Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

After his partner L'Wren Scott took her own life, Mick Jagger released a statement in which his bewilderment at her actions was plain to see...

... Sadly, too many families in Northern Ireland, bereaved by suicide, have asked the same question ... Why?

His best friend: Mick Jagger and L'Wren Scott

Mick Jagger's struggle to comprehend why his long term love L'Wren Scott ended her own life will have struck a chord with many families in Northern Ireland.

Suicide not only leaves loved ones coping with terrible grief and shock but also the agony of the unanswered question: why?

In a heartbreakingly simple statement issued after his fashion designer partner had taken her own life last Monday, Jagger said: "I am still struggling to understand how my lover and best friend could end her life in this tragic way."

The Rolling Stone was so distraught by the news that his partner of 13 years had killed herself in her Manhattan apartment that friends said he could barely speak.

After her death it emerged that her fashion line was in financial trouble and she owed creditors nearly $6m.

The Rolling Stones were due to start a tour of Australia which they immediately cancelled because of the tragedy.

In Northern Ireland that sense of bewilderment and profound grief is sadly all too familiar for many families.

Death by suicide here has risen by a startling 100% in the past 15 years, with around 300 people taking their lives every year.

It's a devastation that only those families touched by the tragedy can truly understand.

Here, two families give an insight into the struggle which they faced after the shock suicide of their loved ones.

Gerard and Carol McCartan (both 48), from north Belfast, lost their son Danny (18) to suicide in April 2005. They also have a daughter, Caroline (29), and grandson Tiernan (4). After Danny's death his parents lobbied for an inquiry into the treatment of young people with mental ill-health which resulted in a list of recommendations to improve care. Gerard says:

Danny had become depressed after he left school at 16. He also had started to self- harm. This was something we really struggled to understand. I had been a butcher and I knew if you cut yourself by accident it was sore and you just wanted to get a bandage on it.

So we couldn't understand why Danny was doing this to himself. The GP had given him antidepressants and, to be honest, at first we didn't think he was as bad as he was.

My wife's brother lived in America and we thought maybe if he went there and had a change of scene it might help lift him. He went and was supposed to stay a month but ended up staying three months. When he came home, however, he didn't seem to be any better.

PIPS had just started at the time and I went along to an event they were holding, just to talk to them about self-harm and get some advice.

It was tough. We threw out razors so that Danny couldn't get them and we slept with him and stayed with him round the clock and did what we could but it was horrific. We couldn't get him the help he needed and we didn't know how to help him.

Then, Danny took an overdose and was taken to the Mater Hospital, Belfast. From there, he was sent to Knockbracken for three weeks and put in an adult ward.

If you have ever been in an adult psychiatric ward you would understand it is not a place for a young person. It scared me and I'm an adult – Danny was only 17.

We tried to get him transferred to a ward with young people, but it never happened and he was actually sent back to the Mater which was even worse.

We asked if we could take him home and the psychiatrist agreed. He was given a prescription and sent home and told he would see the psychiatrist again but that appointment never came.

His tablets were running out and I had to ring my GP who told me he couldn't prescribe anything as it would have to be the psychiatrist. I had to ring the hospital.

His care just turned into a complete shambles. Then he saw a social worker for a while, which really helped him, but that service stopped suddenly when he turned 18.

He got a community psychiatric nurse who Danny didn't really connect with. We put in a bad weekend with him when he was feeling really down and cutting himself.

On the day he died he asked his CPN if he could go into hospital and she said no that there were no beds.

He left the house and he hung himself. I really believe he wanted help and when he was told he couldn't go into hospital he made up his mind that he was going to kill himself.

After he died I sent a letter to the health trusts complaining about the way he was treated. The then Health Minister Shaun Woodward invited me and my wife to Hillsborough Castle and then he came to our house and he apologised for how Danny had been treated.

That was unique and had never happened before.

He agreed to an independent inquiry into Danny's death which was what we wanted.

In a way, during the time the inquiry was taking place, it held our grief back. The chairman of the inquiry told us he was shocked and horrified at how Danny had been treated.

When the report was published in June 2007 it was only then that it really hit us that Danny is not going to be here anymore. I don't think it had ever really entered our heads he would take his own life, even though he was ill and self-harming.

The recommendations in the report have made a difference, but none of it will bring Danny back.

We have a wee grandson now Tiernan, who is four, and he takes up a lot of our energy. A child brings joy to your life but he will never replace Danny.

On St Patrick's Day my wife and I heard Danny Boy playing on the radio. Danny was called after that song and we both listened to it with tears in our eyes.

His anniversary is coming up and that's always hard. We try not to dwell on what happened and instead we celebrate his life and go out for a meal and talk about the good times we had with Danny. We had 18 wonderful years with him.

I've got involved with PIPS as a volunteer and I am helping other families who are going through the loss of someone to suicide.

We have had counselling but maybe we will never understand it. I don't think until it comes to your door you can really appreciate how hard it is.

I really feel for Mick Jagger. It must be horrific for him and I know the guilt he must be feeling, asking why did she not talk to him or what could he have done.

I think it's the same for everyone when they lose a loved one to suicide.

You are left with so many questions. We had so many questions about why Danny couldn't get the help he needed and why the system failed him.

Then you ask why he did it and what was going through his mind in his last hour.

You become like a private detective for the rest of your life, searching for answers."

Martina McIlkenna (50), from the Oldpark area of Belfast, is a psychotherapist and care team manager with PIPs, the suicide prevention charity. Martina, married to Sean (51), is a mum-of-four and grandmother to seven. She lost her brother-in-law, a father-of-seven, to suicide 30 years ago when he was 26 years old, and also her daughter's partner, who was 31, in 2006. She says:

My sister was expecting her seventh child when her husband took his own life. He worked as a nurse and we could see that he was suffering mental ill-health although he couldn't see it.

He went out one night and threw himself off the Foyle Bridge, in Londonderry. A soldier at an Army checkpoint saw him do it, but his body wasn't found for two and half months.

It was just utter despair. We were in shock and my sister was heartbroken, and still is.

I really feel for Mick Jagger. His girlfriend's death is another statistic and we are working hard to get less and less of them but unfortunately they are growing instead.

Time is the only thing now that will help him to cope, that and the fact that he has the support of his family and friends.

We did everything we could to help my sister, but we never felt we were doing enough. The only thing that could have helped her was to bring him back, and that wasn't possible.

She is 54 now and she still has never got over it. You do struggle to understand. At that time I wasn't trained in mental health and you are always asking the question why. It's especially hard when the person doesn't leave a note. It leaves you with that piece of the jigsaw puzzle which is always missing.

You do reach a stage of acceptance but there's always a part of your life missing and my sister will never forget him. It was hard on his children, too, trying to understand why their daddy was gone. In those days there was a stigma and people didn't like to talk about suicide, although we would like to think that is different now.

My daughter's partner took his own life in August 2006. She was pregnant with their first child but she didn't know it, and neither did he.

They loved each other very much and she was devastated, and it is still affecting her. The good thing that came out of it is their gorgeous little daughter Aille, who is now six.

Where I live in the Oldpark suicide is rife, and that's one of the reasons I went back and did a degree in trauma and grief counselling.

I've worked at PIPS since September 2012 and have been counselling people who have lost loved ones to suicide for the past four years.

I've seen the heartache over and over again and I understand it because I have been through it.

I've experienced bereavement in different ways in my life and there is definitely a difference when it is a traumatic death.

I lost my sister to illness a few years ago and I was able to sit with her and say my goodbyes, and that helped me to come to terms with her loss. But 30 years ago I lost a sister and two nephews in a house fire in Derry and I've never got over that.

With suicide, the big thing which most people struggle with is 'why'. I think it helps people to know that I've been through it and I do understand.

The pain is terrible and it's a heartache that never goes away. One of my clients summed it up when they said "A part of me went with them and never came back."

 

* PIPS offers support services for people in suicidal crisis and those impacted by suicide, including specialised support for young people bereaved through suicide. For more information tel: 028 9080 5850 or visit www.pipscharity.com

The signs to watch out for

Claire Curran, from Belfast, volunteers with the charity Survivors of Suicide.

She has compiled some facts and advice on signs to look out for and how to help.

One in 20 people will have thoughts of suicide at any given time. Warning signs include:

* History of suicide attempts

* Talk of, or preoccupation with, death or dying

* Self-harming

* Loss of interest in daily life or hobbies

* Showing signs of depression

* Loss of interest in self and others

* Loss of interest in school or work

* Changes in sleeping pattern

* Changes in appetite and/or weight

* Putting 'things' in order, eg sorting out personal possessions, making a will or attending to unfinished business

* Substance and/or alcohol abuse

* Behaviour that is not normal for them

* Unexpected changes in mood and/or their behaviour

* Getting into trouble or causing arguments

* Suffering a recent loss, eg the death of a loved one, breakdown of a relationship or the loss of a job.

* Feelings of being desperate, hopeless, numb, shame, guilt

* Saying things like 'I'm alone, I'm a burden, I've no purpose, I want to escape.'

... and how to reach out

How you can help someone who may be suicidal:

* Try to remain calm and ask the person how they are feeling. Don't be afraid to ask if they are feeling suicidal

* Actively show the person you are listening to them and take what they're saying seriously

* Do not make judgments

* What they are feeling is their unique experience and you should refrain from giving your opinions or views

* Let the person know that you want to help

* Try to remove the things they could use to harm themselves or make a suicide attempt with

* Try not to leave the person alone if they are actively suicidal

* Seek professional advice as soon as possible

* You should always take comments and references made in relation to suicide seriously.

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