A COUNCILLOR fought back tears as he recalled the day from his teaching career when he had to tell his form their classmate had died during half term.

Gabriele Rimseviciute, 13, suffered a seizure at her home in Wigan in 2014 after taking a fatal overdose while impulsively experimenting with self-harm.

She was found on the bathroom floor by her mum and died two hours later in hospital.

READ > Marie Rimmer MP calls for end to austerity so councils can care for most vulnerable

A coroner later said they did not believe Gabriele intended to kill herself and returned a conclusion of misadventure.

Gabriele, originally from Lithuania, had been living in Britain for three years and appeared happy to family and teachers at Deanery Church of England High School in Wigan.

St Helens councillor Seve Gomez-Aspron was Gabriele’s form tutor at the time.

This week Cllr Gomez-Aspron recalled the heartbreaking loss during a discussion around suicide and mental health at full council in an effort to highlight that many people suffer in silence, with those they leave behind often in need of support.

Fighting back tears, Cllr Gomez-Aspron said: “If you ever want anything that is disgraceful and horrible to do, stand in front of 30 kids on the first day back after half term and tell them that one of them isn’t coming back, and that she’s dead.

“Take those kids on a minibus to the funeral and watch them bury a friend that shouldn’t have died. She was bright, she had a full future ahead of her.

“They say they do it for attention and I don’t think it was, I just don’t think she knew what to do.

“And it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, standing in front of a form, crying, not being able to explain to kids where she is. It’s terrible.

“And I wouldn’t wish it on anybody else. So, it’s one of those things where, if the only thing that comes out of that is to raise awareness that people can suffer without any sign, and you might not know that it’s going on.

“But be aware of it and try and reach out and tell them that you’re there. You can’t do much more than that.”

The discussion around suicide and mental health took place in St Helens Town Hall as councillors debated a motion tabled by Labour’s Anthony Burns, cabinet member for public health, leisure and libraries.

In September it was revealed the suicide rate in St Helens had fallen for the first time since 2008-10, according to figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

This came one year after figures showed St Helens had the highest suicide rate in England and Wales, based on suicides per 100,000 population.

Between 2016 and 2018, the suicide rate in St Helens fell to 16.1, with 75 recorded suicides in the borough.

Based on these figures, St Helens has the fifth highest suicide rate in England and Wales.

Cllr Burns’ motion, which received cross-party support and was passed by the council, called for numerous actions around the issue.

One of these was to call on councillors to undertake the 20-minute Zero Suicide Alliance training and support their council departments to undertake the training.

It also asks the chief executive to write to the government to ask for additional funding, highlighting the correlation between austerity and poor mental health and suicide.

Labour’s Mancyia Uddin blasted the government for its austerity policies of the last decade, saying the party has “exacerbated inequality”.

Cllr Uddin said: “Suicide is an extremely complex and personal issue, however, when looking at the facts, some patterns emerge which we cannot and should not ignore.

“For example, in deprived areas, suicide is much more prevalent, and the impact of inequality on people’s mental health is detrimental.

“Unfortunately, for the last ten years, and for the next five years to come, we have a government that has exacerbated inequality.”

Conservative councillor Linda Mussell, a retired primary care advanced practitioner and trained bereavement counsellor, commended the council for bringing the suicide rate down.

The Rainford councillor highlighted some of the good work around suicide and mental health awareness going on across Merseyside, including from Healthwatch and Everton Football Club.

Cllr Mussell also said she would like to see a referenced report that makes a definite link to austerity and suicide.


St Helens Star: Cllr Seve Gomez-Aspron was a teacher at Deanery Church of England High School in Wigan (pictured) Cllr Seve Gomez-Aspron was a teacher at Deanery Church of England High School in Wigan (pictured)

Independent councillor Donna Greaves said she was talking to a resident this week who said they had contemplated suicide.

She said this was around the time they had lost their job and were applying for Universal Credit.

Labour’s John Fulham highlighted that suicides are under-counted as many are not actually registered as such by the coroner, due to the difficulty of establishing the victim’s intention.

The Moss Bank councillor revealed he has lost three male friends to suicide due to issues of sexuality and said LGBT+ issues are often a big factor when people take their own lives.

Summing up, Cllr Burns said councillors need to “examine” their own attitudes and behaviours, and challenge harmful behaviour when they see it.

READ > Councillor claims taxi driver whose licence was revoked still working in St Helens

Cllr Burns said: “We’ve got to challenge them ourselves. We’ve got to challenge them when we see it, whether it’s on the doorstep, whether it’s on social media, wherever it is.

“If we see any evidence of any of this, whether it’s bullying or intimidation to people out there, we must challenge it.

“The burden of responsibility of being a councillor means we lead in our communities, and we must all take that burden out of the door when we leave here today.”