THE coronavirus lockdowns have created a "ticking time bomb" when it comes to mental health.
With NHS referrals of people in mental health crisis having risen during the pandemic, the family of Laura Clarke, who took her own life at 23, reveal the anguish losing a loved one to suicide leaves behind.
‘I miss my beautiful daughter every single day’
Laura’s mum Lorraine Clarke, 55, works as a childminder and lives in Wicklow in Ireland with daughters Emma, 21, and Sarah, 17.
“I’ll never forget the moment the midwife handed Laura to me. She was my first child, and as I held my tiny 7lb 4oz baby in March 1996, I felt pure joy.
At six months old, her beautiful red curls started to appear, and she grew into a mischievous toddler who loved music. My fondest memory is of her aged three, jumping from her buggy in a shopping centre and running over to buskers to dance in front of them – it still makes me laugh.
Laura also loved her colouring books, and by six she would draw impressive pictures of our pets, her father Tom and her younger sisters, Emma, born in September 1999, and Sarah, who came along in June 2003.
Laura was a happy child, but the problems started when she was 11. A few years earlier, we had moved from our home in Wexford, Ireland, to Saudi Arabia for Tom’s job as an account manager. Then in 2007 we moved to Kuwait.
At first, the girls loved the sun, sea and sand, but then Laura started getting bullied at school for her red hair. She was so upset, saying it made her feel ugly, and she became withdrawn. The school spoke to those involved, but by then we had made the decision to move home to Ireland.
However, the damage was done, and over the next few years she had her ups and downs. Laura always seemed to pick herself up – but then in 2012, I noticed cuts on her arms. She admitted she’d been self-harming and told me it made her feel better.
Heartbroken, I took her to the doctor straight away. Laura was put on antidepressants and referred for counselling, which she had for the next two years. Both helped get her self-harm under control and helped her feel calmer.
In September 2013, Laura went to study fine art at The National College of Art and Design in Dublin. She made friends and loved socialising, but still wasn’t totally happy and started having sessions with a counsellor there, too.
She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and her medication was adjusted. We hoped it would help, but she still struggled to sleep. She tried meditation, yoga and self-help books, but still spent many days too tired to function. On her good days, however, she was a ball of energy, cracking jokes and dancing along to Michael Jackson in the kitchen.
Tom and I amicably split in October 2014 and he moved to Dubai for work. A few months after Laura finished her degree In 2017, she went to live with him and do a course in graphic design.
She seemed happier, but when she was back in Ireland for Christmas in 2018, I spotted the familiar marks on both her arms – they were worse than ever and needed medical attention. The doctor and I insisted she see a therapist immediately, but she just wanted to head back to Dubai.
Looking back, maybe I should have pushed her harder, but I knew Tom was keeping an eye on her, and at 22 she was a grown woman so I couldn’t make her do anything.
I would see Laura just once more, six months later, when she flew home after my father, her beloved grandad Alo died in June 2019. Although it was a difficult time, I am so grateful we had those two weeks to walk in the countryside and talk about her artwork.
The night before Laura died, we chatted on the phone about me heading for a night out and she joked that all the men would be hitting on me – she seemed so full of life. Then we said we loved each other.
The next morning, September 2, 2019, I texted Laura to say good morning as I always did. She didn’t reply to it, or a second text in the afternoon. When Tom told me he hadn’t been in contact with her either, I was very concerned.
Then after Tom returned home and also didn’t answer my texts, Emma called him. He told me he’d found Laura’s body. All I could do was scream ‘No, no, no’. I’ve never felt pain like it. The next day, in shock, the girls and I flew to Dubai to be with Tom and bring Laura home.
A year and a half later, I still can’t believe I’ll never speak to her again, that my phone will never ring with her name as the caller. I miss her every day.
For anyone struggling, I’d say that life is worth living – and everything is temporary. If you are feeling like you can’t go on, please talk to someone. You are special, and your life is worth fighting for.”
If you have been affected by the issues in this articleand are looking for help please contact:
Call 116 123 (free of charge from a landline or mobile), email [email protected] or visit Samaritans.org
Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide
Call 0300 111 5065 (9am-9pm Monday-Sunday), email [email protected] or visitUksobs.org
Text Shout to 85258 (free 24/7 text service) or visit Giveusashout.org
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
Call 0800 58 58 58 (support for men) or visit Thecalmzone.net
‘I keep checking her room – even though I know she won’t be there’
Laura’s dad Tom Clarke, 54, is a general manager for a food-manufacturing and distribution company and lives in Doha, Qatar.
“I was delighted when Laura accepted my offer to come to Dubai. She wanted a career in art, so I offered to support her while she studied for a graphic design qualification.
I had been living there for almost six years and having her with me brought me a whole new happiness. When she wasn’t studying, she worked as an intern for a design company and we spent the evenings and weekends driving in the desert, chatting over dinners and just living together like two best mates.
Despite being an extremely talented artist, Laura suffered from low self-esteem, and often felt down. I tried to encourage her not to stress, but she was rarely satisfied with her work, despite glowing feedback from her tutors and then walking straight into a part-time graphic design job while still studying.
I wasn’t too worried I hadn’t heard from Laura on the day she died, as she often did her artwork through the night then slept in. But when I returned home from work at around 6.30pm, I thought I’d check her bedroom as Lorraine had messaged me to say she hadn’t replied to her texts. There was no answer when I knocked on her bedroom door.
I opened it a little and although the lights and air-con were on, Laura wasn’t there. I peered round the corner towards her en-suite, and in that moment everything changed. There was her lifeless body, hanging. I screamed: ‘No! Laura what have you done? How could you?’
I burst into tears and called for help, praying there was something the paramedics could do to save her, but it was too late. They told me she’d been dead for about 12 hours.
At the same time, Laura’s mum and sisters were getting very concerned, but I couldn’t bear to tell them. I vividly remember their screams when I told them what had happened. It’s one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do, as I knew it would break the hearts of the people I love most.
As the weeks following her death turned to months, I tried to carry on, but I would return to Laura’s room every day to check if she was there – even though I knew she wouldn’t be.
I felt so much that the world had lost a beautifully gifted person, so I directed my energy into compiling a tribute book of all her artwork, and then worked on a website to display it. I’m now in talks about having the work exhibited.
Laura was so talented, but she didn’t let herself believe it. It makes me wonder how many other people feel like her. Maybe seeing Laura’s most intimate work and feelings will give them hope – and a will to live on.”
YOU’RE NOT ALONE
EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.
It doesn't discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.
It's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.
And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.
Yet it's rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.
That is why The Sun launched the You're Not Alone campaign.
The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.
Let's all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You're Not Alone.
If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:
- CALM, www.thecalmzone.net, 0800 585 858
- Heads Together, www.headstogether.org.uk
- Mind, www.mind.org.uk, 0300 123 3393
- Papyrus, www.papyrus-uk.org, 0800 068 41 41
- Samaritans, www.samaritans.org, 116 123
‘She was very gifted but just couldn’t see it’
Laura’s sister Emma Clarke, 21, is a nursing student.
“Some of my favourite memories of Laura are from when we were kids in Kuwait, and we would set up a den to watch our favourite film Fool’s Gold.
We had blankets, pillows, sweets, drinks and our portable DVD player, and we would laugh and chat for hours. We were best friends and would talk
to our baby sister Sarah in weird accents just to make her laugh.
Laura was always there for advice, dance lessons and make-up tutorials. With her love of vintage clothes, she was my style hero. She would buy pieces from charity shops and make them her own. She also spent hours drawing celebrities such as Lana Del Rey and Bob Marley. I still have framed artwork from when she was as young as 11.
She was very gifted, but as we grew older Laura just couldn’t see it, and started to carry a sadness. I was 15 when I found out she was self-harming, something I’m not sure I understood at the time. We talked a lot about her feeling down and she knew she could turn to me and Sarah for anything.
But she also had many happy days where she would make us all laugh with her impressions and cheeky sense of humour.
When Sarah and I visited her and Dad in Dubai in June 2019, we spent the days trying out jet skis before dressing up for family dinners in the evenings. But just four months later, a phone call to Dad meant nothing would ever be the same again.
We would usually speak to Laura all the time via WhatsApp, so when we hadn’t heard from her all day I had this feeling. I started to feel sick and scared and as the hours passed, I furiously messaged Dad, but then he suddenly stopped replying.
I had to know what was happening, and when I called him he broke down and confirmed my worst fears. I fell to the floor and couldn’t stop crying and screaming.
Mum, Sarah and I were heartbroken and unable to console each other, but amid our pain we were worried for Dad, who was alone. We all flew straight to Dubai the next day to be with him. I couldn’t imagine how he felt finding Laura and having that image in his head forever, nor the heartbreak he felt clearing up Laura’s bathroom after they took her body away.
I stayed at his side during the funeral in Ireland on September 13, 2019, and her white coffin was laid to rest in a family grave. So many people came out to pay their respects and sent cards and flowers, confirming how totally adored Laura was.
I really hope Laura’s story makes people realise how valuable life is and how much they are loved. I want people to know that there is always someone to talk to – you are never alone.”
- To download Laura’s book, visit Inmemoryoflauraclarke.zenfolio.com or view her work on Instagram @Inmemoryoflauraclarke
GOT a story? RING The Sun on 0207 782 4104 or WHATSAPP on 07423720250 or EMAIL [email protected]
Source: Read Full Article