Belfast Telegraph

My son Nathan cried out for help but no-one was listening, says mum of Westlink death teen

By Allan Preston

The mother of a Bangor teenager who took his own life has called for more help for those suffering from mental health and addiction issues. Nathan Ritchie was 19 when he lost his life at a bridge on Belfast's Westlink on September 29.

On Thursday protesters gathered at the Divis bridge in memory of Nathan and others, demanding that a suicide prevention barrier is erected.

Nathan's mother Roxanne Choudry has now spoken about the struggles Nathan faced in his final months and the heartbreaking phone call she received from him on the night of his death.

"The amount of times he cried out in the end before he died - he talked about jumping off the Lagan bridge the week before he took his own life", she said.

"Suicidal thoughts were there for the last six to eight weeks of his life."

She said her son was homeless at the time with no money, having left a Housing Executive property in east Belfast after two months in March 2016.

A spokesperson from the Housing Executive confirmed Nathan had terminated the tenancy himself.

His mother said he declined offers to move home to Bangor, not wanting to burden his younger siblings with his problems.

"He was so tired and he did say to me he was waiting to get help - he went to the hospital the week before he died," she said.

"Police took him to hospital and he was released with a follow-up appointment due the next morning. But he had no money or means of getting to the appointment, so how could he go? It was the far side of Belfast."

"I had children to get to school and I couldn't get up to Belfast until 10.30am. He said he didn't go to the appointment as he had no money to get there."

She added: "I had a bank card to take up to him but he had no mobile or contact with anyone. They should have held on to him in hospital."

The day Nathan died, Ms Choudry said her son had "basically begged" for an appointment with a doctor, to be told he could be seen later that day.

"Nathan's the type of lad who would take the help there and then, but by no means was he going to wait", his mother said.

"He was offered a later Thursday appointment the night he died, but he said 'no it's okay I'll just take Friday'. He was in the frame of mind to get help."

Nathan had also booked a mental health appointment for the following week, on October 4.

She said her son had a known history of drug abuse and suicide attempts.

"The doctor was told by me about Nathan's mental health and what he was capable of.

"In the past he had taken overdoses quite a bit, to the extreme where he was hospitalised two years ago and fighting for his life."

"He took a concoction of drugs. He opened up to me and told me that was him trying to finish his life off."

Belfast Health Trust was contacted for a response about Ms Choudry's concerns, however a Trust spokesperson said it could not comment on individual cases due to patient confidentiality.

Despite Nathan's struggles with addiction, his mother said she had learned her son was straight and sober on the night he died.

"To find out Nathan wasn't on drugs the night he died is sad because then you think it was his mental health, he just had nothing left in him when he did that", she said.

She had also been told her son was beaten up before going to the bridge.

"How badly I can't find out because he sustained a lot of injuries when he died. Who hit him, are they going to be prosecuted, is another question I want answered", she said.

It's previously been reported that Nathan was facing intimidation from the UDA during 2016.

"So I've been told", his mother said. "I didn't go to the newspapers about that, obviously somebody believes that. Nathan wasn't one to tell me things, I always told him to keep away from trouble like that."

She recalled the shocking circumstances of her final phone call with her son.

"I spoke to Nathan when he died, while he took his life unfortunately", she said.

"He was on the phone to me, little did I know he was doing what he was doing. He sent me a message saying 'I love you so much'.

"I was working at the time and got on the phone to ask him what this message was about, what's wrong."

"He didn't speak to me, he listened to what I had to say. He said 'I don't know what to do to keep my life going'."

She continued: "I heard noises in the background which I've now pieced together.

"It was him up on the bridge, there was a whole lot of traffic noise.

"I'm asking him what he's doing and where he is and he's not even answering me."

She added: "At that time of the night I didn't know (what happened), I was worried about Nathan's mental health. I did have a few instincts to go to the Westlink and I didn't go, I don't know why."

"I tried to ring Nathan's mobile and then the police arrived at 12 o'clock to tell me Nathan died."

Five months on, Ms Choudry said more immediate access to help was needed for people like Nathan.

"He had cried out for help and nobody listened to him", she said.

"Because I'm hearing more and more I'm communicating with other people to see how we can make things better for other people", she said.

"It's not good, I have my bad days and good days. On the news the other night I heard five people in Belfast died.

"It's suspected they were taking drugs, but you don't know why they were taking drugs."

Police have confirmed they are investigating if the sudden deaths of a teenage girl and four men in Belfast since Friday March 31 could be linked to drug misuse.

"Nobody knows, you shouldn't judge. A lot of people have mental health problems and aren't getting the help they need", said Ms Choudry.

"Doctors fire these tablets at them, anti-depressants like Diazepam. But it's listening ears, a shoulder to cry on and to be there when they listen to what they have to say. It can't be 'here's a box of tablets and away you go.'"

"I was told Nathan was on drugs and an alcoholic, but where does the depression come into this? He died and wasn't on drugs so he was still depressed."

Asked what changes in health care her son had needed, Ms Choudry questioned: "Where's the rehabilitation in Belfast? I was told that night in hospital (in September 2016) that Nathan would get the mental health he needed, but he was released."

"I thought he might have died from a drug overdose, to go to a bridge to end your life is not funny. When are people going to wake up?"

"I had to deal with a 19-year-old's funeral before my own. He's gone now, leaving pain and grief behind.

"I've heard people say that they have been so heartbroken with what happened to Nathan. I've spoken to them and tried to get them mental health help. But they also need to be off the drugs before they get any help."

  • Anyone experiencing distress or despair can call Lifeline in confidence on 0808 808 8000.

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