John Gulliver: Suicide is no laughing matter

Hospital staff heard joking about death on tube

Thursday, 9th June


Viviane and her sister as children

WE all would surely agree that suicide is no laughing matter. And yet many of us are prone to making light of it.

This might be through bad taste jokes or simply the general lexicon of conversation, and often without thought of who might be in earshot.

This week I spoke to a woman who has received a formal apology from the Whittington Hospital after she complained about staff “loudly joking” about a death on the tube as she waited for a routine blood test.

Viviane, who is still coming to terms with her sister’s suicide four years ago, said the staff members had mocked the tragedy describing it as a selfish act for causing delays on the Underground.

The Whittington accepted this was the “highly inappropriate behaviour” was “unacceptable” and that the staff had offered “sincere apologies”.

But Viviane, who did not want her full name to be used, told me: “I think a lot of people in general joke about suicide. I just heard someone saying this on a bus the other day, about how bad things were they were going to hang themselves. Another thing is when people say someone has ‘committed suicide’ – as if they have committed a crime. I just would like people to think a bit more about it.

“When you hear someone talking about one person who took their own life like that, it makes you feel as if they are talking about the person I loved. People don’t think how many people are affected by suicide. It can be really painful.

“In this case, they were joking about someone who had jumped on the Victoria line, saying there were better ways to do it. This person would have had family and friends left behind – and people are complaining about running late or having to get a different bus? It seems human life is not valued as it should be. It’s the same with the war in Ukraine – oh, you know it’s 100 people who died today, that sort of thing.”

She said she had kept quiet at the time for fear of her emotions getting the better of her.
Viviane she had got a tattoo on her back of her older sister’s grave, which is in Germany. Her sister died in the North Sea in 2018.

She had been experiencing hallucinations and had believed someone was following her who wanted to take her child away.

She said the counselling services provided on the NHS were “not great” and that she had been surprised to find there was not a charity devoted to bereavement from suicide.

She had found support from group therapy sessions in north London, however.

“I don’t think the Whittington took my complaint seriously,” she said. “There is such a focus on mental health in this country but there are basic things that people are not thinking about yet.”

A spokesperson for the Whittington said: “We are truly sorry for the distress caused by this incident. We have taken steps to ensure it won’t happen again and offer guidance and advice around mental health to all our colleagues.”

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