Felicity and Alex had a daughter, Alice, who diagnosed with depression and then bipolar disorder. In 2004, aged 22, she killed herself. Alex felt that the role he took supporting others helped him to cope with the ‘fearful shock’ of her suicide.
Felicity and Alex had a beautiful daughter called Alice. She was a talented budding photographer. During her late teenage years she had depression, and then become psychotic. When she was aged 18 she tried to kill herself by jumping from a roof. She survived and recovered physically, but was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (which used to be called manic depression). With the help of various drugs she felt much better and in 2002 was accepted by a local art college. Alice did not like taking her medication and in 2003 her psychiatrist allowed her to stop taking all her drugs and he discharged her. At first Alice seemed fine without medication. She lost weight, and was highly productive. She passed out of college with distinction and was accepted by Glasgow School of Art to read fine art photography. She had a wonderful first year at Glasgow, made friends and did excellent work.
Then her depression returned. She went home and saw a psychiatrist and was put on medication. After only two weeks she was determined to return to Art School. On the way to the station she told her father that she was finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that she was going to have to live with her illness for the rest of her life. On November 21st 2004 Alice told her flat mate that she would not be going out to supper. She stayed in the flat and suffocated herself.
Felicity and Alex were woken in the night by a policeman, who told them what had happened. Then Alex had the difficult task of breaking the news to their two sons. Family and friends were shocked and completely stricken by the news of Alice’s death. The family flew to Glasgow to meet her friends and teachers. They also went to see Alice’s body. Felicity said she looked incredibly peaceful. They did not attend the inquest.
Felicity and Alex arranged a beautiful funeral. Over 400 people came to the funeral, and there were many tributes to Alice, both during the funeral and afterwards during the wake. She was buried in the graveyard.
Felicity and Alex have always consulted each other and their sons about what was right for Alice and what was not. Family solidarity has been important for them all. For example, they all decided to fill the house with candles during the first Christmas after Alice’s death, and they all played a part in choosing and designing a head stone for Alice’s grave.
After Alice died Alex spent a fair amount of time talking with one or two close friends, but he did not seek formal counselling. He says that he was not too overt about his own emotions because he felt that others needed support. In retrospect he says that he found it very helpful to feel that he could support other members of the family.
Felicity has found it helpful to write about Alice and to raise awareness of bipolar disorder. Alex and Felicity have also taken comfort in setting up a scholarship or bursary in Alice’s memory, The Alice Duncan Travel Prize. Each year a student who has just graduated receives money to enable him or her to travel and then come back and have an exhibition.
Felicity and Alex have also published a book of Alice’s photographs. The book is called Alice Duncan’ Photographs, and is published by White Bridge Press. Felicity and Alex said that it was incredibly important that they were able to publish this beautiful book in memory of Alice.
Alex’s wife Felicity wrote an article about Alicethat was published in the Guardian on Saturday April 22nd 2006. The article is called Once we had a daughter.
Alex was interviewed in July 2007.
See also ourinterview with Alex’s wife, Felicity