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Friday 2 June 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Keith Levit/The Canadian Press/Press Association Images File photo
Nick Leeson Young man's tragedy is part of national illness of suicide
Former trader Nick Leeson knows what it is to be on the brink of despair – and says communicating the pain is vital to be able to pull back from the edge.

I SAW A very disturbing sight when I was leaving home very early recently. As I was approaching the exit to the country road that we live in, an large Garda van and two military vehicles were turning on to the road. Both of our boys thought it was quite exciting; it’s rare that we see a Garda car pass up the road but the gardai and the Army arriving at the same time was a rather unusual event.

Unfortunately there was a very sad reason for their presence. Six days earlier a young man had gone missing. The previous five days had seen his relatives and friends scouring many of the neighbouring fields, sadly to no avail. The image of men and women beating the undergrowth with sticks and hurls is rather unnerving at any time but more so when it is right on your doorstep. The arrival of the gardai suggested that the search was coming to an end. We later learned that a body had been found and that whilst my own young children would remain oblivious to what had happened, a family and many friends were grieving a lost loved one.

Suicide is a very real problem in this country. Many questions are raised about the accuracy of the reporting of incidences of suicide. The reports generally take two years to compile and even then are still relatively inaccurate and under report the true scale of the problem. The latest figures indicate that the number of suicides in Ireland reached a record high in 2009 of 527 cases. Provisional figures for 2010 suggest a decrease of 8 per cent, or 41 cases, but unfortunately in the majority of cases the provisional figures are usually revised upwards.

“The gravity of the problem seems far greater than the figures being reported”

On a purely anecdotal basis, I find the number of instances that I am personally becoming aware of to be very much on the increase. Some experts have been reported as fearing that the number may rise as high as 1,000 for the year 2012, possibly higher. These numbers seem to tally better with what I am hearing and seeing. The gravity of the problem seems far greater than the figures that are being reported and I worry that this is detracting from the enormity of the problem, especially when you consider that Ireland is also rated fifth highest in Europe for youth suicide.

I’ve faced into some very dark and desperate moments in my life. In a very short period of time, I lost my career, was imprisoned, divorced and developed cancer of the colon, none of which I had ever anticipated experiencing. Somehow I coped. Some may say that I had no choice but to cope, after I had been arrested at Frankfurt airport, thrown into prison in Hoechst.

My first six months in prison were the hardest; the incarceration, loss of freedom and an alien environment were constant pressures. The most difficult thing to deal with was the uncertainty over what the future held. There was intense speculation about the length of sentence that I was likely to face, ranging anywhere from five to 80 years. The lack of clarity was driving me to despair.

The calming voice of my lawyer on his weekly visits would suggest the lower end of the scale was likely. The daily red-top newspapers of the time suggested the higher end. Without any surety, it was impossible to look forward and the more I bounced from one to the other, the more desperate I became.

“I came up with an alternative… for a price my life could be taken away”

I contemplated suicide; I spoke to my family about it and dismissed it, thinking I could never follow through. I did however come up with an alternative. I was in prison with some very dangerous career criminals and for a price my life could be taken away. As long as I didn’t know when it was going to happen, it was a possibility. I spoke to my father at length about this and, failing a successful conclusion with the Singaporean authorities, I wanted it to happen. A price was agreed. These conversations were the most difficult that I have ever had.

Negotiations with Singapore went well; I managed to get my head around the maximum length of sentence that I was going to face and returned to Singapore. It didn’t get any easier though, the conditions were tougher than I expected and passing through each 24-hour period was unbearably

A lack of communication had gotten me into many of the difficulties that I faced at Barings. I never asked for help and advice and with hindsight was always surrounded by people who could have helped. I was stupid not to ask counsel from these people. In prison, there wasn’t really anybody that I wanted to communicate with. I wrote letters when allowed but religiously kept a diary. I wrote every day, much of it rubbish, but it became a very real tool for me to confront and verbalise what I was feeling.

I learned to become a better communicator.

“I overcame the hurdles but only through asking for help and communicating”

Positive news is difficult to find. I know because much of what I write can be perceived to be negative. That’s because I prefer to deal with reality rather than the crazy world that many politicians exist in.

Saying that, while it is impossible to understand some of the abject despair that people are facing, what I can tell you is that we all have the innate ability to cope. Through prison, divorce and cancer there was always another hurdle – I managed to overcome them all but there is no way that I would have been able to do that without asking for help and communicating.

Please, if you feel the same, reach out, communicate your pain and ask for help.

Here are some numbers which might help:

  • Samaritans 1850 60 90 900 or email
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634
  • Console 1800 201 890
  • Aware 1890 303 302
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email

Read: Sharp increase in suicide rate is linked to recession>

Read previous columns by Nick Leeson>

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