Suzanne Alderson: ‘I found my daughter sobbing on the floor, begging to die’

How could any mother ever come to terms with the horror of learning their child wants to take their own life? Suzanne Alderson has lived the nightmare, and the one crucial step she took to save her teenager is a must-read for every parent.

teen mental health
Karolis Strautniekas/Folio Art

That Monday morning in 2015, Suzanne Alderson woke up with the familiar sense of unease about her teenage daughter.

For months, 14-year-old Issy had been struggling. ‘It was as if she was fading away,’ says Suzanne. ‘She was monosyllabic. She wasn’t eating or sleeping properly, and getting her out of the house in the mornings for school was becoming impossible because she’d say she had a headache or stomach ache.’

When Issy did go into school, the year nine student felt so anxious that she would usually end up in tears in the school nurse’s office. Seeing that her daughter’s anxiety was getting worse, Suzanne took her to see their GP, who she hoped would refer Issy to the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

When they arrived at the surgery, however, Issy told her mother that she wanted to see the doctor alone. ‘I was surprised because we are very close,’ remembers Suzanne, 49, who was then the managing director of a Birmingham-based marketing company. She also admits that, deep down, she was still working on the assumption that Issy’s issues weren’t anything that a ‘Bach rescue remedy and a scented candle’ couldn’t fix. When the appointment was over, the doctor surprised Suzanne by telling her to go straight back to her house where he needed to speak to her urgently.

Rather than press Issy on the drive home about what had been said in the consulting room, Suzanne waited. When the GP’s call came, the revelation was almost too devastating to process. ‘Issy had said that she was planning to take her own life,’ she says, simply. ‘It was imminent. I was not to leave her alone.’

Unsure what she should do, Suzanne immediately rang her husband Ross, who runs a logistic business, but found she struggled to tell him what had happened. ‘It was as if my head wouldn’t allow me to repeat it,’ she recalls. ‘When I used the word “suicide” we both broke down.’

Then she went to Issy’s room. ‘She was deeply apologetic,’ Suzanne recalls. ‘Sorry that she felt that way. Sorry that she hadn’t been able to tell me. Sorry that she wasn’t able to stop the feelings. We hugged and cried as I told her it was OK, and that I’d do anything and everything to help her. The truth was, however, that I didn’t know how.’

Suzanne and Issy
Issy with her mum Suzanne in 2018

It was the start of a gruelling year-long journey during which, Suzanne says, there were ‘days wondering when we would wake from this nightmare; hours in the psychiatrist’s office; in therapy appointments; drinking tea at midnight to stop her harming herself’.

But it was not just Issy who was in turmoil. While trying to appear strong for her daughter, Suzanne couldn’t stop obsessing over what she could have done to avert the crisis. ‘One question I asked myself repeatedly was, “How did I let this happen?” We were a connected family. Ross and I had always put both Issy and her elder brother Jack first. As a younger child, she’d seemed so happy: a sweet mix of humour and sassiness. Kind, loving and quirky.’

It was, Suzanne now discovered, this quirkiness that had drawn the attention of bullies. Issy went to a selective private school for some of the Midlands’ most affluent families and she had told her mother that there were ‘friendship issues’, but she had been too embarrassed to reveal the full extent of the problem. She had become so anxious that she could barely go to school at all. Then, unable to see any alternative, Issy stopped being able to cope and had thoughts of killing herself.

‘I found myself turning over situations, reactions and memories in search of the clues I should have spotted,’ says Suzanne. ‘I kept trying to work out when I should have intervened and how I could have stopped this.’

At first, Suzanne trusted the psychiatrists and counsellors Issy was referred to, to direct her daughter’s recovery. Gradually, however, it became clear to her that their aim to get Issy back to school as soon as her mood was stabilised with medication was at odds with Suzanne’s own instincts. ‘At Christmas, three months after that interview with the GP, Issy was sitting on the floor of the kitchen, literally begging me to allow her to end her own life, sobbing: “Just let me go”.’ I told her that I wouldn’t. It was brutal.’

It was then that Suzanne decided to take matters into her own hands. ‘I had to do whatever it took to keep Issy alive. My daughter was seriously ill, yet she felt that no one was listening to her. Every time she was loaded with the same old expectations [a full return to school], we pushed her further away.

‘At the same time, I realised blaming myself wasn’t helpful and I wasn’t “in charge” of her recovery either – I needed to be an advocate for her needs. She couldn’t simply be pushed back on to the path she was on before her mental illness. She had to go somewhere new, and we had to join her.’

Suzanne had one condition before embarking on this new, collaborative approach: that Issy would tell her if she was planning to hurt herself. It was a promise she kept, and which led to long nights of Suzanne watching her daughter sleep and taking her for drives so she was not left alone when her suicidal feelings began to overwhelm her again.

Over the next year or so Issy’s recovery wasn’t linear but she started to feel more in control of her life. With the pressure to get back on the educational conveyor belt lifted, Issy found the time to develop her own interests, which included making art prints that she sold at local craft fairs. ‘There wasn’t a day when I woke up and thought: “Everything’s OK now”,’ Suzanne recalls. ‘But slowly the good days started to outnumber the bad.’

Suzanne and Issy
‘As a younger child, Issy seemed so happy,’ says Suzanne, pictured with her aged one, on holiday in Barbados

As she learned more about her daughter’s recovery, Suzanne also sensed she had to do something to help other parents who felt as isolated as she did. ‘Three months into it, I remember lying next to Issy on another suicide watch and thinking, “I can’t be the only parent going through this”.’

In September 2016, Suzanne set up the Facebook group Parenting Mental Health as a safe space for parents to seek support without judgment. It’s quickly become a global community of 15,000, as well as a charity offering online courses to educate people on the best way to support their children.

Suzanne has also written a book about her three-year journey to bring Issy, now 19, back from the brink. Never Let Go, she says, is not just a memoir but a road map detailing a radical new way for parents to engage with mental illness in their children. Rather than viewing parents as part of the problem, as she feels they tend to be seen by mental health professionals, she describes how, given the right tools, they can be part of the solution. It’s an approach that Suzanne calls ‘partnering not parenting’. For her, this meant setting aside her position as a mother in charge and trusting that it was Issy who knew best how to recover. ‘I stepped down from a position of authority over her to stand beside her and ask her what she thought would work best. I told her I trusted her when she said she couldn’t go to school. With the pressure off, it gave her the opportunity to settle and the emotional freedom to get better. It was only then she felt safe enough to explore her illness and come back at her own pace.’

The statistics on mental health in young people make for sobering reading and indicate that Suzanne is right to claim new approaches are needed. According to NHS research, one in six children aged five to 16 had a mental health problem in 2020 – up from one in nine three years earlier. Meanwhile, according to the charity Mind, three quarters of young people aged 13 to 24 with an existing mental health problem say their mental health has got worse during lockdown.

Suzanne admits that until her own wake-up call, she had assumed acute teenage mental health crises were something that happened to other people. She also stresses that feelings of inadequacy in parents are completely normal. ‘When you’re faced with your child having any kind of mental health issue, your immediate response is to go into a kind of lockdown where you don’t allow anybody in because you feel responsible. I’ve learnt from experience, and from other parents, that trying to make sense of “Why now? Why us?” isn’t helpful.’

Given time, Issy made her own way back. Eighteen months after her initial plan to kill herself, a family friend mentioned an open day at a local college that specialised in digital arts and Issy said she’d like to go. She applied for a place, which led to a university offer, and she is now in the second year of an arts degree. ‘While there were times I couldn’t imagine my daughter surviving, let alone thriving, I’m delighted to say that she’s doing both,’ says Suzanne.

‘Most of all, I want to give parents hope. This isn’t a journey we would have chosen, but Issy and I are here to say it’s possible to get through this together and, unlikely as it may sound, your relationship with your child can end up being even better afterwards. I’d never want anyone to suffer the distress poor mental health brings. But the opportunity it gave me to understand what my love for my daughter really looked like has been priceless.’

How to support your child’s mental health

Suzanne advises a ‘partner don’t parent’ solution with these strategies:

  • Remove any expectations and assumptions about what your child is feeling.
  • Step down from being the authority who has all the answers, to being an accepting space for your child.
  • See challenging behaviour as your child’s way of trying to cope – not as a choice, an attack or an affront to all you’ve done for them. View it as an opportunity to understand.
  • Remember you’re not to blame, but you can have an impact and influence, good and bad.
  • Feeling guilty will harm your own mental health and your child’s, so let that go.
  • Take one day at a time. If that’s too much, take one hour, one minute or one second.
  • Not everyone will understand what you are going through and that’s OK. Find those who do.

To find support and resources go to

Never Let Go: How to Parent Your Child Through Mental Illness is published by Vermilion, price £12.99. To order a copy for £11.43 until 23 May go to or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £20.

Interview: Tanith Carey