Charlie had it all to live for - but he chose to die

The gifted 28-year-old could do anything - except beat depression. Now the Government's 'happiness tsar' is calling for more help for people like Charlie

Everyone liked Charlie Waller, and everyone wanted to be like him. Not only was he a brilliant sportsman and talented actor, the handsome 28-year-old was enjoying a successful career in advertising.

Little in Charlie's behaviour gave any hint that he might be suffering from depression. At his brother's wedding, he made a typically memorable and witty best man's speech; afterwards, he went off on a relaxing holiday.

But only two weeks later, on 8 September 1997, for reasons his family still do not fully understand, the man who had everything to live for took his own life. He drove to woodlands near his parents' home and gassed himself to death in his car.

His suicide note read: "I don't think I am very well at the moment... I hope I don't make it."

Like thousands of others, Charlie was suffering from a mental illness that could have been treated with therapy if it was more widely available on the NHS, an issue highlighted today.

Lord Layard, the Government's "happiness tsar", called nearly three months ago for 10,000 extra therapists to provide help for the record numbers of people whose lives are blighted by depression. Speaking to The Independent on Sunday, he renewed his call for action, blaming cutbacks by NHS trusts for the inability of people to access treatment.

"It's a duty of the state to help people and is a typical example of an issue that the left has not addressed enough," said Lord Layard. "People are suffering extremely limited lives when they could be helped. What we are not doing is taking advantage of these life-changing therapies."

The television presenter Mark Durden-Smith knew Charlie from the age of 13. He noticed he appeared "troubled" the day before he died, but says his friend was not prepared to talk.

"If he had been able to get help and work it through he would still be with us," says Mr Durden-Smith. "There is this enormous irony and huge frustration that this fantastic human being had decided enough was enough."

Charlie's parents, Sir Mark Waller, an appeal court judge, and his wife, Rachel, have set up the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust, a charity promoting awareness of depressive illness, particularly among young people.

In a newspaper interview after his son's death, Sir Mark said he would do "anything I can to ensure that other people do not have to go through what we have gone through".

The trust is backing calls by Lord Layard for more therapists to be trained. It will relaunch a website next month aimed at students, whom it believes are particularly vulnerable.

"The pressures put on people going to university are huge," says Michael Lord, a spokesman for the trust. "They are away from home for the first time in an environment where there is the pressure to conform with their peers as well as the continuous pressure of academic work."

For Mr Durden-Smith, the trust's work has had a huge personal impact: it saved the life of another friend, who had been at school with him and Charlie. "He had been on the verge of suicide but saw a booklet his mum had left lying around the house," he recalls. "He went to get help from the doctor."

Mr Durden-Smith still finds it difficult to believe that Charlie, who was the eldest of three sons, is dead. The pair attended Durham University and lived together after coming to London to find jobs.

"Charlie was the kind of person you wanted to be; he was a big man, great at sport and brilliant at acting. He could do it all," he says. "He was the kind of person everyone wanted to be with. He creased people up with laughter and was successful - you'd have thought he had everything."

The day before Charlie committed suicide, Mr Durden-Smith had asked him if everything was all right. "There was just a feeling... I thought he looked like the light had gone out of his eyes," says the presenter.

"If I'd known then what I know now I would have been much more alert to his problems."

Mr Durden-Smith thinks the pressures of work may have tipped his friend over the edge: "Perhaps the workplace took more of his focus than it should have done. And he got into that spiral of depression, when lethargy takes hold and easy tasks become difficult."

Nearly a decade on, the memory of his friend is never far from his mind.

"It really hits home when you have those pivotal moments in your life, like getting married and having children, and you wish he was there."

THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY'S BATTLE FOR KEY REFORMS TO THE SYSTEM

The Independent on Sunday began its campaign in 2002 to lobby for better treatment for the mentally ill. Since then, we have highlighted numerous injustices. These include patients languishing in secure hospitals years after they should have been released, children treated alongside addicts, and the tragic case of David "Rocky" Bennett, the young black man who died after nurses pinned him down on the floor of a psychiatric ward for 25 minutes.

This newspaper fought a four-year campaign against the Government's controversial draft Mental Health Bill. Although the Bill has now been dropped, we still believe that:

* The mentally ill should be given treatment that suits their individual needs.

* Hospital trusts should provide enough psychiatric beds that those patients who are eligible for transfer do not have to spend years locked up in high-security hospitals.

* People suffering from mental illness who are able to make their own decisions should have the right to refuse treatment, unless this poses a risk to the public.

* Psychiatrists should lock people up only as a last resort and detain only those who have committed a crime or who would personally benefit from therapy.

* Men and women suffering from mental illness who live in the community should not have treatment forced on them. They should be offered safe and comfortable sheltered accommodation and the chance to talk to mentors who can provide care and understanding.

Do you have personal experience of injustice in the mental health system? Or do you have a story to tell? If so, write to Mental Health, The Independent on Sunday Newsdesk, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS. Or email us at mentalhealth@independent.co.uk

News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
video
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

    £26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions