicide aged 17. Pat now shares her family's story to raise awareness about suicide and mental health.

“Flicking through the summer holiday snaps, I can still feel the heat of the sun but that’s not what I am looking for. I am seeking the clues in Dom’s face", Pat said.

“In the harsh glare of hindsight, I wonder how I could possibly have missed the signs, but I did. I am, or I should say, I was, a natural optimist with an ‘it’ll all come out in the wash’ approach to life.

“I simply had no conscious thought that Dom could be suicidal. Nine weeks after those photos were taken, I was to find out how wrong I was.

“My son, Dom, was 17 when he died and had just started Year 13 with his plans for university to study English shaping up nicely.

“I have raked over the events leading up to his death in an attempt to understand. On the good days I know that we did our best, but we just did not know how to support someone who is suicidal.

“I’d have loved to be able to give Dom a chance to recover and grow up.

“Knowing what I know now, I can see that there were perhaps, I’ll never know for sure, some events in his life that made him more vulnerable to suicidal crisis.

“Learning about the impact of trauma on our mental health has helped me to see that it’s possible the sheer number of bumps in the road, which he really took to heart, should have been raising alarm bells if not for me as his mum, then definitely for the professionals supporting him,

“The loss of his three much-loved grandparents in quick succession; the peer bullying that he was subjected to after coming out as gay; a difficult early teenage phase when he struggled to find good mates to hang out with are just some of the factors that I think may have affected how lonely and isolated he felt.

“By the time he died Dom had a fantastic group of kind and loyal friends around him. They spent a lot of time together: laughter, fun and friendship.

“We are still in touch, and we look out for each other as well as sharing memories of happy times.

“Dom hid how he was feeling from them not wanting to bring down the mood. When I asked how he was he would reply ‘I’ll tell you if I need you’ and get cross if I raised any worries about him ‘I’m alright Mum’.

“Like me and my family, Dom’s friends have learnt to ask directly if someone is having thoughts of suicide and to share their own ups and downs to keep safe.

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“When Dom left hospital after surviving a first suicidal crisis, I knew nothing about the subject and was also in shock. In my mind, he had survived and would now get all the expert help he needed to overcome the depression and social anxiety that was crippling his life.

“I thought the suicide attempt had ‘lanced a boil’ and had no idea that a previous attempt increases the risk of suicide. Research shows a heightened risk for at least six months after an attempt.

“I feel hopelessly naive to admit this, but it might save someone else."

Since Dom's death, she has worked with suicide prevention and mental health charities.

Pat said: "Now I spend a lot of time talking about the brilliant Suicide Prevention training and charities that are out there to help if only we all knew about them.

“I have total admiration and respect for the emergency services who helped look for Dom when we went missing.

“I often wonder how it must feel for them to deal with such a tragic situation. We’re still in touch with the RNLI crew and it’s been a great help to keep the connection.

“Huddled together in silent despair as the police, RNLI and Coastguard searched, I can still remember someone saying to us that we were a ‘proper family’. I still take comfort from those words.

“The kindness and consideration of how we were told, and all the horrible death admin was made as bearable as it possibly can be.

“The words matter, they sink in deep, and I think it was especially important because losing a child brought so much guilt about what more we could or should have done.

“Dom was such a bright and fun-loving child. He wasn’t a saint, but he was loved and loved us. I know that from reading his last message to me. He deserved to be alive. He was ill, but the treatment just wasn’t good enough.

“And now? Well, I am still an optimist but with an edge of caution learnt in the school of rock-hard knocks.

“I wrote a best-selling book, Take My Hand, to share what I’ve learnt. I’m determined to talk openly about my experience and share the great news that the skills to support each other are not hard to learn.

“We just have to overcome the fear and stigma of asking directly. We all deserve to be here, living this one incredible life.

“It’s too late for Dom so we have to save the next one.”

A life is lost through suicide every two hours in the UK.

In the last 12 months in North Yorkshire and York alone, North Yorkshire Police has recorded 28,104 incidents where mental health has been a factor.

This is an average of 2,342 per month or an average of 6.4 every day.

Papyrus is committed to reducing the number of young people who die by suicide. It runs a Hopelink helpline 0800 068 4141 (Weekdays 9am-10pm; weekends and Bank Holidays 2pm-10pm)

For more information visit papyrus-uk.org

Samaritan runs a 24 hours helpline on 116 123 which is available every day