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Grieving mum's heartbreak after tragic Methodist College pupil's suicide: How can Sophy have been so let down by our mental health services?

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 26/06/2015

Sophy Stott
Sophy Stott
Sophy meeting Monty Pyton’s Michael Palin in Dublin last year
Liz Stott with a photograph of her daughter Sophy

A grieving mother whose daughter took her own life has said mental health services must improve to help prevent further tragedies in Northern Ireland.

Sophy Stott was a gifted young woman with exceptional academic ability.

A talented musician and writer, the 20-year-old had a hugely promising future.

But that potential was cruelly taken away when Sophy died three months ago.

Her mother Liz said: "Sophy was described by a friend as the epitome of brilliance with an uncanny ability to make you smile and a rare spark of genius.

"How can this spark of brilliance have been so let down by our mental health services?

"How can I have been let down so badly?"

Sophy, a former pupil at Methodist College in Belfast, took her own life on March 19.

Three months on Mrs Stott says it is still a struggle to cope with the tragic loss of her only child.

"It was her and me, and now there is a huge void," she said.

Mrs Stott recalls how Sophy, who was born a month prematurely weighing just 4lb 2oz, showed exceptional ability from an early age.

"Sophy was forever writing stories and poems and plays and took delight in getting her friends involved," she said.

"I was never a linguist or anything, so I was always in awe of her wordiness. I don't know where it came from.

"More than anything, she just bathed herself in literature and analysing literature.

"She was offered a place at Oxford University to study English literature, and they reported that her interview was outstanding.

"I wasn't really surprised at what they said because my house was like a library."

Aside from her love of books and poetry, Sophy also had a talent for music.

She sang and played the violin and the saxophone.

About three years ago she taught herself the ukulele and often busked in Belfast.

However, Mrs Stott noticed how her daughter occasionally displayed signs of obsessive behaviour, which led her to believe she suffered from autistic tendencies.

She explained how Sophy's mental health suddenly deteriorated from 2009 on.

"The last six years had been a downward spiral," she said.

Despite her daughter's struggles with mental health, Mrs Stott still feels much more could have been done to help.

She is critical of the lack of funding for mental health resources in Northern Ireland.

"I feel if an appropriate door could have been opened it may have given Sophy back some feeling of self-worth, and she may still be here today," she added.

Mrs Stott is concerned about a lack of public awareness of the services available for people with mental health issues.

"We need to do more about the stigmas around mental health and suicide," she said.

"People also need to realise that mental illness has no respect for age, gender or social class. People need to understand that it can happen to any one at any time.

"The main aspirations I had for my daughter were good health and happiness. I think in life if you've got those you are a millionaire. No money will buy those things."

Mrs Stott is frustrated by the lack of direct help that Sophy received when at her lowest point.

Although charities including Lifeline and the Samaritans offer a 24-hour helpline for people in distress, she feels more can be done.

She said the services which are available aren't always the most appropriate ones.

"I needed someone to come to me. I needed someone to listen and follow through. Often the victim is in a bubble of despair and it is those around them that need to know where to get help from," she said.

"My daughter's behaviour was very erratic at times.

"As a carer, I didn't receive any support and my concerns as a parent watching her were ignored.

"I was almost told to butt out. She was 18. That was it. I didn't have any say."

Mrs Stott said Sophy was offered group therapy, but was told she would be in a group of mainly older people.

"Immediately that was a no-no for Sophy. Her autistic tendencies wouldn't have made it possible for her to enter that sort of environment," she said.

"Also, if you are as miserable as anything, the last thing you want to do is sit with a roomful of strangers."

She believes other therapies aside from counselling can make a difference and should be more widely available.

"There are a lot of non-verbal therapies out there which have a great success rate in the area of mental health, for example art and music therapies," she added.

Mrs Stott hopes her case can raise awareness of organisations available to help people in distress.

She is particularly grateful to Claire Curran from the East Belfast Survivors of Suicide group, who has helped her during the past three months.

The organisation is in regular contact with the Department of Health to improve mental health services.

"If I thought that me telling Sophy's story can save one person, then her life will not have been in vain," she said.

"Suicide is a permanent end to a temporary problem."

In her final couple of years Sophy had taken a great interest in the comic troupe Monty Python and rockers The Who.

The final event she marked in her diary was a concert the group were performing in Belfast last Sunday after her dad Tim got her a ticket.

"She had been looking forward to it since last November when she got the ticket," her mother added.

The day before the concert, Mrs Stott left a letter at the Odyssey for The Who's Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend.

When the bandmates heard about Sophy, they dedicated their concert to her.

"It was a bitter-sweet experience. They celebrated the night in Sophy's name. I have no doubt that she was there in spirit," said Mrs Stott.

In keeping with her wishes, Sophy's ashes were scattered at Golders Green cemetery in London, where the ashes of her hero, The Who's legendary drummer Keith Moon, were also spread.

Sophy preferred to be known as Sebastian.

At her funeral her mother read a piece based on a tribute which John Cleese had read at the funeral of another of her heroes, Monty Python co-star Graham Chapman, in 1989.

It read: "Sebastian has gone to meet the great head of light entertainment in the sky.

"An individual of such talent, such capabilities or kindness, of such unusual intelligence, spirited away at the age of only 20 before she achieved the things she was capable of, and before she had enough fun."

Her mother added: "If she had a motto, it would have been to love one another and I pray that she's now gigging with Keith Moon in the sky."

Factfile

If you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. This is a confidential service, where trained counsellors will listen and help immediately on the phone and follow up with other support if necessary. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also access the Lifeline website via www.lifelinehelpline.info

How to help someone who feels suicidal

  • Try to remain calm
  • Ask the person how they are feeling and don't be afraid to ask if they are feeling suicidal
  • Actively show the person that you are willing to listen to them
  • Take what they are saying to you 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 that they could use to harm themselves or make a suicide attempt with
  • Try not to leave the person on their own if they are actively suicidal

The warning signs person is vulnerable

  • History of suicide attempts
  • Talk of, or preoccupation with, death or dying
  • Showing signs of depression
  • Self-harming
  • Loss of interest in daily life or hobbies
  • Loss of interest in school or work
  • Changes in sleeping pattern
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Putting things in order - for example, sorting out personal possessions, making a will or attending to unfinished business
  • Substance and/or alcohol abuse
  • Unexpected changes in mood and/or behaviour
  • Suffering a recent loss - for example the death of a loved one, breakdown in a relationship or loss of a job

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