Jenny Barry struggled for most of her life with depression (Picture: Jenetta Barry)
Trigger warning: the following article contains references to suicide, suicidal thoughts and depression.
Teenager Jenny Barry struggled for most of her life.
She was a restless baby and a challenging toddler. When she was just seven years old, she stood in front of the mirror and tried to strangle herself because she couldn’t cope.
Jenny felt overwhelmed and when puberty hit, life became impossible for her, says her mother Jenetta.
Bulimia, self-harm and dark moods struck, and at the age of 14 Jenny told her mum that she was having suicidal thoughts.
It was more than depression, Jenetta remembers, her daughter lacked the coping skills to get her through life, which left her feeling raw and with a lack of self-worth.
Fearing for her daughter, she immediately sought help from a psychologist and found her a place in an adolescent ward in a residential care facility in South Africa where they were living at the time.
Jenny was hopeful that she would get the help she so desperately needed, but after two suicide attempts, she was expelled for bad behaviour.
‘They tried to break her like in the army,’ Jenetta, now 65, explains. ‘You can imagine a 14-year-old thinking: “What the hell? I’m really serious about this. I’m crying for help. And you expel me from rehab?”’
Jenetta took Jenny straight to another facility, but on the way, she escaped and went missing for 30 hours.
Bulimia, self-harm and dark moods hit and at the age of 14 Jenny told her mum Jenetta that she was having suicidal thoughts (Credit: Jenetta Barry)
When the family found her, she was ‘spitting mad’ and wouldn’t talk to her mum.
At the new rehab, Jenny was put under 24-hour surveillance alongside an adult drug user, which made her feel even worse. ‘The system failed her and I wasn’t very good for her either because I didn’t know how to handle what she was feeling,’ Jenetta admits. ‘There was no handbook for this. She tried as much as she could to pull herself forward from year to year.’
After six weeks the teenager was sent home – she told Jenetta that although she felt better, she still wanted to end her life.
Over the following months Jenny continued to struggle. She asked to be sent to a boarding school but it it proved to be yet another institution that didn’t know how to manage her.
She was treated like ‘the bad kid on the block’, Jenetta says. ‘Instead of helping her, they labelled her.’
Jenny asked to be sent to a boarding school, but it proved to be another institution that didn’t know how to manage her (Credit: Jenetta Barry)
Jenny would often self harm – which eventually caused her to be expelled – and then made three attempts to take her life.
On the third, her distraught family rushed her to hospital, where she spent the next five days vomiting, unable to leave hospital until the levels of paracetamol in her liver and pancreas fell.
Once home, Jenny’s eratic behaviour became relentless. She would stay out all night not letting her worried mum know where she was, or sneak out when she was supposed to be at home.
‘By this point, the whole family were treading on eggshells because we knew how serious Jenny was,’ remembers Jennetta. ‘I didn’t want to push things too much but I also wanted to keep her safe. She was bulimic and used to tell me: “This is the one thing nobody else can control or stop me doing and I feel in control when I do it.”’
On the morning of October 10, 2005, Jenetta wrote her daughter a letter saying her behaviour couldn’t carry on as it had.
‘I listed some rules – that she needed to be home at a certain time, no more staying out all night. I made it into a scroll, made her a smoothie and went and knocked on her bedroom door,’ she remembers.
Jenny was put under 24-hour surveillance alongside an adult drug user at rehab (Credit: Jenetta Barry)
‘I told her, “Jen, this is for you. And I’m giving it to you because I love you.”
‘Later that day after school she insisted that bad things would happen if she was conrolled like this. That she had to be free to be able to cope with life.
‘I took a deep breath and said that she had to do as she was told. Looking back, If I had the communication skills I have now, things might have been different. But you just don’t know.’
Refusing to listen to her mum, Jenny threatened to leave home, then stormed into her bedroom slamming the door.
Jenetta left her to calm down, but after 15 minutes, feeling that something wasn’t right, she went to check on her daughter.
She found her room trashed, with Jenny was nowhere to be seen.’Then I walked into the bathroom and I found her,’ remembers Jenetta.
Just 15, Jenny had taken her own life.
Remembering that hellish time, Jenetta speaks of a sense of relief that lay behind the shock and anguish.
‘I thought, “She can no longer hurt herself.” I was literally saying “Thank you God.” But at the same time, I was running down the street shouting for someone to call an ambulance, to help me resuscitate her,’ she remembers. ‘Even five hours later, I was begging the doctor to try and bring her back to life.’
Jenetta said she was saved when she had what she calls her ‘epiphany moment’ (Credit: Jenetta Barry)
A month after Jenny’s death, Jenetta and her son Neil scattered her ashes over the reef off the coast of Mombasa, Kenya and promised to do something meaningful with the senseless loss.
However, in the months that followed, Jenetta’s life unravelled.
Her two older sons, Neil and Stuart, had already left home and her marriage broke down. Jenny’s younger sister Catherine went to live with her dad and Jenetta was left alone and adrift.
Soon, she descended the same ‘rabbit hole’ that had engulfed her daughter.
On the outside, Jenetta appeared to be coping, but inside she asked herself what her purpose was and what she was doing on the planet.
PAPYRUS Prevention for Young Suicide
For practical, confidential suicide prevention help and advice please contact PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK on 0800 068 4141, text 07860 039967 or email [email protected]
‘I had to step forward blindly,’ she recalls. ‘There were times when I thought: “Why am I doing this? What the point?”’
With nothing to tie her down, Jenetta went travelling and found herself ‘dreadfully alone’ in the UK, planning her suicide in an Air BnB where no-one she loved would have to find her.
It was one of three times she thought about ending her life. ‘But every time I got to that place something would happen which would guide me not to go through with it,’ she says.
One on occasion her mother called, then, her brother. Another time, it was a friend from New York she hadn’t spoken to for months.
Janetta decided to help herself through it and eventually make a difference in the world (Credit: Jenetta Barry)
Thankfully, those phone calls kept her safe. Then one day, back in Africa, Jenetta had what she calls her ‘epiphany moment’.
‘I was walking absolutely mindlessly along the street and I stepped off the pavement, weaving in between the traffic, part of me not caring if I got hit or not,’ she explains.
‘I got halfway across the road, and suddenly something inside me said, “Jenetta you’ve forgotten you have choice.” I had taken on the label of the mother who lost her daughter to suicide and had convinced myself I’d rather die than live with that label.
‘But in that moment I realised there were many other parts of me, and that there would be a way through.’
The pair had an explosive argument before Jenny made the fourth and final attempt on her life (Credit: Jenetta Barry)
Jenetta began studying psychology and mental health, researching grief and suicide and worked on herself.
As she healed, she realised she could use what she had learned and set up the ‘the Epiphany Process’ which has helped people in crisis through traumatic events including terrorist attacks, self harm or suicidal teens.
She has since supported thousands of people through one-to-one and group consulting and has set up World Jenny’s Day on the anniversary of her daughter’s death – which is also World Mental Health Day.
Jenetta is proud of what she has achieved in the 18 years since her daughter died. The loss will always be there, she says, but she managed to heal by listing an equal amount of gain.
‘That has made such a difference following Jen’s stepping off this planet,’ she adds. ‘I thank her every single day of my life now. She taught me so much. Look at what her legacy is creating and how it is helping so many others.’
For more information about World Jenny’s Day click here.
Suicide Prevention Support
If someone is at immediate risk of attempting suicide, dial 999. If someone is having thoughts of suicide encourage them to call Samaritans on 116 123.
‘There was no handbook for this’