Days after Josh Hendy took his own life aged just 21, his devastated sister Alice opened up his laptop to try and make sense of his final moments.
What she found left her speechless. Poring over the search history of his phone and computer, the 29-year-old found countless searches for ways to end his own life – and vile websites that advised on how to do so.
“I felt horrified when I looked at some of the things Josh was searching for,” Alice tells the Mirror. “I even found evidence of him practising ways and means to go about ending his life.
“He got all of those ideas and skills, if you like, online. It makes me incredibly angry.”
Last year, Josh was one of 4912 people across England who died by suicide, according to the Office of National Statistics – with the rate of male deaths triple that of females.
Now, on World Suicide Prevention Day, Alice is mounting a brave fightback against the sick websites that glorify suicide, launching a brilliant new tool that helps vulnerable people at their most desperate moments.
‘Suicide doesn’t just leave you with sadness – there’s guilt too’
In the weeks before his death, Josh had recently changed jobs and was working in a car garage in Portsmouth, where he lived with mum Jo and dad Ian.
The young lad had struggled with Tourette’s, a condition that causes a person to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics – but though Alice was aware he was struggling, she didn’t know just how much.
He took his life in November 2020, leaving his friends and family in shock.
“There are conversations I had with my brother where I look back and think, ‘Oh if only I’d picked up on that’,” Alice says.
“That’s really the difficulty with grief and bereavement by suicide. It’s not just overwhelming sadness, it’s also guilt, it’s also anger. There’s so many additional feelings around it.”
Just weeks after Josh passed away, as the UK was sent into a ‘tiered’ lockdown in December, the Hendys faced their first Christmas Day without him.
Trying to celebrate “just wasn’t possible and probably wont be possible for us for a number of years”, says Alice, also based in Portsmouth.
But sitting on the sofa in her mum and dad’s living room, an idea came to her amid the grief.
Leading fightback against ‘harmful’ internet sites
Having discovered the “really harmful material” her brother had been searching for online, the cyber-security worker set about devising a suicide prevention tool that could be used by millions around the world.
The plug-in, named R;pple, launches today and works by displaying an automatic pop-up loaded with support helplines when users search for information on self-harm or taking their own life.
“This has given me something to wake up for and focus on, in what has been and still is the most difficult time of my life,” explains Alice.
“I personally still struggle every day with my grief. This is something I’m working on day and night to make a positive change out of the most unimaginable pain.”
Searches for “suicide methods” have increased by more than 50 per cent while searched for “suicidal thoughts” are up by 23 per cent since January 2019, according to research by analytics company Semrush.
Alice hopes her incredible free tool will be installed in the first instance by parents, schools and universities – with the second phase introducing it to businesses.
She is also in talks with Network Rail to integrate it into their WiFi systems. “Sadly, lots of suicides are prevalent on the railways,” she adds.
Vile forums glorify suicide and slam ‘pro-lifers’
Particularly following successive Covid lockdowns, which have created a “second pandemic of mental health”, more young people than ever are living much of their lives privately online.
For the most vulnerable, this can leave them at the mercy of grim ‘suicide forums’ – websites frequented by users who deride ‘pro-lifers’ and actively encourage each other to kill themselves.
Last year, a mother of a young man who killed himself after visiting such forums told the Mirror they were a “form of murder” and called for a UK-wide ban.
“They are extremely disturbing,” says Alice, who noticed “a couple” on Josh’s browsing history.
“Unfortunately, I’ve had the misfortune of going on many of them. I’ve been kicked out of maybe over 20 and labelled a ‘pro-lifer’ by many users, when I’m trying to get them the mental health support that they clearly need.
“I think I’m probably the most banned person on a lot of these suicide forums, but I’m not in it for popularity.”
Alice has hailed the Government’s recent passing of the Online Harms Bill, which requires social media giants to remove illegal content related to child abuse, terrorism and suicide.
The introduction of the bill was prompted by the death of teenager Molly Russell, who took her own life after viewing distressing images of self-harm on social media.
However, Alice says more still needs to be done to hold tech firms accountable over websites that detail and glorify suicide methods.
“Some of this content that appears on the internet firstly should not be allowed to be on there,” she explains.
“Secondly, [tech companies] need to become much more savvy about removing it in an extremely timely manner and monitoring what people are actually doing on the internet.
“Sometimes people can even be encouraging suicidal ideation, which is against the law, first and foremost.
“[The websites] get around it unfortunately by adding a Samaritans helpline number that appears on the homepage. It makes me extremely cross.”
‘I was Josh’s protective older sis – I miss him every day’
Working with a range of charity partners including CALM, SHOUT, Grassroots, Jacobs One Million Lives and Hub Of Hope, Alice has designed R;pple to provide users both with immediate, reassuring messages and options for getting help.
These are available for free 24/7 and include helplines for calling mental health experts, numbers to text, webchats and self-help apps to download.
Tragically, the tool comes too late to reach Josh. Ahead of her 30th birthday next week, Alice says the last year has been full of ‘firsts’ for the family to overcome.
“Of course, if life had been kind to us, then I’d be celebrating,” she says, “but for me that’s going to be a really sad day – because there’s a massive part of me missing.”
She adds of her brother: “We were very close – I’ve got some very, very happy memories of Josh.
“There was a seven-year gap between us so I was very much the protective older sister. When girlfriends came on the scene or if somebody said something to him that I didn’t like, I would leap to his defence.
“Of course – as siblings do – we had our arguments now and again, but he was just an amazing person. I miss him every day.”
You can find out more about the R;pple extension and download it for free now at ripplesuicideprevention.com/install