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‘If only she had talked about it we would have changed everything’

Just over 12 months ago former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Owen Paterson lost his wife of 40 years to suicide. In his own words, he tells of the utter devastation and anguish which only grows worse the more time passes.

Owen Paterson
Owen Paterson

In his own words, he tells of the utter devastation and anguish which only grows worse the more time passes.

There is a terrible extra dimension to suicide where you just wonder why.

Why didn’t we notice and why didn’t she tell us? And you just churn and churn and churn.

Our lives were busy and when I called her this particular day, June 23, and she didn’t answer, I didn’t think much of it.

I rang two or three times, left a voicemail and sent a text.

But then in the evening when I called again and there was no answer, I did start to think it a bit odd as she would always be here.

My second son, who also hadn’t seen her all day, started to worry and began a search with some kind neighbours and by about 8.15pm it was obvious we had a real nightmare unfolding.

I reported her missing and West Mercia Police in Shropshire began a major search operation to find her.

Driving back from London to get home, I was on the phone to my eldest son nearly the whole journey back and we went through various medical nightmares – could she have had a heart attack, a stroke, a respiratory seizure? We thought she might have gone to the wood we were restoring together and slipped and banged her head, or maybe a tree had fallen down.

I arrived home three-and-a-half hours later and I got out of the car.

There was a lot of police and the head of the operation came up to me and looked me straight in the eye and said ‘Mr Paterson, does your wife suffer from depression?’ I was actually a bit put out.

Among this huge operation, why are we standing here talking about depression? I said to him, rather irritably, she had been out in what was a very hot June day and she will be dehydrating.

We never ever contemplated suicide as the reason for Rose’s disappearance, but sadly he knew exactly what he was looking for.

They found her in the woods in the early hours of the morning, about 3am.

I insisted on seeing her after they had taken photographs and all the procedures had been carried out.

There was no question, there was no-one else involved.

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It was all very quiet and calm. Rose had hung herself. It was completely out of the blue.

We had been married for 40 years and she was my best friend.

We never had a hint of this. We knew there were pressures on her.

As chair of Aintree Racecourse it was a big blow to her that the Grand National had been cancelled after the huge amount of work which goes into producing the event.

She had worries about me and my political life and the pressures I had.

She hated bad press and became much more sensitive towards it in recent years, but we had no idea about the depth of her anxieties.

There is also some research that women are impacted neurologically from Covid-19, which we both had last year, so maybe that was a potential link.

We just don’t know.

It’s been just over a year since it happened and still the one thing we keep asking ourselves every few minutes of every day is ‘why on earth didn’t we notice she felt like this? Why didn’t she tell us?’ The most tragic figure in all of this is Rose.

We are all very traumatised and damaged by it, but her life has ended.

She is easily the biggest victim in all of this.

If only she had talked about it we would have changed everything.

Bottling it up and the British stiff upper lip is not the way to go on this.

In the next four minutes someone will attempt to kill themselves and in the next 90 minutes someone will succeed.

That’s 6,500 deaths a year, 15 jumbo jets at full capacity every year – that’s a lot of people.

To anyone reading this, please talk, it’s really important.

If you see anyone who is worried or anxious please talk to them because behind it, there could be something much more serious.

If you are feeling anxious or depressed talk to your close family or a friend or a doctor, a nurse or someone you trust.

Just don’t bottle it up because the damage is absolutely catastrophic.

Every life has hope.

Every suicide is completely and totally unnecessary, creating huge problems and solving none.

Do not take this terrible, permanent step which causes irreversible damage, not only to the person doing it but for the so many around them.

All the issues and anxieties are ultimately solvable.

There is nothing solved by suicide, absolutely nothing.

If you or a family member is struggling with any of the above worries then call Farming Community Network on 03000 111 999. You will be able to talk to a sympathetic person who understands farmers and rural life and can help support you through tough times.


For more information about the Farming Help charities visit



Click here to visit the mental health hub

The Rose Paterson Trust

Established last year, The Rose Paterson Trust is looking at ways to support suicide prevention and bereavement charities.

It also intends to publish its first piece of research on the prevalence, complexity and preventability of suicide in the UK.

As vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention, Owen aims to drive policy change in this area.

One area of focus will be ensuring the drafting of the new Online Safety Bill, designed to minimise exposure to online harms, including websites which encourage suicide and self-harm.

For more information, visit, or follow on Twitter (@RPatersonTrust) and Instagram (@RosePatersonTrust)

Sources of help


  • Telephone: 116113
  • Confidential helpline open 24 hours/ day, 365 days/year
  • Visit


Farming Community Network

  • Telephone: 03000 111 999
  • Confidential helpline open 7am to 11pm every day of the year
  • Visit


Directory of National Rural Support Groups


British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy

  • Information on talking therapy, how it can help and how to find a therapist
  • Visit



For more mental health support