Lessons from the sad death of Annaleece McAlorum

It is difficult to imagine a more devastating experience for any family than losing two children as a result of suicide in the space of five years.

The loved ones of 17 year old Annaleece McAlorum will also be acutely aware that the latest tragedy took place while she was under care in a mental health unit.

As our coverage set out last week, Annaleece’s ashes were interred beside those of her brother, Reece, in Milltown Cemetery in Belfast following cremation on Friday.

Reece was a father of three children and engaged to be married when he died by suicide in October, 2017, at the age of 21.

Annaleece developed mental health problems from the age of 14 and had been admitted to a south Belfast residential centre on a number of occasions.

Her family, from the Lagmore area of the city, deserve enormous credit for facilitating a debate on some vital issues by asking a friend, Sabrina McVeigh, to explain their concerns.

Sabrina pointed out that Annaleece was in what should have been a place of safety, where she could receive appropriate counselling and therapy.

Instead, after an attempt to take her own life, she died in the Royal Victoria Hospital three days later with her parents at her bedside.

There will be enormous sympathy for the staff of the mental health unit who deal with extremely difficult cases on a daily basis and need to be provided with all the resources necessary to carry out their duties.

However, the McAlorum family still have legitimate questions about the circumstances surrounding Annaleece’s death.

Suicide figures have been sadly increasing and a report from the Stormont Assembly a year ago said that there were profound mental health problems associated with the pandemic.

It said that young people had been disproportionately affected, although it also warned against conflating declining mental health with suicide.

Groups like the Samaritans, contactable by telephone on 116123, do outstanding work, and a range of other charitable orgaisations are also available.

The Belfast Trust has already offered full condolences to the McAlorum family and said that a full investigation into her death would follow.

It must be hoped that it will specifically examine the suggestion from Sabrina McVeigh that those who suffer from mental health problems were being `passed from pillar to post’, and that every possible effort will be made to learn the lessons from the disturbing death of Annaleece McAlorum.