Clare Milford Haven

Just before Christmas 2006, Clare Milford Haven’s world was ripped apart. Her eldest son James, aged only 21 – who loved his family, loved his friends, loved his sport – killed himself.

She had no forewarning, no previous experience of mental illness. It just happened to her – and her family – and James’s friends.

James had elected to have a minor procedure that December. It was straightforward and successful but he came out of the operation in state of anxiety. Nevertheless he was intent on returning to university to get his exams done but, once there, he went to a walk-in centre and told them he felt suicidal. The centre sent him to A&E as a ‘Priority 4’ – a category given to sufferers of toothache. He went but stayed only for 30 minutes. If you are in a state of emotional distress, the Emergency Room is the worst place to go. Two days later James was dead.

This interview is particularly hard. We have been focussing on women who have turned their life around – who have made strong choices – who have taken the power back. Talking to Clare is nothing like celebration and a lot like invasion. But she is very clear. “I think it is important to tell James’s story because people do have tragedies in their life. The death of a child is the hardest of things to get through. But if my story helps anyone else then I want to tell it.”

She speaks in a clear, measured voice. She has learned to rein in the maternal grief. Only once does her voice crack and for a moment the pain seeps out. “For me the tragedy was that he went looking for help. That he was the highest risk category – a young man of 21, trying to express how he felt – and they didn’t help him. They didn’t’ ring his GP. They didn’t ring me.”

The immediate aftermath was a blur. She didn’t know how she was going to get through another day. “Then it dawned on me. Everyone was looking at me as a barometer of how they should behave. I had to think very quickly. How was I to act? As a wife, a mother, a daughter? There was no joy in that Christmas. I didn’t want a present, I didn’t want to sing a carol. But I had to get through for sake of the other kids. I had to get up. I had to brush my teeth, I had to get dressed.”

Eight years on, she is still grappling with her grief – and channelling it in to helping others. She has had to be as strong as she can be, for other people. “It could have ruined me, destroyed the family,” she admits, but, after months in an abyss of loss and despair, “a friend lent me a book which really helped.” Something in it made sense at last. “It taught me that in every situation – even in circumstances beyond your control, that take away everything you possess – you can still control how you react. You have a choice.”

Clare and James’s father (her ex-husband Nick Wentworth Stanley) reacted in a most constructive and resourceful way. They chose to create something very positive out of something almost overwhelmingly negative – The James Wentworth Stanley Memorial Trust.

She has now been working in the arena of suicide prevention and mental health for 6 years. It has really changed her life and given her a level of understanding she didn’t have before. The bald facts are something all mothers should know. “Men are 3 times as likely to kill themselves: they don’t know how to talk, to articulate their pain. They tend to act out rather then work through it.”

“Suicide is preventable, suicide is not inevitable, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I want to do as much as I can to raise awareness of this.”

The Trust they set up funds a lot of different charities and many necessary initiatives from helplines in universities to training college staff (from cleaners to academic and residential staff) to spot the signs of depression. They fund counselling and much more besides. “Suicide is something that people should look at rather than look away from,” Clare says with strength of purpose. “I look back and see how much we have done. And I look forward and see how much we need to do.”

The Trust is now looking to create places that people like James can go to in a crisis. To be called ‘James’s Place.’ It makes such sense.

There is no need to ask her questions. She lays out just how far she has come in her arduous journey.

“Suffering is inevitable – but there is some meaning in it.” She says. “It brings about a clarity – about the things you want to do and the things you don’t want to do. I now realise that there is a way forward.”

Recently I saw Clare at a noisy dinner. It had been a few weeks since she had talked me through her story on the phone. I went across the room and silently hugged this incredible, sensational, strong women, as the bustle of the party went on obliviously around us.

To read more of James’s story and to learn more the James Wentworth-Stanley Memorial Fund – visit www.jwsmf.org

10 thoughts on “Clare Milford Haven”

  1. Wow, I must say that Clare has went thru what we as mothers fear the most. The death of our children. He is so handsome and look how tall!!!! My grandmother lost 2 of her children before she passed. I will think about James today and send him my love and to Clare as well…… So, happy that there are important topics being discussed…..

  2. Darling Clare, darling India,
    Having been to a friends ex husbands funeral yesterday, due to suicide, all that you say here, is just too familiar and just too, too sad. I wish my friend had known of somewhere like “James’s Place”.
    Sending you both all my love and thoughts. Two very inspirational women whom I admire so much.
    Emma xxxxxxxx

  3. This photograph of Clare and James brings both great sadness, and joyfulness remembering the happy times, and what a truly great guy that was James. Fun,
    charismatic, good looking, charming.. one could go on and on… Clare, the most wonderful, caring, beautiful, fun, bright mother a child could wish for.
    I remember having to tell my son Luca, who was a friend, and the same age.. he
    simply said completely distraught.. ´Mum, that wasn´t James,
    he´s just made the biggest mistake of his life´
    Absolutely, but as you have said Clare.. where the hell were the people that should and could have given him 5 minutes of care to understand how seriously depressed he was. For James to even admit he was feeling suicidal would have taken a huge amount. They should have called you.. makes me so cross, and beyond to think a wonderful young man, with everything ahead of him was so misdirected.
    I will always continue to support James´ fund.. you are amazing xxx

  4. Such a poignant handsome photo of James. A reminder of the precious boy that left our stage. As a sufferer of depression I can half understand his plight, although being a female I had the advantage of talking most of it out which is so much harder for a boy. The idea of James Place is so simple and effective and could rescue people unknowingly on a daily basis. Thank you Clare for working so hard and donning your armour every day to fight and break down the stigma that comes with this illness. Teenagers are so vulnerable and mind so much about what people think of them, it is vital that this stigma is broken down and for them to be shown kindness and understanding. I am married now and living happily in Kenya with twins due in May. But my years at Newcastle were dark and I often think of James and how he must have suffered on that day. Please keep up your amazing work and fly the flag for those of us not as strong. It means so much. Xxxx

  5. Such a beautiful photograph…and such a sad story, one that could have been prevented if only we would all take suicidal ideation seriously. We MUST continue to work toward the de-stigmatization of mental illness: One would go to the Doctor if one had chest pains, so why have we made it seem so shameful to see a Doctor for depression and anxiety? And it must be acceptable for men to share their feelings! This is the 21st century, after all.
    Thank you for sharing your son’s story, Clare, and for making a difference to people in need.

  6. As a mother of 2 daughters, aged 10 & 12, this is so very, very sad to read. The pain that many young men must suffer often in silence, is unimaginable. Last year a wonderful, warm lovely ex colleague of mine took his own life very suddenly & I learned of it through Facebook (hardly thes best way but such is communication nowadays). He left behind a wife & 2 sons, the youngest of which was only 6 weeks old. Anything that can be done to offer help & support is to be commended. My very best wishes to you.

  7. James is sorely missed by all of us – I am so proud of my family and darling Aunt Clare who continues to amaze me every day with her strength. I love you Jimbo. xoxo

  8. This is a sad yet inspiring story. At 19 I took Lariam which made me feel depressed, paranoid and suicidal for 2 years. My gp recommended Vitamin B complex and telling peoplei trusted if I was having a bad day. I recovered and still take 2 vitamin B daily. I wrote to my health minister asking would they look at the research on the effect of vitamin B for mental health twice and my letters were ignored. Medicine can help but also vitamin b can and it would be cheaper to give it for free than count the cost of lost lives. Maybe Clare’s foundation could look at this? Young men couldbe persuaded to take it because it helps your whole body not just your brain?

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