Warning: This article is about suicide and may be distressing for some readers.

Where to get help:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

A year ago yesterday, Emma Harford arrived home to find police and paramedics outside her house.


The youngest of her two sons, Cole Henry Isaac Harford, 15, had left the warmth of the weatherboard bungalow and taken his own life.

The outwardly happy, popular and talented boy - loved by all who knew him - left without explanation.

His mother, older brother Kobi, family and friends were left with unanswered questions and a painful void in their lives.

Harford had taken Cole to the doctor for cold feet in the month before he died. He had lost interest in food and had moments of anger. All are symptoms of depression.

Since his death, Harford has learned her son was suffering from insomnia, another symptom. No one recognised them.

Now she is urging health leaders to introduce health screening surveys for teens - similar to a Plunket check.

Heartbroken, Harford started writing diary entries about her loss in the hope of breaking down misconceptions of suicide.

The Herald is publishing 12 of those entries, two a day. Harford hopes sharing her words will provide insight into the pain caused by suicide and change attitudes around it. Here are her words to her son, and to the wider world:


Thursday, October 20, 2016 - Misconceptions, myths and mysteries

He left us nothing. Nothing to go on. No note. No indication there was a problem.

He is one of 579 people who ended their own lives in the year to date, one of 55 schoolchildren who decided for a variety of reasons to walk this road.

That's 579 people with mums and dads, perhaps siblings or their own children, grandparents, aunties and uncles, cousins, pals, classmates, workmates, communities.

We are all in this picture.


Part one of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part three of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part four of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part five of Emma Harford's diary entries

Part six of Emma Harford's diary entries

See more from the Break The Silence series

My son had never tried drink or drugs and at 15 he had never had more than a sip of beer, which he didn't like.

Cole was not the subject of bullying and at worst suffered separation anxiety when his best friend changed schools when they were 8.

A teacher at his school said his group of friends were good to each other. Young boys enjoying friendship, and discovering life together.

He cared about other people, and spent most nights on his headpiece shrieking with laughter during the various online games the boys used to play together.

We could hear him through the walls, nothing was a secret.

Cole was a tidy and orderly person. He told me sometimes he went to his friends' houses and tidied their bedrooms as well.

I loved that he cared for his things and treated his belongings with respect, it was so unusual for a kid of his age and in stark contrast to his chaotic messy mother and brother. While I lauded his diligence at 15 years old, I also wondered why he needed to be so clean.

I worked harder than most parents to be transparent with my sons, to talk to them on a daily basis about school, their friends, their worries. I made a point to tell both of them, everyday they were alive that I loved them.

They were fed, we had a warm home, we did not experience relative poverty unless you mean the kind of poverty where I could not give my children extra-curricular anything.

For a vast period of their childhood I was a solo mother who wanted to be at home with them.

My son was well-liked by his classmates and regarded as having leadership qualities and a soft mediating nature by his teachers. He wasn't shy to acknowledge his own academic abilities and did well as an extension student with an excellent attendance record.

My kid was a great boy.

He did not have a girlfriend nor had he ever. He was private about his feelings towards girls, only once revealing he liked someone but refusing to reveal her name.

Over time he told me he didn't fancy her anymore, and I reasoned he was a simple 15-year-old kid not in any type of a rush to grow up.

This is not your typical picture of a child in trouble that newspapers discuss. He had no history of mental illness, behavioral issues, drug issues, truancy, poverty or problems in his family network.

At worst I didn't pay enough attention to the mental health history in my family, but then he was a very normal boy and we lived the life of a typical family experiencing the stresses and strains of modern life.

He left us nothing because there was nothing to speak of.

I discovered after his death he had been leaving the house in the night to wander, citing the inability to sleep. The police found one internet search hit for insomnia.

He often said he was tired and sometimes I came home from work to find him asleep before dinner. This one thing has been our only window that something was wrong.

He never told me he was doing this because, like most children, he probably didn't want to get into trouble.

I will never know why, and even if I did it would not make my child whole again, warm, breathing, laughing, held in my arms.

I don't know if his death was preventable. Depression is incremental to build, he may have amalgamated his feelings and symptoms over time to something that felt normal, but difficult.

As his mother it feels like the hallmarks of a dreadful misadventure, a compulsive act in the moment, not planned but perhaps a way to escape the endless inability to rest.

I loved my son so very much, and I wish every day that he was here with us again.

I have no answers, only some vaguely formed academic ideas about why our children are dying in this most contemporary era.

For now, though, there are no answers, just a boy everyone misses and feels horribly sad is gone.

I wish he knew just how much we want him back.

Emma Harford says her son Cole's suicide may have been an unplanned way to escape his
Emma Harford says her son Cole's suicide may have been an unplanned way to escape his "endless inability to rest". Photo / Mike Scott

Friday, October 21, 2016 - To sell a home

My son chose home as the place he would die.

It makes sense a child would choose a safe place to make such a decision.

Understandably that has made living here a great source of emotional difficulty as we wrestle with being at the site of our deepest grief, but also the place which contains all of our memories. Our choice is to sell our house, move from our grief and start again.

The Real Estate Agents Authority of New Zealand states agents must disclose to a buyer when an unnatural death has occurred at a property for sale, thus allowing the buyer the opportunity to decide whether this is a mitigating factor.

Forcing homeowners to disclose if there has been a suicide is based on superstition and a fear of the unknown. These practices specifically around the sale of property and the requirement to disclose mean grieving families must unearth and answer painfully private questions about their dead whenever a buyer shows interest. This further hurts a grieving family in the pocket as well as the heart.

At a time where we have an ever-increasing suicide rate, when more of our children are taking their lives, we are engaging in cultural practices that further entrench and isolate anyone caught in the vortex of suicide.

After Cole's death I had a real estate agent sit at my kitchen table and try to prise out of me who, when, where and how our "sensitive issue", as they like to call it, had occurred.

This person, a complete stranger, bringing back the ghoulish undignified interest we are trying to escape.

It is hardly surprising that homes where suicides occur become known as stigmatised properties. At a time we publicly acknowledge we want to change our attitude towards the stigma of suicide we are also saying we don't want to be anywhere near it, let alone live where it happened to another family.

This has to change.

We have a "moral" duty to the deceased to honour them, to allow grieving families privacy and confidentiality should they choose it. We have no issue purchasing deceased estates, preferring to imagine peace and tranquillity around these deaths with absolutely zero requirement of proof that's what actually happened.

Our counterproductive attitudes to suicide and those who choose it are culturally and legislatively underpinned behaviours. If we don't want to be hypocrites then we need to take a hard look at the things we say and do what keeps suicide firmly rooted in its spot.

Suicide is not a disease you can catch, it is an event involving a person's decision and it cannot rub off on you like germs. People make choices about their deaths all the time, especially the terminally ill.

When a road accident occurs we often put white crosses to mark the spot where a person has died. We want to display how we honour and remember the place that person lost their life. People do not stop driving on motorways with white crosses on them in case they end up joining them.

The answer is to stop treating suicide victims and their families as something that must be touched with rubber gloves and a shudder even as we simultaneously cry and grieve with them ourselves.

Allow a reframing of dignity and worthiness to enter the picture so that we might start to experience the change we claim we so desperately need.

• Support Youthline by donating via youthline.co.nz/breakthesilence

If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call 111.

If you need to talk to someone, the following free helplines operate 24/7:

LIFELINE: 0800 543 354
NEED TO TALK? Call or text 1737
SAMARITANS: 0800 726 666
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 or text 234

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.