“Charlotte was just the loveliest, most wonderful, inquisitive, vivacious little girl. She had this wicked, funny, sense of humour that we all miss.”

Lisa Franklin was first introduced to PAPYRUS back in 2017 when she completed ASIST training with the charity’s Chief Executive, Ged Flynn. 

Like many who sign up for the two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, Lisa’s commitment to learning more about suicidal ideation was fuelled by lived experience. At the time of attending the course, Lisa’s then 16-year-old daughter Charlotte was struggling daily with suicidal thoughts.

Lisa described her daughter Charlotte as “the kindest little girl” growing up. Like most girls her age, she had passions and interests and a love for life. She wasn’t afraid of trying anything and threw herself wholeheartedly into new activities.

“Charlotte loved being outdoors when she was a child. Swimming, gig rowing, even horse riding; we threw the lot at her,” says Lisa.

“She was very artistic. She loved everything artsy, she loved films, reading and writing stories, oh and she loved Disney! I’ll never forget taking her to see Miley Cyrus as Hannah Montana – pre-Wrecking Ball era!”

Despite her daring nature, the transition into secondary school proved a challenging time for Charlotte, with this period coinciding with the introduction of iPads, the rise of mobile phones, instant messaging and social media. Having struggled with socialising as a child, this became a growing obstacle for Charlotte, and in a bid to cope, her family began to recognise her increasing fixation with routine, along with a distinct change in her personality.

Lisa explains, “In her last two years of primary school, days were spent on the beach, her social group expanded and for those years it was really great. She loved being out in the open and her primary school was small, and the pupils were taught in a positive environment which benefited Charlotte. Of course, this began to change when she went to secondary school. Not all children find their footing with that transition, and she couldn’t. She had difficulty with her peers, and a lot of change and this had a huge impact on her.”

Charlotte was brilliant at masking her feelings. No one realised under the veneer Charlotte was crumbling, it was a painful time.

Lisa adds, “Charlotte continued to struggle with difficulties in secondary school and I think it triggered her insecurities. Suddenly this very much obsessiveness with cleaning, food, and routine kicked in. She also became very obsessed with how she looked because part of the bullying had been about her physical appearance, and she wasn’t able to cope with that.”

In 2015, Charlotte told her mum she didn’t want to return to school, a request the two “embraced”. Calling on support from CAHMS during this time and developing a new healthy structure, Lisa says this was a really positive time in Charlotte’s life. However, with her GCSEs impending and her former school offering online learning to support her with her exams, Lisa says this soon impacted her daughter’s now compulsive need for routine and eventually Charlotte’s mental health began to decline. This marked the start of a three-year battle.

Charlotte was first admitted to hospital at 15 years old and was then diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While the family was grateful to have this understanding of the teen’s newly developed habits and compulsions, it also brought with it a new dynamic for them to navigate.

Reflecting on this time, Lisa says: “Charlotte spent ages 15 to 19 in and out of psychiatric hospitals which was a pretty awful time of her life. She was never well again. She was never well enough to fully come out of hospital.

“Charlotte even sat her GCSEs in hospital, which despite all the obstacles, she passed all of them.

“On her 18th birthday, she was escorted to an adult ward where she was removed from the wonderful people who had helped her for the first couple of years and it was again more change for her. It was then a battle. The services were very different.

“On occasions when Charlotte would leave hospital, she was so high risk we had to basically sleep in her room. We would all watch over her day and night. We couldn’t leave her alone. It was so difficult for her to watch her school friends living normal lives, picking their prom dresses and socialising. She never got to experience what most teenagers do. No one knows to this day what we went through as a family and what Charlotte went through with her illnesses and her thoughts.”

In this time, the family moved out of their family home in Cornwall and stayed with family to be closer to Charlotte while she was in hospital receiving specialised treatment for BDD and OCD. Charlotte never returned to her home in Cornwall, and on 11 September 2019, almost four years after her first hospital admission, the 19-year-old sadly lost her life to suicide.

“Charlotte had been ill for many years, but nothing could prepare us for losing her,” Lisa says.

“Losing Charlotte, losing your child, it spirals you into the darkest and most distressing vortex of grief. You’re swirling around and you realise that the future has gone, Charlotte’s life is gone, my relationship with her, the relationships with her brother and sister, her father and my mother – all our family. Everything just swirls around, and you realise the magnitude of her loss.

“You just cannot believe the finality and the fact of never seeing her again, hearing her again. Most days I dissect certain parts of life in the past because that’s all I have of Charlotte. There’s a lot of living in the past, which is difficult because of course you’re supposed to live in the moment. The whole grief process is very hard to explain to people who haven’t gone through losing a child and a loved one to suicide.”

Now, as we approach five years since Charlotte’s death, Lisa feels ready and urged to “give back”, which she plans to do in the form of a journey across the South West Coastal Path.

On 27 May 2024, Lisa will put on her hiking shoes as she takes on the 410-mile walk of the South in aid of PAPYRUS and to honour Charlotte’s memory. Taking to the trail alone, with friends and family making an appearance along the way, Lisa intends for this to be a time to “heal while raising awareness about Charlotte and PAPYRUS”.

Lisa says: “Those initial years after losing her, my head was all over the place. I met people who lost people to similar situations, but everyone deals with it in different ways. For some people, they need to get out there straight away and talk about it, but for me, I couldn’t trust myself on what I could have said, and how I could have made a difference. It’s been a long journey, and it still will be, always.

“The walk is to process my grief, Charlotte’s illness, and our loss. While Charlotte was ill, my favourite place became my enemy. Cornwall is where Charlotte became ill. It’s where our lives changed and that is something I want to revisit and work through.

The walk will take Lisa back to notable locations from both her own and Charlotte’s life, including a visit to the seaside town in far South West Cornwall where Lisa has only revisited once since Charlotte’s death.

Lisa continues: “The walk is an opportunity that I might not have again as I’m planning on regaining some of my life before Charlotte died. I start off in Minehead where I went many times as a child and always loved. My husband and I got married in Penzance and we celebrated in St Ives, eating pasties on Porthmeor beach! Then, I’m going to visit other locations and friends along the way. I will be travelling favourite places where my children grew up. It’s still very raw and it will be difficult, but it’s important that I do it. Finally, I’ll be ending in Plymouth, where I was born and where Charlotte was first admitted to hospital, on 12 July.

“This is huge for me. It’s going to be a journey. I’m going to be working through Charlotte’s life, Charlotte’s illness and talking to everyone I meet about how suicide has affected our whole family.”

Lisa wants to ensure her walk can also highlight the importance of treatment and recognition for body dysmorphic disorder, which was recognised at Charlotte’s inquest as a contributing factor to Charlotte’s ongoing suicidal ideation. In the UK, it is estimated that 2% of the adult population is living with BDD, and sadly has one of the highest suicide rates of all mental health conditions with 1 in 50 making an attempt on their life. 

If you’re experiencing thoughts of suicide and need a safe non-judgmental space to talk. PAPYRUS is here for you. Call HOPELINE247 for free, confidential advice and support on 0800 068 4141, text 88247 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org. We’re here to support you all day, every day, whenever you may need us.
If you would like to contribute your supporter story to the PAPYRUS blog, please get in touch with communications@papyrus-uk.org.
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