DCSIMG

‘She came in one night and you would never know anything was wrong. Then she took an overdose’

Nicola Raphael was a typical 15-year-old who played her grungy music so loud in her bedroom she couldn’t hear her mother Rona shouting up the stairs to "turn that flipping racket down".

Six months after her daughter, a pupil at Lenzie Academy, committed suicide, Raphael would "give anything" to hear that music again.

"It’s terrible for any parent to lose a child, but I think it would be somehow easier for me to move on if Nicola had died of an illness or had been killed in a road accident," she says. "I’ve been left with so many unanswered questions. She was happy-go-lucky, wacky and had a great sense of humour. She was doing well at school - her report cards were always good and after she died I was sent her exam results, which she did well in."

Nicola, however, was one of a group of 12 teenagers who dressed as Goths. She wore a leather coat to school and Doc Martens, and heavy black eyeliner. "She was called Gothic freak and zombie," says her mother, who believes bullying was a factor in her daughter’s tragic action. "She was continually harassed, at school and out of school. She received threatening mobile phone calls and text messages at night while she was eating her dinner. She and her friends would get things thrown at them in the school. It was constant.

"She told me she was getting hassled and ‘growled at’ - a child will never use the word ‘bullied’ - and I complained to the school."

Nicola, who took an overdose of painkillers and left suicide notes to her mother, brothers and friends, is one of a growing number of young people in Scotland who have taken, or attempted to take, their own lives. Around 10,000 attempted suicides are admitted to hospitals in Scotland every year and more than 600 people every year in Scotland kill themselves. The suicide rate has doubled since the 1970s, with suicide killing more young men under the age of 35 in Scotland than road traffic accidents. The Scottish suicide rate for men aged 15 to 24 is double that of England.

Of recent cases perhaps the most distressing was that of depressed mother Daniela Smith, who jumped with her two children off a Perth hillside last week. Former cycling champion Graeme Obree, 36, is recovering after a suicide bid he made only days earlier.

The worrying statistics - suicide is the second most common cause of death in the under-35s in the UK generally - have prompted the charity Facilitate to open the UK’s first suicide prevention centre, in Glasgow. Launched on Sunday by Facilitate’s chairman, football manager Lou Macari, whose own son killed himself three years ago at the age of 19, the centre will offer counselling and advice to those suffering from depression, drug addiction, drinking problems - and bullying.

Bullying is one of the problems which can push an adolescent over the edge. According to the Anti-bullying Network, there are around 18 cases of child suicides in the UK each year, with bullying a significant factor. Last year Emma Robertson, 13, a first-year pupil at St David’s High School in Dalkeith, Midlothian, was found hanged at her home. She is believed to have been the victim of school bullies who taunted her about her weight and the clothes she wore. And last November 13-year-old Morgan Musson committed suicide after being bullied at school in Nottingham for being 6ft tall. Like Nicola Raphael, Morgan had ended her misery by taking 40 tablets of a powerful painkiller and, like Nicola, was found dead in bed by her mother.

Six months on from her daughter’s suicide, Rona Raphael is still trying to understand exactly how it all happened. She says she had chatted with Nicola, the youngest of her three children, just before she went to bed, and she had seemed in good spirits after returning from a trip to the cinema.

"She came in on a Friday night and you would never know anything was wrong. She sat and blethered to her brother Christopher and then went to bed. When I went up to her room the following day at 1:20pm to wake her up I found her unconscious in her bed. I knew she had taken something. She was barely breathing. It was a horrific sight. I had to leave Christopher with her while I called an ambulance. It was when I lifted her to shake her and I saw the empty pill blister packs lying underneath her ..."

Paramedics tried to resuscitate her daughter then rushed her to nearby Stobhill Hospital’s intensive care unit, where she was placed on a life support machine. But two days later, at 10:55 on Sunday morning, 24 June, 2001, Nicola was declared braindead. Her body was kept alive while her organs were removed for transplant, saving at least six lives.

"It came as a complete bolt from the blue," her mother says. " I never expected it. It’s only since she died that I’ve found her poetry and diaries where she names the people who were tormenting her.

"I don’t know what triggered it off, but I would say the bullying played a major part. Her father and I have been separated for a long time and I know that it upset her, but she was coping with all that." The suicide note Nicola left for her mother doesn’t give any specific reasons to explain her tragic course of action. It says only: "Mum, I’m so sorry for all the crap I have put you through. I just want to let you know that I love you and none of this is your fault. Please get on with your life and get better. Find a man that treats you well. You deserve it. I don’t want to do this but I just can’t face life anymore. Sorry. I love you and Christopher. Lots of love, Nicola."

Raphael, who works as a civil servant in Glasgow, is suing her daughter’s school for not taking action to protect her.

"Lenzie Academy didn’t look after my daughter and wouldn’t listen to her or to me when we told them about the bullying," she says. "I had spoken to the head teacher who told me the same thing he told Nicola - ‘What do you expect when you dress like that?’"

East Dunbartonshire Council says it has no evidence that Raphael was told this. However, it has confirmed that she expressed concern to the school about her daughter being bullied before the Easter break last year. A spokeswoman says the school, which has a roll of 1200, was aware the teenager’s group had received "unwanted attention" from other pupils. It says investigations were carried out and appropriate action was taken after the incidents.

Raphael’s experience has prompted her to spearheading Teenaid, a new counselling service for teenagers at Facilitate’s Wellington Street centre. It helps her to be doing something constructive. "I was in shock and I’m still in shock," she says. "She’s never out of my mind. I have her picture on my bedside cabinet and say goodnight darling last thing at night and she’s my first thought when my eyes open in the morning. I’m down at the cemetery two or three times a day - I’ve never missed a day since she died. I light candles for her and have artificial flowers in Gothic colours of red and black at her grave."

She finds some solace by speaking to other parents who have lost a child to suicide. "We can talk, cry and laugh, and remember our children as much as we like when we are together," she says. "But it never goes away. When I go out, people ask me how I am and they expect me to say fine, when all I really want to do is scream at them: ‘how the hell do you expect me to feel?’ People expect you to move on and don’t want to hear about it anymore.

"I feel angry, I feel guilty, I feel useless. I feel a complete failure as a mother, even though we had such a terrific relationship. We could talk about anything, but for some reason that night she couldn’t come to me. I was just next door to her, why couldn’t she knock on my door as she would have done on any other occasion? Whatever was wrong with her I would have sorted it out.

"I feel sad. I think I’ll be sad for the rest of my life. I don’t think the sadness will ever leave me. She was my baby. I miss the ordinary things - trying on clothes together, the way she helped straighten my hair at the back and reminded me it was time to get my roots done. I miss our arguments about her messy room and loud music - I defy any parent to say they’ve never had a spat with a teenager. She was a typical 15-year-old: ‘Hi mum, money mum, bye mum.’

"It’s so quiet without her. When Nicola was here you knew she was here, she played her guitar or her grungy music, Marilyn Manson, Korn and Slipknot. She drove me nuts sometimes."

It’s the tragedy of a life cut short that really distresses Nicola’s mother. "She’ll never grow old, she’ll never get married, have a family or do all the things she wanted to do," Raphael says. "On 10 September it was her 16th birthday, so I bought her favourite Marks & Spencer chocolate birthday cake, put 16 candles on it and put it on her grave. And I’ll do it again this year. I don’t care how strange people think it is, it’s my way of coping."

Rona goes to the wardrobe and takes out the white shirt Nicola wore on her last day at school and presses her face into it and inhales deeply. "I haven’t washed it. I can still smell her on it. I feel so raw, it’s like an open wound, but I don’t want to forget her. I will never stop talking about Nicola or remembering her every day of my life."

 
 
 

Back to the top of the page