Rugby woman encourages people to talk openly after her partner took his own life

Mark and Claire.
Mark and Claire.

A Rugby entrepreneur and Samaritans volunteer has set up a venture to break down mental health taboos after her partner took his life earlier this year.

On a Sunday evening on March 5, Claire Russell’s boyfriend, Mark Lotsu, walked out of the door – an hour later he was dead.

Claire said: “He’d been with me that day and had spent a lot of the weekend with friends who said he appeared to be happier than he had been in a long time.

“Obviously I wish that I would known what he was going through, that someone had been able to help him - but that just wasn’t the case.

“It was an horrific experience but I think, ‘at least something good can come from it’.”

Ex-teacher Mark and Claire met through business networking and had been together for a year when Mark died.

Claire was pregnant with Mark’s child when he died but, weeks after Mark’s death, Claire received the devastating news that her baby had died.

Now Claire is drawing on her 20-plus years of experience in the corporate world, and her three years as a Samaritans volunteer, to begin a venture which seeks to tackle stigma around mental health problems in the workplace.

She said: “In the UK you are more likely to experience a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts at work than be injured.”

The business, named Claire Russell Ltd, aims to bring about a culture change in the corporate world – encouraging open discussion of mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.

This will be delivered through workshops, training, coaching and more.

Claire, who has also struggled with mental health problems, said people in the workplace can be reluctant to talk about their mental wellbeing.

“They might be worried that they will be judged for it, or that it might hold them back in their career,” Claire said.

Bosses can feel ill-equipped to approach their employees to ask about their welfare, she added.

She said: “People can create a separation and an ‘otherness’ between those that don’t have these feelings and those who do.

“One of the most important things we want to do is raise awareness of this - people are frightened by things they don’t properly understand.

“If we can help people to better understand what people are going through then we can enable friends, colleagues and family to talk more openly.”

To address these issues, Claire’s business will not only offer the skills of experienced trainers and coaches, it will also bring the experience of people who have battled some of the common issues around mental health and suicidal thoughts – such as substance and alcohol abuse.

Claire said: “By working with businesses in both the private and public sector we can raise awareness and change our working culture, creating a much more positive attitude towards mental health.

“This in turn helps businesses better support the people who work in their organisations.

“I’ve been passionate about working with people with mental health issues, specifically with people who live with suicidal thoughts, for many years.

“Being involved with the Samaritans and what’s happened with Mark has fuelled this even further.

“If I can be a part of affecting change then it somehow makes everything that’s happened to me easier to bear.”

When asked if she had any advice for those concerned about the mental wellbeing of another person, Claire said:“If you have colleagues, friends or family members who might be suicidal, you have to ask that question.

“They are unlikely to get the help they need unless someone steps in.

“Try not to be afraid. Don’t shy away from having conversations and don’t shy away from asking the big questions.

“You often find talking makes it easier for them to cope with thoughts they’re having.”

Statistics from the Mental Health Foundation reveal suicide is the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20 and 49.

Claire described this figure as ‘worrying’, adding that it is important to highlight the scale of the issue.

For more information on Claire Russell Ltd go to www.clairerussell.co.uk
The Samaritans can be contacted for free at any time of the day by calling 116 123, or you can email jo@samaritans.org

To learn more about the help available if you are struggling, visit warwickshire.gov.uk/mentalhealth or you can also call the Mental Health Matters helpline for free at any time on 0800 616 171.