This Sunday 10th September is Suicide Prevention Day. To highlight the importance of suicide awareness and prevention, we spoke to a father who lost his son.
Jon Thurnell-Read lost his son Max in 2021 at the age of 15. Max took his own life after being harassed following an accusation of inappropriately touching a girl.
Despite police concluding that Max was ‘not guilty in any way, shape or form’, he was sent endless vile messages from fellow pupils at school.
Losing Max was not down to a mental health issue, his dad Jon believes. ‘It was down to the abuse and lies,’ he says. ‘It keeps me awake. I still feel utter disbelief that this happened.’
A star student and great friend
‘Max was a brilliant student, really involved with school life,’ says Jon. ‘He was one of the leads in the school play, and great academically. He was a talented guitarist and wanted to do music- he’d finished his application to do a music course.’
‘What he was accused of was completely against his values. He was a supportive friend, very anti-misogyny, and had amazing values. This was a real attack on him. It really affected him. Rumours were spread and Max was portrayed as predatory.’
The life-changing incident
Max’s story highlights how a campaign of bullying can deeply affect young people, and that the path to suicide isn’t always a long battle with mental illness.
Having grown up in a close and happy family home, Max had previously enjoyed good friendships and had supported others in joining an LGBTQ group he was part of. When the negativity around him started, Jon and his partner rallied around Max.
‘We listened to him and we told him that it should blow over, and that while it was unpleasant it was school gossip,’ remembers Jon. ‘After the Easter holidays he didn’t want to go to school anymore and he had a very isolated time. There were rumours that he was going to be beaten up. There was abuse and vicious lies going on on WhatsApp and Instagram.’
Max’s parents were supportive and aimed to get him talking. ‘I wanted him to know that dialogue could be upfront and he could talk to us. We got him outside and talking- we had to bribe him with coffee and cake but we got him out with us.’
Jon believes that the pandemic also played a part in Max’s stress. A huge music fan, he had tickets for various concerts that were repeatedly postponed. ‘Covid was seismic for kids’, Jon says.
Life without Max
Jon and his partner Tracy have been left bereaved, traumatised and trying to make sense of what happened.
‘Last night I woke up and tried to piece things together,’ says Jon. ‘As other bereaved parents will say, your life shatters in that moment. I’m not going to get to celebrate Max’s future birthdays, driving lessons, college open days and exam results… I feel cheated of the future.’
Jon attends counselling and has found support and comfort in grief charities (links below). He believes in the power of talking to help heal after difficult events.
‘I don’t think dads talk enough,’ he says. ‘Men are different. They get angry, frustrated or close up- or go back to work and carry on. No one asks after the dad. I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to seek support, I’ve got support around me and I can talk freely, and share Max.’
Compassionate Friend’s Trust– for bereaved parents
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide– suicide bereavement support
Suicide & Co– suicide bereavement support