Bridging the void with hope and love.
Life can hold cruel barbs for all of us but suicide has to be one of the cruellest.
The void a loved one leaves behind is impossible to fill, questions go unanswered and managing to survive the days and years that follow can bring its own hardships and torment.
And that’s just the survivors, family and friends. For the person taking their own life the challenges they face are unimaginable.
There’s no hierachy to grief, but there is possibly no-one better placed to understand the pain of suicide than a mum. The disease was depression and few people know what to say to that.
For Sandra, the loss of Ross, aged 30, has meant a determination to make things that little bit better for many others. So that we are all better equipped to speak openly about Scotland’s biggest killer.*
Sandra doesn’t judge Ross. She understands where he was in his life. She knows she wasn’t able to stop him. She knows it was his choice.
Suicide carries with it prejudices that Sandra is working hard to break down. She’s working as hard as she did when Ross was alive to understand better the causes of what happened and his illness.
As you speak to Sandra what is lovely is that she smiles and laughs a lot. The memories of Ross are warm, tender and intimate. Their story could be that of any family.
She talks of loss in an open way.
Ross was an extremely talented young man. His talent only matched by his humbling modesty and shyness.
He was a creative spirit. A spirit nurtured in a musical household. Sandra remembers him as a perfect child, ‘No bother.’ But there was always a standing joke that he liked to lay on the settee a lot. A forewarning of the depression he would endure.
At an early age, Ross shared his musical talents to a wider audience, winning the top prize at the Arbroath Festival. By its side was the first sign of his shyness. He shunned the praise, not wanting the success to be reported.
He continued to concentrate on music at Glasgow. He had a great group of friends. But it was at University that his Free Flowing Anxiety was first diagnosed. Ross worked hard to manage and mask his illness.
He embarked on a promising career in the music and theatre industry and before his death had secured a new position with the National Theatre of Scotland.
Throughout he remained reserved. He never thought he was worth much. He disliked his looks. He disliked his hair colour. He was anxious about everything. He suffered a complete identity crisis.
Ross would hide his illness from almost everyone. He would tell friends and family what they wanted to hear. Sandra was the only one Ross truly opened up to. But it was Ross’ girlfriend Jenny, when things reached a tipping point, who finally laid the realities bare for her and everyone else.
Help was immediately called for.
If you had a broken arm, you’d be triaged straight away. So why, when you talk of ending a life why would you send people away for 3 months?
But, there was a waiting list of months. As Sandra says ‘If you had a broken arm, you’d be triaged straight away. So why, when you talk of ending a life why would you send people away for 3 months?’
Intervention came just too late and afterwards it was admitted that an opportunity was missed and that Sandra’s own risk assessment was spot on.
Ross found life so stressful, that he was exhausted, two years of fighting his illness, wearing him down, ended when he took his own life.
Ross’s story isn’t so much about his death, he lives on with many people, it’s about those going on and living.
Sandra is using her experience to bridge the gap between sufferers and the people who support them. ‘Often people don’t know what to do when confided in. There’s no signposting, we just don’t talk about it.’ So talking is what Sandra is doing. And by being visible she’s breaking down the barriers and saving lives.
She has helped launch the Community Support Network at SAMH to ensure families who are worried about a loved one coping with thoughts of suicide, would be able to intervene sooner.
She says she doesn’t believe Ross’ end was avoidable but catching people early is critical. She believes people become suicidal when they lose the ability to hide their illness. There’s a visible sign we can all look out for. It’s this kind of insight that she is now sharing with others through her own story.
As Sandra says ‘It needs people to stand up and say it’s okay to have a mental health problem. The reality is that we are all vulnerable to mental illness. We all have mental health. It couldn’t be simpler.’
Sandra’s work with SAMH ensures that Ross’ legacy continues to be one of hope for many people.
* An average of two people die by suicide in Scotland every day.