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Mother of tragic John Donnan: 'I feared my tormented son would take his own life'

By Lesley Houston

Published 14/08/2015

John Donnan died this week
John Donnan died this week

The mother of a man who dramatically took his own life in Belfast city centre after being tormented by voices in his head said she feared his life would end in suicide.

Kathleen Donnan's worst nightmare came true on Tuesday when her beloved son John, who suffered from schizoprenia, fell from a multi-storey car park.

The brave 51-year-old, who has four other grown-up children, said that when she learned of the shocking incident at the CastleCourt shopping centre, she was certain it was John.

Just hours before, the 32-year-old had disappeared from a hospital ward where he had been receiving treatment for the condition. CCTV footage showed him leaving the hospital, prompting staff to contact the police as well as his mother.

"When I saw the wee news bulletin that someone had jumped, I just knew it was him," she said.

A short time later the police arrived at her door to deliver the tragic news she feared most.

Speaking from her Dunmurry home yesterday, Kathleen described her son as a very intelligent man who had attended St Mary's Grammar school, but had left halfway through his A-levels.

Although she hadn't been aware of his mental health issues back then, she said that when he eventually opened up to her in recent months, she realised he must have been courageously "battling on" for a number of years in silence.

She said the problem came to a peak around a year ago, when he began to show great agitation from the voices in his head.

"Me and him had many a chat late at night when he couldn't sleep and he'd say: 'I've no quality of life'."

He had told her it felt like bad spirits were inside him, which he tried to oust by shouting back at them and self-harming with burns.

"He believed the spirits within him felt the same pain he did and he was trying to drive them out. He thought he was possessed and didn't consider it to be physical," she said.

The grandmother-of-two said part of her son's problem lay in his scepticism that the medication he was prescribed would work.

She said though it eased his ever-present headaches, it failed to quell the voices.

"He maybe didn't give them long enough to work," she added.

Alhough she was not overly critical of his medical care - paying tribute to the nurses who recently treated him at Lagan Valley Hospital - she said some doctors had failed to acknowledge his condition was genuine.

"One asked me did I think he was telling the truth, because he said his story was inconsistent," she said.

The impact of such a question was evident in the pain etched in the grieving woman's face.

"I knew it would come to this," she said quietly.

"When you are faced with it, you know."

A GoFundMe appeal has been set up to raise funds for mental health services in memory of John. Visit the page online at You can also contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 from the UK or 116 123 from the Republic of Ireland, or Lifeline on 080 8808 8000.

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