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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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 Inside Out - South East of England: Monday June 23, 2003


The cliffs at Beachy Head
These cliffs are the site of 20 suicides a year
If you are experiencing suicidal feelings, click here for helpline numbers
Click here for advice

Beachy Head near Eastbourne is a dramatic and beautiful headline extending 535 feet above sea level. But this area of natural beauty has a darker side. Beachy Head is a well known location for suicide attempts.

For most of visitors every year, Beachy Head is a place to escape, relax and take in the dramatic scenery.

But its history reveals a darker side. Since the 1600s it's been a popular location for suicide attempts.

John Surtees was a pathologist for Eastbourne NHS for 30 years.

John dealt with many of the suicide cases and estimates that around 20 people each year choose to commit suicide at Beachy Head.

Mark Humphreys was one of them.

His story has a happy ending but at one point in his life he was driven to the brink of despair.

Mark Humphreys
Mark reached desperation point and found himself at Beachy Head

No way out

Mark from Eastbourne was going through a difficult time with his girlfriend and after a huge row he found himself at the edge of the cliff at Beachy Head.

"All I could see was just this expanse," says Mark. "It was pitch darkness and I thought how easy it could be."

"I was stood there thinking this is it. This is the time for me to die."

Luckily for Mark, PC Trevor Perks arrived. Trevor had known Mark for several years and immediately realised he had a delicate situation to deal with.


What causes suicidal feelings?
- Depression and other psychiatric illnesses
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Any emotional crisis such as the loss of a partner, a close relative or friend
- Divorce or separation or other relationship difficulties
- Financial problems or mounting debts
- Serious problems or disappointments at work or school
- Serious illness

What you can do if you are feeling desperate

TALK - there is no substitute to sharing your feelings

Talk to family or friends. Share how you are feeling with others

Contact your family doctor

The Samaritans is available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support: 08457 90 90 90

Click here for further advice

It's good to talk

Peter Bridgewater is the Director of the Eastbourne Samaritans, the nearest Samaritan office to Beachy Head.

Many people who contemplate suicide feel unheard so it is essential that they are listened to, rather than talked to.

In 1976 a telephone box was installed near the cliff top. The box displays the contact details for the local Samaritans and the national helpline.

Peter has received calls from the cliff edge.

Although the calls are often desperate, it is possible to help the potential suicide victim by providing a valuable emotional lifeline.

Peter insists that the important thing for those contemplating suicide is to talk and allow time to reflect and consider all their options.

Over the edge

A 600 feet drop can be deadly and the task of following up the fall lies with the Eastbourne Coastguard.

Thankfully though the task does not always involve remains.

Coastguard Steve Dann was sent out to a man who survived a 200 foot fall and was still conscious.

Steve was sent down on a rope to make contact.

As the survivor awaited the arrival of the rescue helicopter he contemplated his survival and happily lit up a cigarette.

Fresh start

Thankfully, PC Perks succeeded in convincing Mark not to jump.

Volunteer Coastguards have to deal with the remains

Mark is now glad that he was persuaded to work through this problems.

Mark says, "I'm happy, I wake up in the morning, I see my girlfriend, I see the children, I look out of the window and look at the sun - what more could anyone want?"

For the Eastbourne Police and Coastguard, dealing with cases like Mark's is part of the job.

Although not all cases end so happily, there's a great sense of satisfaction when they succeed in talking around a potential suicide victim.


If you, or someone you know is having suicidal feelings or suffering from depression or despair you can ring BBC Action Line on: 08000 934 934.

Or alternatively ring the Samaritans on: 08457 90 90 90.

Samaritans is available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which may lead to suicide.

If you are experiencing suicidal feelings click here for advice

See also ...

BBC: News - Bid to cut suicide rates
BBC: Mental Health - Suicidal feelings

On the rest of the web
Trapped Minds
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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