For Finn and Dean – a tribute to the lives of two much loved young men.

These last two weeks have been a particularly hard time for me. On Friday 16th February we said goodbye to Finn, the youngest son of one of our closest friends. Finn had taken his own life. His older brother Dean died by suicide two years ago on the 24th February, and life without Dean was to prove too much for Finn. Both deaths came as a complete surprise; no-one had seen them coming.

Finn was creative. He was an exceptional writer, excelled at drama, had a great interest in Classical Civilisations, loved F1 racing and talked to me once about becoming a racing journalist. He was in his first year at Manchester Metropolitan University, doing a course he enjoyed. He had plans for his life.

Finn’s brother Dean was a musician; a brilliant guitarist who wrote his own music and loved heavy metal. He was kind. He was an anarchist in the truest sense of the word; free spirited and unique. Dean was studying sound engineering in Bristol when Covid struck. The ensuing breakdown of the live music industry, along with debt for a course that had failed to offer the practical experience he had so looked forward to, must have been hard to bear.

“I am not feeling anything, yet I am feeling everything all at once”

Finn wrote of life without Dean “I am not feeling anything, yet I am feeling everything all at once.” These words are so poignant and so powerful. When adversity strikes, it can be very difficult to see how life can move forward. It takes years of living to know that fortunes constantly ebb and flow; that when things are bad, they do get better.

A couple of weeks ago I heard of the death of another friend’s son. I have found myself asking the same question over and over. What are we doing? What is causing us to fail our young people so badly?

All the suicides I know come from loving, supportive families. This is not happening because of trauma at home, but because of something much bigger. These are young people who know they are loved, who have the support of their family and friends, but for whom life has become unbearable. 

Young people are under stress; there is a far greater emphasis on academic success than there was when I was younger. From SATS at the age of seven and eleven, to GCSEs (I did eight, my children did eleven) to A levels, there is the constant pressure to achieve. And then, once the golden university ticket has been awarded, there is a massive debt, which now has to be paid back at a much lower income than it used to be set at. Class inequality is still very much alive and kicking. 

Property has become unaffordable; this has been bad for a long time, but now every ounce of earnings is needed just to pay for a room in a shared house. We desperately need not affordable housing (which comes with the commitment of a mortgage and is still too expensive to be sustainable), but social housing. Housing that is affordable to rent and council owned. Housing that is accessible to all.

I think we all tend to hold dark thoughts close to our chests, and speaking up about them is hard. It is particularly hard when there are so many barriers in the way. When life is tough, we need help to be at hand. Currently the mental health services are stretched beyond capacity. 

An appointment with a GP will usually lead to an online Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) course. This may be useful, but what is needed is face to face therapy; when depression sets in, along with the accompanying loss of concentration, sitting at a computer in isolation filling in forms is difficult and unhelpful.

A charity called I’m George’s Mate (www.imgeorgesmate.weebly.com) has set up a petition to make suicide awareness part of the school curriculum. This is in need of signatures to be able to get to the parliamentary discussion stage, so if you feel moved, do please sign. I think broader education is also needed in schools; how to manage a budget, how to fill in forms, register with a GP, deal with services such as electricity and water, what your rights are as a tenant, where to go for advice, how debt works. All of these things can be overwhelming in the early stages of leaving home. 

While NHS-based mental health services are stretched to breaking point, there are alternatives. Nationally there are the charities MIND and The Samaritans. We are also enormously lucky in Saltash to have the Livewrite Youth Project: https://livewireyouth.com

Livewire Youth Project is a music-based youth club, that recognises the many challenges of young people in the community, addressing issues such as mental health, substance abuse, bullying or educational barriers. By providing a safe, supportive, and empowering environment for young people, Livewire helps them develop essential life skills, encouraging creativity and self-expression, tackling social isolation, and addressing various societal challenges. 

I volunteer at Livewire weekly in my capacity as a musician and feel I get back as much as I give. Young people are given access to free therapy, musical instruments and free music lessons if they want them. It’s a safe, non-judgemental space where teenagers and young adults can meet. On a Friday there is also a session dedicated to well-being, for young people who struggle with larger groups.

The power of music to heal is enormous, and Livewire’s combination of music and therapy is a powerful tool in helping young people gain the confidence they need to negotiate life. However, like so many great things, it has had its share of adversity over the last few years.

A few years ago a cut in funding left the future of Livewire looking uncertain. Luckily the hardworking team were able to keep the project going, but Livewire relies heavily on fundraising to be able to stay afloat. Outgoings have increased hugely in the last seven years since they added additional mental health services to their offering, and it is becoming harder to get grant funding as so many charities are competing for funds from ever smaller pots of money.

I would do anything to be able to magic Finn and Dean back to life; they had so much yet to give. However I have to accept this is not possible. What is within my means though is to assist Livewire in helping other vulnerable young people. If you feel moved by Finn and Dean’s story, do please donate to Livewire and think of Dean and Finn as you do so. You can read more about the work Livewire do and donate directly on their page at www.livewireyouth.com.

Finally, every suicide is a personal tragedy. There will always be a hole in the lives of those that knew and loved the person involved. We are all interlinked. Please don’t suffer in silence. Talk to someone. Seek help. Things will get better in the end. 

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