Am I a Useful Idiot?

Trevor Stevens

Like many people I’ve met since my daughter died by suicide in December 2020, I have tried to turn my grief into something positive. 

Such a positive response is quite common. Generally, for those whose child has died in this manner, their uppermost if not necessarily initial thought is that they do not want other parents to experience the same tragedy. It might arise instead of anger or as a reaction to anger or even in addition to anger. It’s rare for anger not to be felt; in fact, it’s so rare that I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t at some point been searingly angry with someone, often just themselves. 

It’s hard to be angry forever though. It takes a lot of effort. I quickly realised I’d rather channel my negative emotions into something more positive. Who doesn’t want to make a difference? And I thought my anger might eat me away, and what was the point of that? 

So I’ve worked with instead of against the Trust responsible for my daughter when she died. In my completely inexperienced way, but willingly and as best I can, I’ve supported people who’ve been working for many years to bring about improvements in that particular Trust. I’ve used my experiences as a bereaved father to try to improve the support offered to parents who have lost a child. I’ve written and presented for Making Families Count. 

So far so good. I’m trying my best.

Then recently I met someone who worked in suicide prevention for eight years before they gave up because, in their words, it was like “banging your head against a brick wall”. I’ve not been going for that long and my head is not yet hurting, but when I see all the compassionate smiles and listen to all the sympathetic voices and nothing appears to move very fast or even at all and I see the tired faces and resigned expressions of the ones who have given up, I start to worry that I, too, might at some point run out of steam, shrug my shoulders and say “I tried my best, now I’m going to do something else, watch telly or go down the pub.” 

My nagging fear, which I tell to go away but which hides in the nooks and crannies in the back of my mind and whose head I can’t prevent from poking out from time to time, is that the sympathetic voices know this and are just waiting for my motivation to dissipate. Perhaps they even think I’m talking rubbish and are just too kind to say so to the face of a man whose daughter has taken her life. Even worse to contemplate, am I being exploited? Am I the useful idiot who provides the illusion of change when nobody has any intention of doing anything differently? I don’t really know. 

So my request or plea or challenge to any mental health professionals who are reading this is – tell me what you’re going to do, or not do. If it’s the latter, it would save me a stack load of effort. (Hint – given the choice I’d prefer not to be a useful idiot).

I’ve been going now for two and a half years which, if the average capitulation comes after eight years, leaves me another five and a half. In the meantime, I will continue with my current plan, which is to tell my daughter’s story to as many people as possible so that some of them at least reconsider their position on confidentiality, change their behaviour, and as a result save someone’s life. 

And if just one person’s life is saved then I will die a little less unhappy than I am now. I want to salvage something good from the rubble left by my daughter’s death. 

About Trevor Stevens

Trevor Stevens will be one of the speakers at the upcoming Making Families Count webinar “3 Dads Talking – Working with Families after Suicide” on Thursday 30 November 2023. In this webinar, we explore how health and care staff can better support and manage a family through the acute phase of dealing with their loss, thus increasing the confidence of staff members in working with families after a death

4 thoughts on “Am I a Useful Idiot?”

  1. Trevor, everything you say resonates with how I feel sometimes. I am sure there are those who view me (and you) as useful idiots to tick the ‘listening to families’ box. I am equally sure that you and I do make some difference. Maybe not always in the way we want to see but still better than nothing. The personal cost can be high. Feeling gaslighted is retraumatising. It is at times exhausting and hard to see the progress. You told me that you were certain if I walked away then there was less chance of the trust changing. The same is true for you. You shine a light into places people don’t want to look and do that with a steely kindness. You are a wise man who operates from love and there is nothing idiotic about that. Keep strong and know there are people who truly value your contribution and who share your vision for safer services. Standing with you. Caroline

  2. Dear Trevor,

    A moving story, one which I know already.

    I must be a bigger idiot then since I have been at this for 28 years with my Son (trying to save his life) and 49 years since my Father died by suicide. Although I do feel a common theme that because it happened so long ago it does not have worth. I know the effects of suicide on an 18 year old’s brain and emotions.

    Far from being an idiot Tevor, you battle on regardless. It gives meaning to our loss. Too much distraction sometimes causes us to doubt the worth in what we do. I do not doubt the worth I do. I will be very happy to join the webinar.

    With Love and Respect.


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