Mental Health Awareness Week runs from May 9-15. This year the theme is Loneliness.
Here one woman gives a voice to her sister who died in Ramsgate one year ago today (May 13) after battles with mental and physical health which led to her into a ‘sham’ marriage, drugs and manipulation:
Friday 13th May is the first anniversary of my sister’s death. It’s also Mental Health Awareness Week (May 9-15) and I want to highlight some of the issues surrounding mental illness and the consequences of loneliness and hopelessness.
Since her death I’ve built up a picture of the last years of her life putting together the pieces of the jigsaw of her life to try and explain the sad trajectory that her life took. I’m ready to tell her story and to be her voice.
She was a bright, intelligent human being and had a life full of promise ahead of her. But having read some of my sister’s medical history it was clear she was a very sick woman. She was described as having had a relatively normal childhood whose parents had moved around. She had two older siblings. We left home when she was 14.
My parents moved again and over the next few years she finished her education. Gradually my mum’s health deteriorated with MS and she helped to care for her while my father worked away. It was noted that she would feel lonely at times and had a predisposition to anxiety.
She went on to achieve a BA Hons in Theology and Post Graduate Certificate in education from Trinity College, Greenwich. She made Greenwich her home as my parents had moved again. She had travelled all over the world exploring places like America, African missionaries, Europe, Italy being a favourite, the Middle East, Asia and Far East teaching in Singapore and Dubai.
She was a spiritual soul going on a pilgrimage to Lourdes, travelling China visiting fortune tellers and conversing with Indian gurus as she backpacked India. She visited retreats in Bali and Bintan where she found sanctuary and inner peace. She described this period of her life as “magical adventures that one can only dream of”.
Sadly, our mother died at the age of 49 from Multiple Sclerosis. My sister was 23 at the time and I believe this was a major trigger for her mental health and issues began to surface. She was lonely living in London. She decided to set down some roots and moved to Thanet where she had previously lived for a few years as a young girl.
She was successful and independent and bought two properties in Thanet. But she became restless and decided to use her teaching and educational skills abroad and went to work in Dubai. In 2011 she met a Syrian national in Dubai. She was desperate to have a family of her own and fell for this man. She had also suffered a breakdown in 2011 needing hospitalisation in Dubai.
When she was well enough to return to the UK she moved back to Thanet and applied for a marriage visa. This man joined her in the UK and they married in December 2011. She was vulnerable at the time, believing she could start a family with this man. It was, I believe, a sham marriage. He left her a few months later in 2012. In my view he hoped to gain an immigration advantage from the marriage.
He blamed the failure of the marriage on my sister saying he couldn’t live with her behaviours. Not the fact that he’d married a woman he didn’t know, playing on her vulnerability being desperate to start a family. He didn’t intend to establish a life together with my sister in the UK. She helped set him up with a lease on a small business in Margate.
After he left she was becoming unwell again and was becoming increasingly anxious and paranoid, visiting the business to try and see him. She was being threatened with injunction orders if she did not stay away from this business. He and his business associates were cruel and unkind to her. The law saw him as the persecuted when I believe all along it was her. Some months later he moved away from the area. Trying to move on with her life she petitioned for divorce in 2013 and 2016. He was uncooperative. I suspect it would not have benefited his residency status to be divorced at that time.
Sadly, my sister’s health deteriorated and she was sectioned in 2014 and 2016 under the mental health act. I signed the relevant papers. She was put under the care of the Beacon centre and Thanet Community Mental Health Team on her discharges and it is here that the greatest failings seem evident. She would be referred in a crisis, have treatment, then be discharged into the care of CMHT. Her monitoring in the community was fractured, intermittent and lacked cohesion. The community is where people living with mental illness are at their most vulnerable but it’s this area of support where most failings occur.
She slowly began to lose her self respect and dignity. She would put herself into dangerous situations where people would take advantage of her vulnerability both physically and financially. I later discovered one of her properties was sold some years ago and the proceeds from this have disappeared much to the benefit of any recipients. The person or persons responsible will know who they are and how they took advantage of someone’s vulnerability and loneliness. I’m a great believer in Karma ‘Be sure your sins will find you out”. At times she had no social filter and got herself into trouble. As a result she gradually became alienated in her community and from friends and family.
Life continued to deal her a series of misfortunes and in 2018 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis just like her mother had been. She could no longer work and lived on benefits. She paid for a carer to help with her personal care and company. She dipped in and out of self help groups for MS and the local SpeakupCIC group. Some of the friends she’d met in the support groups tried reporting their concerns to the Beacon and CMHT but these concerns fell on deaf ears.
When the Covid pandemic hit this only exacerbated the problems of loneliness that she felt as support groups and networks stopped. She was increasingly vulnerable and lonely and began living on the fringes of society. She owned her home and this was a magnet to certain types of people. She was drawn into friendships with drug users and dealers involved in County Lines using her home as a meeting place for their activities (Cuckooing). I believe it wasn’t about the drugs or alcohol for her. She was seeking company, whether that was good or bad, and it became a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship. She wanted companionship, a mutual understanding and not to be judged and in turn they would have a base for drug trafficking. But this would be a relationship that she’d never be able to get out of.
In January 2020 just before the global pandemic hit, the man known as her spouse petitioned for divorce. The decree nisi came through at the end of the year in December. He thought the nisi meant he was legally divorced so he did not make an application for the final decree absolute. This error, on his part, went on to have devastating consequences for our family.
On 5th May 2021 my sister phoned me, as she often did. I spent most of my time frustrated and disbelieving of her. I never phoned her; she would always phone me. I would be too busy and as far as my sister was concerned “no news was good news.”
With hindsight I wish I’d been more kind. As her big Sis I should have been more of a mum figure, looking out for her and covering her back. But I knew when she said “it’s happening again” that I had to do something. I had no idea who I could or should contact for help. I eventually found out that she had been under the Beacon mental health services. I googled the phone number and made contact on the 5th May with my concerns that she was becoming psychotic again.
This was the first and only time I had ever troubled the Mental Health Services. I thought I was perhaps doing the wrong thing, I might be seen as time wasting. I was vague about her condition, what was normal for her, what wasn’t normal for her, who knows. I was told she would be contacted within 72 hours. Needless to say this did not happen and a series of events began to unravel and conspire against her.
She died on the 13th May, alone in her bed. She was discovered in the early hours of the morning, a week later, when police broke into her flat. She was 49, the same age as when her mother died from MS. A post-mortem and subsequent inquest were unable to ascertain the cause of her death and an Open Verdict was recorded. This piece of the jigsaw I will probably never find.
Only 48 hours before her death she had witnessed a severe assault in her flat by 3 men who were involved with the drugs scene. One of the men involved needed surgery to fix his jaw. She was a key witness.
Because my sister died intestate and without children the sham marriage a decade earlier was still legal in the eyes of the law because he never finished his application for the decree absolute. He has claimed her entire estate, disinheriting her family. He claims he was still legally her husband at the time of her death and therefore under intestacy rules inherits. I discovered that a few weeks after her death he went to Syria and 15 days after her funeral on the 23rd June he remarried. He has brought his wife back to the UK to begin a new life and start a family.
In August 2021 we were instructed to hand over all her property, keys, documents, bank statements, utility bills and the most painful of all, her birth certificate. This has had long term and far reaching consequences for me and my family. I have been left devastated. My family has been left a legacy of grief and pain while he has a legacy of hope and dreams. I would not know this man if I walked past him in the street.
I believe the Home Office failed my sister. One has to question the robustness of the procedural checks around British nationals marrying Foreign Nationals in the UK. Vulnerable people are prey to sham marriages, arranged marriages and abuse.
I have tried to search and find the truth and piece together the jigsaw of her life that will tell me how and why she died. Was it because of betrayal, a broken heart, deceit, mental illness (a slow death by a thousand cuts), foul play, failure in duty of care, MS, vulnerability, drugs, indifference, loneliness, financial abuse or fate?
Perhaps the truth is, there were 13 ways to die and every single one played a part. The last time I spoke to my sister on the phone she sounded as if she was just resigned to the same hopelessness and no one really cared.
We need to have a greater understanding of severe mental illness across all services and the impacts this illness has on society and families. Until we do nothing will change. We are all responsible for the failings of my sister and thousands like her and I put myself right there at the front of the queue. Everyone has their story. It could have been any one of us but her stars were fated from the start.
If this only helps one person to make a will or check their will is valid. If just one person is encouraged to be kinder, smile and ask if someone is ok, if communities look out for the vulnerable and report their concerns, if you are not heard keep shouting out until you are heard – then her voice will have been heard.
Everyone’s life matters. “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth”. Voltaire
The only comfort I can take from this is that she is no longer in pain, trapped in a world of loneliness and hopelessness battling with her mental and physical illness. She’s now at peace among the May Bluebells.
I came across a small book with the desiderata poem on her bedroom windowsill. It was tucked away with some family photos placed inside of happier times. The last line of the poem reads:- “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.Be careful. Strive to be happy.”
For residents of Thanet who are not currently a patient with KMPT
Call 0800 7839111 a 24 hour helpline for urgent mental health support
Or 0800 1070160 for a conversation with someone from Release the Pressure team or text Kent on 85258 for 24 hour mental health crisis support.
Under 18’s ( Children and Young People’s Services)
Residents of Thanet call 24 hour Single Point of Access 0800 011 3474 ( select option one, then option three)
Porchlight 0800 567 7699
Samaritans 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Live Well Kent for over 17’s https://live well kent.org.uk