‘If we can help prevent people going though the tragic loss... that would be a real legacy’

Having to hold a funeral for their child is every parent’s worst nightmare – perhaps even more so if that child had, tragically, taken their own life.

Max Windle’s parents have set up a trust in his memory
Max Windle’s parents have set up a trust in his memory

Even prior to the Covid pandemic, teenage-suicide figures were showing a worrying increase year on year. Lockdown appears to have exacerbated the situation, if what I have been told anecdotally is correct.

What is the underlying cause? I believe that, while not totally to blame, the rise of social media has to take a share of the responsibility.

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My generation, the children born in the 1960s and ’70s, to my mind were fortunate to avoid this social media phenomenon in their formative years – now hugely prevalent in most modern day teenagers’ lives.

After those difficult days at school most of us had every so often back in the day, home life was a safe haven, away from the pressures of outside world.

Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the case now.

My daughter Amy, who apparently found ‘fame’ on Love Island – fame is a broad church in the 21st century – recorded a show for the BBC working with youngsters who had been cyber bullied.

One young man had ‘fallen out’ with someone at school and had arrived home to more than 130 abusive and threatening messages on social media.

Should the social media companies do more to combat this? Yes. Do they? I haven’t seen it if they do.

And, until online abuse and so-called trolling becomes a criminal offence, any ‘guidelines’ currently in place are nothing more than a toothless tiger.

But aside from the dark shadow of social media another key aspect of the problem is that 21st-century life in general appears to a whole lot harsher and hard-nosed than it was 40 years ago.

My dear-old and much-missed Mum had two favourite sayings, ‘It’s nice to be important but its more important to be nice’ and ‘If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all’.

Two simple sentences, but if were both widely adopted as mantras around the UK and beyond, the world would be a better place.

But the way society has developed in this country seems to have seen the issue of teenage depression worsening rather than getting better.

Every family I deal with in my work as a funeral director has experienced a great sadness, having lost a loved one.

In January, my sister-in-law Jane looked after the family of 16-year Max Windle, who had sadly taken his own life after suffering with depression.

Max was an academy footballer with League Two club Crawley Town

He was a gifted scholar and sportsman with a prospect of a career that almost every youngster in this country would give their eye teeth for. His tragic passing shows that depression has no bounds.

His family have set up the Max Windle Memorial Trust, to help support local and national charities which focus on improving mental health, including depression, anxiety and suicide prevention in children and young adults.

I asked his parents, David and Debs, for permission to mention both Max and the Trust whilst writing this article. David replied: “If we can help prevent people going though the tragic loss and desperate sadness that we are living through that would be a real legacy, the Trust will hopefully make a difference”.

From an initial target of £5,000 the fund is current approaching £40,000 and if you would like to make a donation please go to justgiving.com/crowdfunding/themaxwindlememorialtrust

• If you have been affected by anything in this article, or if you need to talk, Samaritans can be contacted day or night by calling 116 123, free. West Sussex Mind is a charity helping young people, adults, carers and families affected by mental health issues – for more details, visit www.westsussexmind.org