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Susan - Interview 20

Age at interview: 54
Brief Outline: In 2005, Susan's daughter, Rose, took her own life. She shot herself. Rose had had anorexia and then depression, and was later thought to have bipolar disorder. Susan feels angry because she believes that NHS psychiatric services were inadequate.
Background: Susan is a farmer and university student. She is married and has 2 grown-up children and 2 step-children. She also had a daughter who died. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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In 2005, Susan’s daughter, Rose, was 28. She had had anorexia when she was aged 14.  In 2001 she had an accident, was knocked off her bicycle and sustained a serious head injury. After that she could not work and she thought she had ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome).
 
In 2004 Rose told her friends she was feeling very depressed. Her friends gave her various drugs, which did not make her feel any better. Rose went home and then went to see her GP, who prescribed anti-depressants. These did not help and soon afterwards Rose tried to kill herself by cutting her wrists with some scissors.
 
Susan sought help from local psychiatric services. A psychiatric nurse called at the house to see Rose, but was not able to offer any useful advice. She seemed to make light of the situation. Soon Rose began to suffer from panic attacks and hyper-anxiety. She perceived that her home was no longer her refuge and she started to see Susan as a frightening figure.    
 
Susan tried to find a private psychiatrist for Rose but could not find anyone suitable. It took some time for Susan to get an appointment for Rose with an NHS psychiatrist. The psychiatrist prescribed various drugs but Rose would not take any particular pill for long, partly because they made her feel so lethargic. She was given Ritrovil to calm her but had to be forced to take it.  Sometimes she said that she wanted to die and then at other times she seemed fine and would play an astounding game of tennis.
 
At one point the situation became so bad that Susan asked the local “crisis team” for help, but she was told that the family came from a background that did not need help from the crisis team. The health professionals involved said that only those from deprived areas had access to the crisis team. Then Rose saw a psychiatrist in London, who gave her time freely for a Christian charitable organization. This doctor recognized that Rose’s condition was probably bipolar disorder, but by that time Rose seemed to have lost all hope of getting better.
 
Rose returned home and had to see her GP for a knee injury. He did not recognize the depth of her depression and told Susan that there was nothing to worry about. On returning home Rose said she was going to the attic play her guitar. Susan went out of the house and returned and went upstairs to look for Rose and found that she had shot herself. Susan thinks that Rose found out how to use a gun by looking at the internet. Susan’s cleaning lady, who was in the house at the time, dialed 999. A number of armed police arrived, plus a police helicopter, perhaps thinking it was a hostage situation.  The police later apologised for their mistake and then took statements.
 
When Susan found Rose’s body she could not believe what she saw. At first she was in denial and then in total shock. She did not want any other members of the family to see Rose’s dead body because of the terrible and violent way in which she had died.
 
Rose’s body was taken away and the family was then “left in a void” to grieve. Susan, her husband and her sons felt they had to go everywhere together for the first few days. The press hounded them until they gave a statement.
 
Rose was cremated and then the family had a wonderful memorial service, which was attended by over five hundred people. Friends came from all over the world.
 
Susan found the inquest very distressing, and not what she had been expecting. The interim death certificate had stated that Rose had taken her own life so Susan assumed that the coroner would accept that that is what had happened. However, she found herself called as a witness and being questioned and giving evidence for about 20 minutes. 
 
Susan had wanted to say something at the inquest about the inadequate psychiatric service and the drugs that her daughter had been given, but she was not given the opportunity to do that at the time.
 
Rose had left a note, which made it clear she had decided that she felt she could not go on living, and the final verdict at the inquest was that Rose had taken her own life.
 
Susan now feels very angry that Rose was given so little help from psychiatric services when she was clearly so ill. Susan also feels upset and angry that she has been largely ignored by the health professionals who were involved with Rose’s care. Her own GP visited on the day of Rose’s death, having been informed, and Rose’s NHS psychiatrist offered to see her and her husband. They had an appointment with him to discuss what had happened. But since then none of the other health professionals involved have enquired about Susan’s mental health or her need for support. She has had to find a private counsellor for help and support, and she does not know how she would have survived without her family and friends. Susan found the sessions with the counsellor helpful because she could “be herself” and did not have to pretend that all was well. She still sees the counsellor from time to time.
 
Sometimes Susan feels very lonely and isolated but she finds social interaction exhausting, partly because she feels she has to pretend that she is feeling better. Susan has recently decided that she wants to talk to others who have been bereaved and who have lost a child. She has found a local group of Compassionate Friends, and will soon attend one of their meetings.

Susan was interviewed in October 2007

 

Explains why her daughter Rose became suicidal. Rose was first diagnosed with depression and...

Explains why her daughter Rose became suicidal. Rose was first diagnosed with depression and...

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Yes. So we’re talking about Rose and who died November, 2005. I think probably that the depression that she suffered from had started a long time before. But it wasn’t, I didn’t recognise the depression she’d had on and off for about ten years was the reason for her suicide. She had anorexia badly at fourteen. And she had a complicated teenage life, having affairs with older men. So there was a great imbalance in her character.

Hmm.

But it went with a tremendous verve and huge charisma and just … she had more friends than anyone I’ve ever known and five, six hundred people came to her funeral which at twenty eight is quite something. So it was very complicated to know why it was that this huge imbalance was going on, that in the end led to this absolute despair.

She went to New Zealand in 2000, 1 or 2 and came back in 2003. And in the meantime she’d had a serious accident. Someone, a woman knocked her off her bicycle and she landed on her head. And had … and sustained I think quite bad neck injuries and head injuries. And from that moment on felt that she, she couldn’t work. She thought she’d got ME. I think she actually had a serious injury.

Hmhm.

And things really went down hill from then.

But suicide was not something I’d even considered with her. I now think it was the result of the antidepressants, the mixture. And I have found out since it is quite a possible thing that people do … it’s quite a …a quick reaction to taking antidepressants is suicide in some people. It can just flick your chemical soup the other way.

I came back and by this time she was seeing a psychiatrist in London but in a very ad hoc basis. And this was at … a psychiatrist who had she seen her earlier I think might have made a real difference. But she worked for a charitable organisation. And it was too late. She immediately recognised Rose’s condition as being bipolar. But it was too late, because Rose had lost all hope by then.

 

Her daughter left a note which the police took and gave to the coroner. She was angry that she...

Her daughter left a note which the police took and gave to the coroner. She was angry that she...

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And she had left some notes you said.


Yes and he [the coroner] produced her note, her suicide note in a plastic bag like this. And wiggled it in front of me and said, “Is this your daughter’s hand writing?”


And you hadn’t even seen it?


I hadn’t seen it.


Ohh.


And I said, “Yes, where did you find it?” And she had written it on the back of a Edinburgh University, which is which is where she was, a concert programme, where she and her brother had been soloists. And she’d … it was on her bed.  I had seen it. They had produced it. The police had searched her room and found it and brought it down. But I was … I, I was … I mean they showed to me and I was so hysterical that they put it in a bag and took it away. But yes they produced that again [at the inquest hearing]. And I sort of grabbed it and said, “I want this.” And they said, “Well you can have it now.” I’d actually sort of … they took it away obviously as evidence. So actually they had the evidence in front of them already.


Hmm.


I mean the coroner had it there. He was reading it, it says, “Please forgive me if you can. I can’t go on..” And I virtually said, you know, I had to control myself from actually being quite rude to him.

 

Susan found Rose a few moments after she had shot herself. Rose was in the house upstairs when...

Susan found Rose a few moments after she had shot herself. Rose was in the house upstairs when...

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Yes well … I mean the only merciful thing for me … I mean the shock because I had no idea that she … I mean if I’d thought in my wildest dreams that she might shoot herself I would not have allowed a gun in the house obviously.


Hmm.


But she’d grown up with a family that shoots and therefore it’s just part of gun cabinets, you know approved gun cabinets in approved places have always been in this house.  I think … so when I actually found her, when I thought she was going to be playing her guitar, with a gun …with the gun lying on the floor … mercifully, mercifully she was face down. But I think it happened literally thirty seconds before I found her, because actually afterward my cleaning lady said she had heard a bang. But you know hadn’t thought anything of it. And it was in the attic so three floors up. And because it was literally half, half a minute or something, I think she had looked out of her bedroom in the attic seen me coming out of the office and thought, quick, help, panic … got to do it now. This was on a Tuesday.

 

On the Saturday before she looked at me with her gray, gray face and said, “I nearly did it yesterday, mum.” And I said, “Did what Rose? What?” And she said, “You know what.” And I said, “Well in that case you must tell me, you must tell me what you were going to do that you haven’t done.” But I mean she wasn’t stupid. I mean she knew … she was obviously planning to do it at some point so why would she say I was going to shoot myself because then I would’ve been able to stop her. But of course when I found her, because it was so soon after, there was no blood. Or I didn’t see it.


Hmm.


I didn’t see it. It must have been there and I didn’t see it. So I picked up her hand and of course it, of course it wasn’t … she hadn’t got rigor mortis from it because it was so soon.

 

Two years after Rose died Susan started to clear up her room and sort out her things. She found...

Two years after Rose died Susan started to clear up her room and sort out her things. She found...

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I have the most terrible … it took me. I know that I can’t mention it. I didn’t touch her room until this summer. It was in complete and utter chaos because one of the worst things that happened while she was ill is that her stuff was brought back. She thought she was only coming home for a few weeks and then she’d be back in London. So her room in London was full of her stuff.  And her friends, well meaning but it was terrible, packed her stuff into boxes, drove up, came through the front door, put them in the hall and said, “Here’s your stuff”. And Rose just howled and said, “That is my life, just piled back.” 


So I couldn’t bear to do any of it. And then because I thought we were moving I realised I’d got to do the attic. I hadn’t been into the attic for a year because I couldn’t bear to go there.


Hmm.


So I got some … I got a carpet firm to come and re-carpet the room where she died because obviously they’d taken everything.  And I cleared the attic which is big; it’s three enormous rooms and her room. And I knew I would find stuff that absolutely tore me apart and I did, a lot of it. 


Hmm.


Diaries, journals, the, the complete, gaps there were between her and I that I hadn’t realised. A lot of what she felt about me which was just awful, but, and yet at the same time I thought, “No she’s writing this when depressed”. They weren’t when she came home, they were the year before.  

 

On her daughter’s birthday- the first one after her death- Susan scattered some of Rose’s ashes...

On her daughter’s birthday- the first one after her death- Susan scattered some of Rose’s ashes...

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Are certain times particularly difficult for you like anniversaries …?


Yes appalling. They’re appalling. So I made a decision to … in a sense to honour them and do something as opposed to sitting at home crying. So her first, her first birthday … her … what would have been her twenty ninth birthday, we went with my … this sister, who’s been marvellous, and her and a sister-in-law of mine who, who was very close to her and my sister’s partner, we went out Scolt Head [an island of sand dunes and salt marsh], you know and scattered her ashes … well, some of her ashes. Her ashes are in all the places where we go, there’s a bit of her there. They’re not her favourite places, they’re mine. And then blow it, in those gales in March the dune on Scolt Head where she is, collapsed.


Ohh.


And I went there on Easter Monday to see her, because on Boxing Day it was still there. And the whole dune had turned upside down and all her ashes were underneath the top.


No.


So this year we went to Orkney for her birthday just to walk in Orkney and it rained a lot. And we’re going to Venice on her anniversary.


Oh.


That’s how … that’s the only way to cope with it, is not to be in the normal stream of things.


Hmm.


But to actually get out and in a sense celebrate her birthday, you know.


When you scatter her ashes do you make a … Do you go as a family or just you and your husband or … what’s best have you found?


Ashes are very particular … do you … I was told this incredible fact that your ashes weigh to within a half an ounce or something of your birth weight.


Oh.


Well don’t … I can’t. Anyway it was right in her case. I’ve been with the boys, out in the hills in Spain where we have … we grow avocados. And up there where you see the sea and the snow and up in the hills and almond blossoms, they, the boys came and her favourite cousins came.


Hmm.


And we did it. And it … not always alone, no not alone, I’ve never been alone and done it. It’s too … it is so awful. It’s so awful. There is nothing healing or heartening for me anyway because it’s just that. And I’ve still got most of her ashes.


Hmm.


And anyone who says, oh come … and I was so upset about the dune. And everybody said, “Oh come on that’s just nature.” And I said, “No she’s underneath the top, the whole point is that she should’ve been out there.” Anyway no one understands. And then you think well are you just being too sentimental for words. It is not … I do not enjoy scattering her ashes … no.

 

When Rose died, Susan donated money to help build a school in Africa in memory of her daughter....

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One thing I would say to anybody who, who has a chance to do something like this, I haven’t been to see what I’ve done yet, is to set up something in the person’s memory because it’s really worthwhile, even if it’s only … not just to give some money to a charity, but to do something even, even if it’s to buy a new desk in a school or something. (…) We’ve raised money for a charity, and it turns out quite by coincidence Rose was already involved with the building of this school in Africa, run by someone called Grace, who has set up a place for girls and women who’ve been abused and left with children. And in Rose’s memory they built a loo block, and a teaching block and a covered playground. I think that’s a great thing to do. As yet I haven’t got her head stone or anything. I’m going to because she must be marked.


Where will you have that?

 

Well probably against what I would do but what she would like it’ll be in the church yard.


Hmm.


Hmm. And by the way there was a wonderful charity called Memorials by Artists set up, working from Snape in Suffolk, set up specifically for people who’ve lost children. It’s memorials for young people. And you design your own memorial and it’s made and you can put in it … it’s totally a-religious, and set up by someone who didn’t know what to do for her stepdaughter who killed herself.

 

Susan had to give evidence at her daughter’s inquest hearing. It was an extremely unpleasant...

Susan had to give evidence at her daughter’s inquest hearing. It was an extremely unpleasant...

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The inquest was extremely unpleasant. But I and I had thought it was going to be quite a sympathetic affair because it was so obvious what had happened. But of course I realised that it wasn’t.  


When was the inquest?


February, the following February.


Hmm.


Which I had thought was a long time but apparently a short time. But again, I mean a cause of death had to be established. Did I shoot her or did she shoot herself? But it was pretty tough. But of course I suppose naively I thought well they know she committed suicide so why are they being so hard on me.  


So did you have to take the stand?


Oh yeah totally .. totally … for the whole of the inquest. I mean even when I’d given evidence, which went on for a very long time. Other witnesses were then brought up.


I thought … you see well know I say this as I have said again maybe I misinterpreted the whole thing. Maybe they were genuinely trying to find the cause of death which I thought … since her death certificate and everything said that she had taken her own life. I didn’t see the need to put me through the mill to the extent that they did, if the cause of death I thought had already been established. I think it certainly needs to be; the whole system needs to be more victim sensitive. I mean it’s, it’s very cold. It’s very austere. You sit in serried ranks. And then you know I was shaking so much I couldn’t walk and yet I was told to stand.

 

So what would you recommend in future, would you recommend people were prepared properly for what was going to happen?

 

Much, much better yes … yes I think, I think especially in a very sensitive situation like this when you’re … the family is so traumatised, that actually you ought have a pre-session. This is where you will sit. This is, this is how it’s going to be. You’ll have a chance to speak if you want to. Is there anything you particularly want … is there you know… what would help? As opposed to the feeling, and I have checked with my husband several times, was I making a meal out ... a mountain out of it. And he said, “Absolutely not, it was appalling.” 


So none of that information was given to you, you didn’t meet the coroner’s officer first or anything?

 

No, no, no … no. No. And I think also there shouldn’t be a strange little man in the corner who keeps looking at you like this and scribbling your evidence down. It should be done in a much more modern and subtle way. It can be recorded. But no it needs to be brought into the 21st century; it was like something out of Dickens.

 

Almost two years after Rose died Susan decided she wanted to talk to other people who had been...

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Just recently you’ve been put in touch with Compassionate Friends, did anybody mention them or any other support groups a long time ago?


Yes I … at the beginning I had the … I had the number for SOBS, Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide and the Compassionate Friends. I did nothing for a very, very, very long time. Well until about it, it … I mean it’ll be two years in November. And I should think I made contact with SOBS first, earlier this summer, maybe in the spring. But I rang and there’s absolutely no branch of a support group here in [this county of England]. In fact the person I spoke to didn’t know where [this county] was. I was actually just so appalled by it because it had taken a lot of courage to ring. And I’ve … I felt I was opening myself up by ringing and to get a response which was so … it wasn’t negative. It was idiotic. So that was the end of that. And I thought well I won’t approach anybody anymore.

 

And then suddenly a few weeks ago I felt I really needed to talk to someone or people in the same position as me because other people seemed to be “moving on”, not only my friends but my family. And I … my counsellor had pointed out to me actually she thought I was getting stuck … which I thought actually for eighteen months on was a bit odd really. Frankly I thought it was a bit harsh. But maybe she was trying a technique of moving me on.

 

So I rang the Compassionate Friends, and I must say they have been; I haven’t been to a meeting yet. But there is a group up here. And they were tremendously sympathetic and kind and immediately sent me literature and that did make me feel, yes I’m not alone.

 

Susan urges professionals to listen to patients with mental illness and their relatives. When...

Susan urges professionals to listen to patients with mental illness and their relatives. When...

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Have you got any other messages for either health professionals or those that have been bereaved?


For health professionals, listen. Listen to what the patients are actually saying. And if someone is saying, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand what I’m trying to tell you, I’m desperate.” Then don’t say, “Well, we’ll see you in three weeks.” Listen. Take it seriously. And if the worst happens, check on the people who are left, see if they are all right. I mean, I’m lucky I have found the money for private counselling. But if, if I couldn’t I … where would I’ve gone? Nobody offered help on the NHS. Somebody, somebody within the local GP network should have checked, should have visited, should have, should have sent a note saying the doctor’s practice is open if you, if you need us, this is a list of counsellors who you could see with assisted finance … anything. But you know it’s only because I‘ve got the sort of family that I have that I’m in one piece. I cannot imagine what someone would do without …


Hmm.


 … the both intellectual, moral and love, loving support I’ve had. So listen.

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