Steve’s sister took her own life in 2006. She stepped in front of a train. She had had mental health problems for many years but was not receiving the care she needed at the time of her death. Steve was devastated. He has found most support from SOBS.
Steve’s sister had been unwell with mental health problems for about ten years. She had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. However, in July 2006 she had discharged herself from the care of local mental health services and so had been without medication or support from mental health services for about five months.
One day in November 2006 she was reported missing and the police were called. Steve went with the police to her flat and found her there. She looked most unwell so Steve spoke to someone at the local Mental Health Trust, who gave him the name of his sister’s GP. At 3.00am he had a call from a member of the mental health crisis team, who offered to call on his sister in the middle of the night. Steve decided that the situation could wait until the morning because he had seen his sister a few hours previously.
In the morning Steve tried to contact his sister’s GP but could not get in touch. He also tried to talk to someone from the mental health crisis team but found them unhelpful because they would not discuss his sister due to issues of confidentiality. Later Steve managed to talk to his sister’s GP, who agreed to ask the mental health crisis team to take his sister into hospital under a Section order for the care she clearly needed.
The mental health team found that Steve’s sister was missing from her home and so they informed the police. With his parents permission the police broke into his sister’s flat and found documents indicating that his sister had planned to take her own life. She had also planned her funeral. At this stage Steve was not aware of the notes, and he was still hoping to find his sister alive.
Steve and his parents were informed that a body had been found on the railway line but that it had not been identified, so they waited anxiously for news.
Two days later Steve went to the police station hoping for information. He spoke to a police officer, the family liaison officer. She told Steve that the body that had been found on the railway had been identified as the remains of his sister.
This news was a tremendous shock for Steve and his family. Steve felt dreadful and said that he has never lived through anything so terrible. Other members of the family arrived, which Steve found comforting.
Steve was told he could not see his sister’s body because she had been hit by a train and was gravely injured. When he saw photographs of his sister’s body he realised that she had not died of a simple head injury. In spite of this Steve wishes he had been given the opportunity to see his sister’s body because he found it hard to accept that she had died. He would have liked to have made an informed choice instead of being denied the opportunity to see her.
Steve was so devastated by his sister’s death that he found it hard to leave his own house for at least four months after his sister died, except to visit his GP or his parents or to see other family members. He was unable to work at that time.
Steve felt angry and upset that the mental health team had discharged his sister into the community without follow up care. At the time of her death he was not aware that she was back in the community without mental health care and without medication. He wrote a letter of complaint to the Mental Health Trust. There was an investigation and Steve was told the consultant had reluctantly discharged his sister from her care.
Steve still feels that his sister’s death was avoidable and that the Mental Health Trust had some responsibility for his sister’s death. He has asked his MP to get involved in the case. Steve is not satisfied with the result of the inquest, and is not satisfied with the investigation and the report that was made for the Mental Health Trust. Steve believes that the consultant was wrong to allow his sister to stop taking medication. He feels that the mental health team let his sister down and should be held to account, so that other families do not suffer suicide bereavement in the way his family has suffered.
Steve’s sister left clear instructions about the way she wanted her funeral to be conducted. The family played the songs she chose and carried out her wishes. Her ashes were scattered in a local beauty spot on her instructions.
Steve still feels a deep pain and sadness and a sense of loss. He also feels angry with the mental health service about what happened. He also feels a sense of guilt and wonders if he could have done anything to prevent his sister’s death. For months Steve could not talk about his sister’s death. Now he can talk about it and his memory of what happened does not hurt quite as much as it did initially.
Steve has had some bereavement counselling organised by the NHS occupational health department. Although it was helpful to talk to someone outside the family he did not find it adequate. He wanted to talk to someone who had been bereaved by suicide. He was put in touch with a self-help group, called Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, SOBS, which he has found really helpful. He still attends meetings run by SOBS and says that they are a wonderful, caring group of people. Steve was also comforted and reassured when he spoke to a member of the clergy about his sister’s death.
Steve still feels an intense sense of loss and at times he feels guilty for feeling happy, especially occasions such as Christmas, which is a time his sister loved to celebrate.
Steve was interviewed on 7th November 2007.