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Wife of Mike Palmer from 3 Dads Walking 'proud' as they continue their suicide awareness campaign

As I walk through the door of their family home in Manchester, Helen throws her arms around me.

From one mother to another we hold each other and she whispers to me “you’re like part of our family now”. The feeling is mutual.

I’ve met and interviewed Helen's husband Mike so often, and he has shared with me some of the most intensely private moments of his grief over the last couple of years, that I feel I know this family well.

In fact I’ve known them for more than 10 years. I interviewed Helen at her home back in 2011, as her husband Mike took on a challenge to row the Atlantic.

Mel Barham with 8-year-old Beth (left) and her sister and Mum in 2011 Credit: ITV

That day I also met and interviewed a starry eyed eight-year-old Beth and her older sister, both brimming with pride for their dad who was taking on the most gruelling of challenges.

I’d kept in touch with the family through the years and witnessed, via social media, the girls growing up.

The immeasurable pride for her daughters was abundantly clear from every effusive, maternal post from Helen on Facebook.

This was clearly a mum who adored her children, and I often marvelled at her inexhaustible talent for celebrating those moments, which many would simply overlook.

Beth’s incredible singing talent was also becoming obvious to me with every new video that her mum posted online. 

She may only have been 17 but her voice had a maturity and an evocative quality that was clearly special. So much so, I was beginning to think we should feature Beth on Granada’s Introducing strand.

But weeks later, on the same social media pages, came a post totally out of the blue; Beth had taken her own life, it was just weeks into lockdown.

"Beth was the life and soul of the party. She absolutely loved life. She lived life at 100 miles an hour", her mum told me.

"Always the centre of attention. She was just wonderful and so brilliantly talented. And so loved by everyone."


In the weeks and months following Beth's death, Mike had been introduced to Andy Airey and Tim Owen - both dads whose daughters had also died from suicide.

They struck up a friendship and a bond, each of them helping the others to get through the terrible ordeal they had all been through.

When they decided in 2021 to walk across the country, from each of their homes, in aid of suicide awareness, they had no idea just how it would capture the nation's imagination.

3 Dads Walking raised more than £800,000 for the North West suicide prevention charity Papyrus - including huge donations from celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and Manchester United hero Lou Macari. 

It also started a national conversation about suicide awareness.

When they finished the walk last year, the dads - Mike Palmer from Sale, Andy Airey from Cumbria, and Tim Owen from Norfolk - realised their work was not done. 

So a few days ago, on the eve of World Suicide Day, they embarked on their next challenge - to walk to all four parliaments of the UK to ask those in power to put suicide awareness onto the school curriculum.

But away from the cameras and the media attention, are the rest of the families who, no less affected by their losses, have quietly and stoically taken a step back to let the dads do their thing.

The light of publicity may be deflected from them, but they are no less important. And while the three dads are walking, we talked to Mike’s wife, Beth’s mum Helen. 

It is the first time she has ever spoken publicly about her grief and the incredible work being done by the 3 Dads Walking.

Over the last year and a bit, Mike, and the other two bereaved dads, have got used to talking to journalists; that characteristically open and honest account of the impact of suicide has become almost their bread and butter, their reason for getting up every day.

But for Helen, this is new territory. She has never publicly shared her grief or spoken about Beth or what the 3 Dads have been doing, until now.

"We never dreamt that Beth would do anything like this." Helen says. "I think one of the lines that Mike's quoted is that, you know, you would never put Beth and suicide in the same sentence. Nobody ever expected this. Nobody ever thought that this would be the outcome. "

If ever there was a woman born to be a mother, it was Helen. And yet Suicide has stolen that most precious gift - her daughter.  A mother’s grief is hard to witness.

"She just had everything to live for and people can tell me 'til I'm blue in the face what a good mum I was, but I'll carry that guilt for the rest of my life, that I didn't catch my little girl when she fell. When she needed me most, I wasn't there, she didn't reach out", Helen said.

But no one could doubt the love and dedication of this mother; Beth was perhaps instead failed by a society that recoils at the very thought of talking about suicide.

And that is exactly what the 3 Dads Walking is all about. Encouraging all of us to talk more openly and honestly about our mental health and specifically suicide, which for too long has been a taboo subject.

"This is a huge problem", she says. "This is going to be a huge problem for years to come. But we can do this.

"We can stop other families going through what what we're living through now."

Suicide is the biggest killer of people under 35 and every year in the UK a staggering 200 school children take their own lives.

"If that happened in just one school", says Tim Owen, "there would be uproar." And yet the three dads say very little is currently being done to address this danger.

3 Dads Walking want suicide prevention to be placed on the national curriculum so that every young person is given the life skills to cope with future problems, to become more resilient and to be able to spot the signs to help others. 

It’s something Helen is 100% behind.

"We'll never know [if it would have made a difference] with Beth", she explains.

"But I would like to think if she'd been equipped with that knowledge she might have just known where to go in that moment.

"I would like to hope that she would know. I think it's so important now that we start to bring this into the curriculum, bring this into educating people with these life skills."

They will never know the reason why Beth took her own life. But what they’ve since learnt is the importance of talking and being more aware of the signs.

They are full of praise for the work done by the suicide prevention charity Papyrus, who run a HopeLine to help anyone feeling suicidal or concerned about others.

Worried about mental health?

CALM

CALM, or the Campaign Against Living Miserably, runs a free and confidential helpline and webchat – open from 5pm to midnight every day, for anyone who needs to talk about life’s problems.

It also supports those bereaved by suicide, through the Support After Suicide Partnership (SASP).

  • Phone their helpline: 0800 585858 (Daily, 5pm to midnight)

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Mind

Mind is a mental health charity which promotes the views and needs of people with mental health issues.

It provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem, and campaigns to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

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PAPYRUS

For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice you can contact PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email pat@papyrus-uk.org

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people in the UK. PAPYRUS aims to reduce the number of young people who take their own lives by breaking down the stigma around suicide and equipping people with the skills to recognise and respond to suicidal behaviour.

HOPELINEUK is the charity’s confidential helpline service providing practical advice and support to young people with thoughts of suicide and anyone concerned about a young person who may have thoughts of suicide.

HOPELINEUK is staffed by trained professionals, offering a telephone, text and email service.

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Samaritans

Samaritans is an organisation offering confidential support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.

  • Phone 116 123 (a free 24 hour helpline)

  • Email: jo@samaritans.org

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YoungMinds

YoungMinds is a resource with information on child and adolescent mental health, but also offers services for parents and professionals.

It is the UK’s leading charity fighting for children and young people's mental health, and wants to make sure all young people can get the mental health support they need, when they need it

  • YoungMinds Textline - Text YM to 85258

  • Phone Parents' helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am - 4pm)

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Listen to the ITV News' podcast From the North with Mike Palmer.


Helen shows me Beth’s bedroom; it is frozen in time, left as it always was, complete with the fake tan bottles in the dressing table drawer.

Beth’s was a life that was only just beginning, and yet a seemingly split-second decision ended it abruptly. A permanent solution to a temporary problem.

This is a story that has had a profound effect on me - the utter futility of the loss, and the huge impact it has on those left behind. 

I’ve been particularly touched by Mike and Helen's tireless attempt to prevent another family going through the same heartache.

"I want to stop someone else going through this pain. It's not even pain, it is just torment. It's constant, you can't describe it, it just never leaves you, ever. I would love nothing more than to have her back here. I'd give anything to have her back but for as long as we're here now, we've got to try and make that difference.

And I think we are, I genuinely think we are. And I think that's why the dads are going again, because you know, we've still got work to do. "

Beth, Sophie and Emily

Through her crippling grief, Helen has somehow mustered the strength to carry on, and although she’s not walked with the dads, she’s been tacitly behind every step.

Helen said: "I'm so proud of Mike. So proud of all the dads, we all are. Because what they're doing is so very important, massively important.

"And I think last time they walked, we didn't expect the response we got and at the end of the walk, the overriding feeling was that they hadn't finished what they set out to do. So here we go again.

"Mike, Tim and Andy have an unbreakable bond and friendship. I think what they've done with each other and talked about together, has given them a real bond.

"It's made people more aware that men can talk. It's okay to talk about how you're feeling, what you're going through. And it does help It helps people massively. 

"Sharing and talking is crucial."

The 3 Dads are walking 600 miles to all four UK Parliaments in a bid to get suicide prevention onto the school curriculum Credit: ITV

The 3 Dads started their walk on 9 September. Walking to each of the UK’s 4 parliaments, they’re hoping to get politicians, and those in power, on board with their ideas.

From Edinburgh they’ve been trekking down the country, reaching the north west on Monday, where they’re continuing to advance their journey.

"We've lost our girls. But yes, absolutely and utterly, this is their legacy. This is their story. Their three stories taken by their three dads and taken forward."

The 3 Dads Walking petition to make suicide prevention a compulsory part of the school curriculum can be found here

If you would like to donate to 3 Dads Walking, or track their journey from all four parliaments, visit their website.