'Mary slept under a bush by her husband's grave': Rosie Waterhouse looks at the harrowing case of a woman living rough and threatening suicide, and the efforts of Saneline to help her

THERE was no such thing as care in the community for Mary. Last Thursday, on the first anniversary of her husband's death, after repeated warnings that she would kill herself on that day, the grief- stricken woman began swallowing her stockpile of pills.

She took the first lot at 10am, as she said she would, and then rang Saneline, the London helpline for people and families of people who are mentally ill. She had been calling it all week.

The lament was the same. Everyone was fed up with her: the social services, the community psychiatric nurse, the police, her daughters. Nobody took her suicidal thoughts seriously; they said she was just playing games. She hated herself and blamed herself for the accident which killed her husband, John. He was crushed under the wheels of a lorry, before her eyes, after he ran out of the house in the heat of a family row. He died three weeks later. Coming up to the anniversary she had been living rough in the cemetery, sleeping under a bush by her husband's grave.

On Thursday morning at 10, calling from a telephone box in a village in the north of England, she just wanted to hear a sympathetic voice and quietly go to sleep. No, she would not let James, a Saneline volunteer, call an ambulance or the police. She would set fire to herself if he did. She called again at 2pm. The pills had not worked. She would try later.

She called again at 6pm. This time she talked to Judith, one of the most experienced Saneline advisers. She had taken another fistful of pills in the afternoon. She was violently sick, three times, during the call. That night, she said, she would take a liquid tranquiliser as well because she couldn't keep the pills down. After swallowing the lot she would ring again at 10. But she did not call back. Judith rang the telephone box Mary had been calling from all day. She kept ringing until after midnight. No reply. She went home not knowing if Mary was alive or dead.

On Friday, Saneline workers contacted the police and social services who went in search. Late in the afternoon, still distraught and rambling, Mary rang social services. She wanted to know why the pills had not worked. She said she would be taking more and rang off. Saneline has not heard from her since.

Throughout the week, James and Judith had been in touch with the social services staff. Mary was well known to them and to the police. She made previous threats and attempts to kill herself. They had tried to get her into hospital but she refused.

Mary is one of the most distressing callers Judith Wilson has had since she started working for Saneline last April, soon after it launched. 'It's a terrible grief I have never encountered before. She is looking for some excuse to live and she cannot find one. She can find no way out. She just wants someone to be kind and to care for her and nobody is.'

More than half of the 50,000 people who rang Saneline in its first year were seriously mentally ill - 37 per cent were suffering from schizophrenia or manic depression and 17 per cent were clinically depressed. About 7 per cent of the schizophrenics were suicidal.

Most of the thousand or so calls a week are cries for help. Last week was fairly typical. A mother is frightened that her son may be schizophrenic; he is beoming depressive, aggressive and violent.

A sister is worried about her brother who rants and raves that he hears voices in his head and believes he is Jesus. A young woman whose boyfriend committed suicide last November cannot cope with feelings of guilt and depression.

Saneline was launched last year by the charity Sane - Schizophrenia A National Emergency - set up in 1989 to campaign for greater awareness and better care for schizophrenics. Apart from providing a sympathetic ear, the Saneline volunteers are trained to give practical help. Each has access to a computer data base with 10,000 items of information on national and local services available throughout the United Kingdom for the mentally ill and their families.

The data base has contacts for health, counselling and social services, information on various forms of mental illness, drugs and side effects. It also finds emergency hostels for the homeless, hospitals with emergency and specialist facilities and support groups and legal advice for sufferers and families.

Marjorie Wallace, a campaigning journalist who set up Sane, says the emptying of the psychiatric hospitals has gone too far too fast - with up to 100,000 mentally ill people discharged from hospital in the last 20 years and only 11,000 new beds provided by local authorities.

Saneline is on 071 724 8000 from 4pm to midnight from Monday to Thursday and 2pm to midnight from Friday to Sunday

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'