On Sunday 27 November 2011 the shocking news emerged that Gary Speed, manager of the Wales national football team and former player at Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United, had been found dead at his home. Apparently he had taken his own life, aged 42.
Tributes began pouring in for this highly popular figure in the footballing world, from fellow professionals and politicians. He was widely praised as an inspirational role model, one who would give 100% for his shirt without ever feeling the need to racially abuse opponents or fall out of night clubs. As radio presenters interviewed a series of shellshocked colleagues, including members of the BBC Football Focus panel he'd been joking with less than 24 hours previously, a common theme was the first question raised in these scenarios. Why?
What had driven a young family man, with a wife and two sons, after a respected playing career and on the verge of potential managerial success with his home country, to choose such a tragic way out? Pundit after pundit struggled to make some sense of what had happened. Of course, a live radio interview so soon after the events is hardly the place to speculate about the 'dark shadows' that may have been lurking, as Radio 5 Live's Nicky Campbell broached the subject.
The 'why' question seems to be particularly hard to answer when a person is showing no outward signs of any 'dark shadows'. However, the positive public persona is, in itself, very often a symptom a deeper malaise is being masked. At this moment his family and friends will be trying to come to terms with the shattering intensity of the loss. The 'why' question will follow in due course. Perhaps, in Gary's case, the truth will never be revealed.
There are some aspects that can be stated. As a British male, Gary was three times more likely to take this course of action than a female and like any adult in the country, had a one in four chance of experiencing some kind of mental health issue (anxiety and depression being the commonest).
I have a friend, Ian, from the Edinburgh punk scene, who died in equally appalling circumstances on 1 April last year. Exactly the same questions were asked and will continue to be asked by his family and friends. The fact is, the human mind is complex. We try coping with stress or anxiety or depression in a myriad different ways. There are trained people, such as The Samaritans who can try to offer help before it gets too late. The difficulty is being able to recognise when there is a problem, especially when people like Gary, Ian and thousands of others adopt that brave face.
At 9pm tonight BBC2 screened a documentary entitled ‘Death of a School Friend’. This was former MP Michael Portillo’s fitting tribute to his onetime Harrow classmate, Gary Findon. Gary committed suicide the weekend before his 16th birthday.