Ellen Hatto – Winchester Group

My Suicide Story 

Ellen Hatto 

Facilitator – Winchester SoBS Group 

I am delighted to be taking part in the 30 Miles for 30 Years challenge for SoBS. Every day in April, I’m running for 30 minutes, culminating in a 30-mile ‘Walk and Talk’ to Winchester with my fellow Winchester SoBS group facilitators, Beeb and Susannah. It is lovely to see all the Facebook posts showcasing everyone’s fantastic progress, along with the photos of loved ones sadly lost to suicide. 

I was thrust into the previously unknown world of suicide bereavement when my lovely father, Alan, took his own life in July 2013, aged 82. 

Having lost my mother to cancer just shy of my fifth birthday, he was my father, my everything to my older sister and me. A carpenter by trade but a master at anything he turned his hand to. He was a keen ballroom dancer and a seasoned heckler with a wicked sense of humour. We were more like friends than father and daughter, enjoying dance classes, holidays and live music at the pub together. 

By the time he reached 80, his quality of life had started to decline; my sister and I had left home or were about to, and forging our own lives. At this point, his behaviour started to change, appearing confused and hopeless about the future, not long after sadly taking his own life. 

Me and my dad at my sister’s wedding in 2010.

His death hit me hard. Probably unconsciously dealing with abandonment issues from my mother following her premature death, the physical and mental fallout was palpable. I felt that no-one understood. The isolation was immense; all these unanswered questions and very few answers. Some people said he was selfish. Were they right? I was angry. It was grief with the volume turned up. I wasn’t able to say goodbye. With whom could I share this grief? Suicide was something that happened to other people, and the guilt. I took him to see his GP a few days before he died; he was prescribed antidepressants. He underwent a suicide risk assessment. It was apparent something was seriously wrong, but how could I, the GP, or indeed anyone ever have predicted he would go on to end his own life? Tough to deal with, and it still is to this day. 

Everyone was shocked. People asked me why he did it like I knew the answer. I think that maybe losing his wife back in 1980 was a devastating blow and a shock having to raise two young daughters alone with little in the way of support. Perhaps he was also lonely now that his daughters had left home, not that he would ever admit it. Either way, his view of life was nothing more than doom and gloom and I didn’t know how to lift him out of it. Neither did he. 

I Googled the vast subject that is suicide extensively from the day he died. I craved support from people who understood what I thought was my unique pain. I found out about SoBS peer support. Unfortunately, the nearest monthly group was too far away but was delighted to see a new group advertised in Winchester at my local Waitrose as part of their green token scheme a few months later. 

I went to the group the very next month, about a year after my dad died. I cried all the way there; I’m not sure why; it seemed somehow irrational, but I just went with it as my body’s way of processing my emotions. It won’t be the last tear I shed at the group!  

The warm welcome I received from the group facilitators and the fellow attendees felt like I had “come home” in many ways; I felt a connection and commonality with others through shared experience whose lives had been affected by suicide. 

I became so passionate about peer support within the field of suicide bereavement that I became a volunteer facilitator for the Winchester group and later a SoBS trustee and vice chair. I also help inform policy and practice for Hampshire County Council’s crucial work in suicide prevention as part of a group of people with lived experience of suicide. I am currently working on projects relating to the development of suicide bereavement and self-harm services across the county. I also work in suicide first aid and passionate about helping equip as many people as possible with the tools and confidence to lead those at potential risk of suicide to a place of safety. I feel strongly that all have a responsibility to look out for each other – at home, at work, in the street, anywhere… 

I continue to meet and work with so many unique and inspirational people throughout this life-affirming and rewarding work that I only have my dad to “thank”. This work has added a new dimension to my life, which I never expected though grateful to have.  

I will never “like” what my dad did, and I miss him every day, but over time have come to accept it. He wanted to end his pain. I have learned to respect his decision. Time does heal to a point, but sometimes I struggle to believe he left us in this way. His death opened up a whole new world of opportunity for me. From my own lived experience, I have been able to help and bring hope to those impacted by suicide, and latterly extending my reach into suicide prevention, intervention and postvention.

Read more about the Winchester Group here

Contact the Winchester Group here