Speaking out in memory of Russ

Catherine Devereux, Founder of the The Russ Devereux Headlight Project. Winner of The Inspiring Others Award, Tees Businesswomen Awards 2019

When Russ Devereux, of Teesside firm Devereux Transport & Distribution, took his own life in May last year, Catherine – his solicitor wife and mother of their three young children – decided to lead a very special campaign in his memory. Here, she talks about why it’s so important for businesspeople – but especially businessmen – to talk about the stresses and strains they feel, long before they lead to suicidal thoughts…

Suicide is the biggest killer of young men in the UK. Having being affected by the issue so personally, it has highlighted to me that more needs to be done to raise awareness of suicide and what might cause someone to take their own life. I’ve decided to speak out in Russ’s memory, in the hope that we can prevent this number rising and tackle the reasons behind it.

The Russ Devereux Headlight Project CIC was set up after my husband and well-known local businessman Russ Devereux died by suicide in May 2018. Russ was a laid back guy, was modest and unassuming and had a brilliant sense of humour. He had worked in the family business, of which he was very proud, for nearly 25 years. He was a talented golfer and had a wide circle of friends and business acquaintances.

Following a work accident on a customer’s site where an employee sadly died, 10 days later Russ took his own life leaving behind me and our three young daughters. Russ had never suffered with stress or depression and consequently his death devastated our family and friends. Russ wasn’t somebody who would have voluntarily spoken to someone he didn’t know – he was a private person. But I did manage to get him to talk to someone a few days before he died. We knew he was struggling but we didn’t realise how poorly he’d got in his own mind.

My message is especially for men, who internalise a lot of these things. They don’t talk like women do. Russ wouldn’t have picked up the phone to say I’m really struggling. So my message would be to talk about those things that are causing anxiety or stress so you can get help. If we’d have got more time with Russ and there wasn’t such a stigma attached to stress, we’d have been able to talk about it more.

Psychotherapist Carolyn Spring describes suicide as “a response to overwhelming pain. Too much pain + too few coping strategies = suicide.” Death is difficult to talk about in most situations but even more so in relation to suicide. People don’t speak about it and there is still a stigma attached to it.

Someone who takes their own life is not thinking rationally, they are ill mentally. We are built to try and survive so suicide goes against every fibre of our being. Unlike when an individual becomes ill physically, the outward signs of becoming ill mentally can be very difficult to identify. Physical and mental illness are no different to each other, however they are treated very differently.

So what stresses or pressures are present in relation to work scenarios? Modern day life is full of stress and pressure of differing kinds. Work stresses can arise from feeling unsupported, from fear of making mistakes, from volume of work and from overwhelming responsibility. The latter is a key factor when you run a business of your own.

I’m determined to highlight the signs and symptoms that people should be mindful of with regards to risk of suicide. The reasons people take their own lives are often very complex but their words and actions might provide clues that things are not okay. Warning signs might not always be easy to spot and may not be easily visible in everyone – people show their emotions very differently.

Ask yourself if people you know are articulating having intrusive thoughts, showing signs of being agitated or withdrawn. Are they having difficulty sleeping and eating? In actual fact, the critical time is when someone starts to feel better and is more calm – that is the most dangerous time. Talking is key.

In my case the illness took hold of my husband so quickly that I had very little time to address the symptoms but the saddest thing for me is that I would recognise them now and I didn’t then. There is always the question ‘Could I have stopped him, had I done this or had I done that?’. All I have, now Russ is no longer here, is the ability to raise awareness in the hope it prevents further deaths.

Over your working life, you can carry on and carry on with the amount of work you have to do but sometimes it’s good to offload it, otherwise it just builds up. So I’d say to people to talk and don’t feel ashamed that you might not be coping. If by working together to raise awareness of suicide and the reasons behind it, and maybe save just one life, then we’d have done something amazing in memory of Russ.

• Founded in memory of Russ Devereux, the Headlight Project is teaching children about mental health, providing support and help for adults and working in collaboration with other organisations to deliver emotional resilience workshops, and one-to-one counselling. The Headlight Project’s new website has been created by Middlesbrough firm Better. You can view it here: www.headlightproject.org

 

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