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'I'm so pleased mental health services have changed in response to Sophy's death'

Mum's hope new approach to therapy will save lives

By Allan Preston

The mother of a young Belfast woman who died in 2015 has said she hopes lessons learnt will help save the lives of people with mental health issues.

An exceptional student, described as "a spark of brilliance", who dreamt of becoming a speech therapist, Sophy Stott was just 20 when she died on March 19, 2015.

In her final years she preferred to be known as Sebastian.

Coroner Joe McCrisken yesterday recorded the cause of death as hanging, but could not conclude it was suicide.

Elizabeth Stott had told the inquest her daughter had attempted suicide three times on a previous week while she was also in the house. On the day of Sophy's death her mother had left briefly to buy food.

Mr McCrisken said it was possible she had not been aware her mother had left, and could not say she definitely intended to take her own life.

At the age of 14 Sophy told her mother she had been seriously assaulted.

"It seems to me this trauma continued to trouble her until her death," said Mr McCrisken.

Sophy first received mental health treatment after starting university in England in 2013. She scored highly on a test for autism, but was never formally diagnosed in Northern Ireland.

After returning home to Belfast in July 2014 she began treatment with consultant psychiatrist Dr Iain McDougall.

He was informed she had made several suicide attempts before, requiring hospital care.

Dr McDougall diagnosed Sophy as emotionally unstable with schizoid personality disorder, with chronic thoughts of self-harm and suicide.

She told him at the time she had no intent to act again on her suicidal thoughts.

Dr McDougall attempted to refer her for treatment in the self-harm unit, which included group therapy.

However, Sophy's underlying conditions meant she felt uncomfortable with this, asking for one-on-one treatment instead, a service unavailable at the time.

Mrs Stott said during the inquest she believed Sophy would have engaged in a one-on-one service had it been available, and at her request Dr McDougall continued to see Sophy.

Just over a week before her death Sophy told Dr McDougall she found a change in antidepressant medication "difficult", was suffering from low mood and thoughts of death, but did not describe any intention to self-harm.

Mr McCrisken said "appropriate attempts" were made to gain permission to contact Sophy's mother, but it wasn't always possible.

Sophy arrived home on March 19, 2015, around 4.45pm. She had been drinking and threatened to jump from a bedroom window.

Mrs Stott said by 6pm her daughter had settled down, as had happened on previous occasions, and she felt safe to leave the house briefly.

On her return she discovered Sophy's body, quickly calling police and paramedics, who pronounced her dead at the scene.

A report following her death recommended health trusts implement the one-on-one service Sophy had wanted.

Mr McCrisken said he was pleased to inform Mrs Stott this was accepted by the health trust and was now available for patients.

Thanking the coroner, Mrs Stott stressed that her daughter did not use alcohol constantly, but was using it specifically "to get the thoughts and noises out of her own head".

Speaking afterwards, Mrs Stott said although not all her questions were answered she was "pleased" at the change to mental health services.

"That was really part of what I was hoping for from the inquest, that lessons are learnt and other lives may be saved," she said.

"It's important the causes are addressed and not just the symptoms of mental health issues."

Mrs Stott said her daughter loved the comedy of Monty Python and the music of The Who.

The rock group dedicated their June 2015 Belfast concert to her memory.

"I met with (singer) Roger Daltrey and I spoke with (guitarist) Pete Townshend over the phone," said Mrs Stott.

"She would have been so cross that it was me and not her," she joked.

"She also got to meet (Python's) Michael Palin the previous December as well.

"Her love of music, literature, history and life was infectious."

A talented musician, Sophy enjoyed singing, violin, saxophone and ukulele.

"Her dad put together all her singing she recorded on to a CD," added Mrs Stott.

"Sometimes that's nice to listen to and I can smile, other times it's bittersweet.

"The world was her oyster, but her light was turned out so quickly due to reasons beyond her control."

Belfast Telegraph

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