Mike Palmer is a dad who lost his daughter to suicide. Beth Palmer, from Sale in Greater Manchester, was a talented young singer and performer, who ‘was always really confident and out there.’ Suicide is the single biggest killer in those aged 35 and under.
Beth sadly lost her life during the first UK lockdown in March 2020. “I didn’t see it coming”, her dad told me ‘Beth was living under the same roof as me, but I didn’t see the signs.’
The community of Sale knew and loved Beth. She was part of a performing arts school and had a record deal. “Bethy was always popular in school and had friends. She was just funny and so talented.”
“She was the last person you’d ever think would turn to ending her own life.”
After losing Beth, Mike contacted Andy and Tim, two dads who have also lost their daughters to suicide. Within three years, three innocent lives were lost.
“As soon as we had all met, it was like we had to do something,” Mike told me. Determined for suicide to be spoken about, and for significant changes to be made, the ‘3 dads walking’ started a journey, walking more than 600 miles, speaking to bereaved families along the way.
“It’s a little community, almost. It isn’t a community I want to be a part of, but I am now.”
Mike, selfless and now passionate about suicide prevention, is always talking to people about the shocking statistics, facts and stories of others who have lost someone close to them. Mike asked me why I was so keen to hear his story and I explained that I had experienced the loss of a close friend, understanding – in some way – how traumatic and life-changing suicide is. Mike’s story differs from my own, but we both connected, sadly only to know that the undeniable feeling of grief is not isolated.
“My whole family has changed. Relationships aren’t the same since we lost Beth,” Mike explained, saddened by his reality. We were sitting in a coffee shop in Sale, his dog Monty beside the table. “Monty has been a huge help throughout everything, though. Some days I don’t want to get out of bed, or I lay for hours awake at night thinking everything over and over in my head, but every day I get up to bring Monty here, to the Waterpark and walk him.”
Grief isn’t the same for everyone and the Palmers have dealt with the death of Beth – a daughter, and a sister, differently. ‘Healthline,’ a health magazine, explains that grief can be made up of physical responses, such as exhaustion, diet and sleeping patterns and emotional response, such as anger, anxiety and fear, numbness, and yearning for a loved one. As well as this, grief can be categorised into how people respond to emotions – some people will experience delayed grief (where grief might become apparent weeks or even months after a loss), inhibited grief (or refusing to accept a loss, delaying your natural grieving process) and absent grief (the lack of any signs of mourning and are in denial of a loss of grievance). For Mike, keeping busy and persevering with the movement to make suicide a more spoken and open topic keeps him going.
“It’s horrible. There are questions that will never be answered and that can’t be answered.”
The ‘3 dads walking’ campaign has now made more than £100,000, with their initial goal being £3,000 each. The money raised goes to Papyrus, which is a young suicide prevention charity. After exceeding their own goals and their stories, they gained the nation’s heart. Mike said he feels a sense of community and support: “People always come and support us doing our walks, wearing our big flags.’ Mike said that “it is a bit silly walking around with big flags stuck to us, but we’re all just raising awareness, even if we look like something from the Lord of the Rings.”
“At some moments we laugh and our humour comes out. Myself, Tim and Andy are all quite different, but we, yes, we are friends who enjoy being together.”
In the last year, Mike, alongside Tim and Andy has set up a campaign for suicide education to be included in the school curriculum. It is something that, currently, isn’t spoken about enough and isn’t being tackled in the right way.
“I don’t expect to see suicide disappear,” Mike told me quite blatantly, but he said, “I do think the number of deaths would decrease if we had some education.” Again, he reiterated that if he knew what to look for, or how to approach Beth, he might have been able to help.
He spoke about his daughter and how “Bethy never asked for help at school or went to the pastoral (wellbeing) team. The only time she did go to see them was to go with her friends if they were struggling.”
At home, Beth was very chatty, according to Mike and ‘always quite an erratic person,’ so when lockdown hit and she was acting this way, it didn’t seem so out of character.
“Maybe if I had asked Beth why she was having a bad day, she would have opened up.”
Mike spoke about how the petition, to ‘Make suicide prevention a compulsory part of the school curriculum’ has been to Parliament for debate, after gaining 191,693 signatures in total. “There isn’t too much I can say about it right now,” Mike said, “But things are happening behind the scenes – meetings are in line.“
Mike expressed how he felt the urgency from Parliament was lacking, like they are ‘waiting for another suicide case before they then step in to do something.’ However, early intervention, linking to early education, is needed.
Speaking from his own experience as a firefighter and a father, Mike told me how he would attend front-line jobs dealing with people experiencing a mental health crisis. Mike’s tone changed as he spoke about the guilt he feels for not knowing how deeply low Beth was feeling, especially now he can notice signs of struggle.
He expressed that “suicide education would benefit not only young people, but also parents” and that spotting signs early on could be beneficial.
“I hold a lot of anger against Beth,” he said. “She didn’t have to do what she did.”
Mike will continue being an ambassador for suicide prevention and awareness, wearing his flag through his walks and events around the country and within his community, where he has been named a local hero. But Mike says that he is “not a hero, just a dad who lost his daughter” and “I don’t want anyone else to suffer this loss.”
Papyrus – https://www.papyrus-uk.org/
Young Minds – https://www.youngminds.org.uk/