This episode of Our Voices looks at the heartbreaking struggle of Ross McCarthy: a son, father and fiancé who took his own life in the midst of lockdown at the age of 31. We hear from Ross’s father, Mike McCarthy, who reflects on the challenges his son faced and how, as a society, we could do more to help those who are battling serious mental health challenges.
Mike describes his son as being “a life-force”, “hard-working”, “a grafter”. He describes him as “full of life”. As recently as last Christmas, the family were together celebrating the progress Ross had made with his mental health. It had seemed as if Ross had been able to turn a corner, there had been plans for Ross to marry Charlotte, his girlfriend and the mother to his child. Tragically, this would not come to pass.
As the New Year began and covid restrictions were once again increased, Ross succumbed to the pressures of lockdown, pressures which Mike believes contributed to Ross taking his own life. However, Mike is clear to say that he does not believe covid was responsible for Ross’ actions, Ross’ background of mental health struggles finally overwhelmed him and lockdown would be the setting which witnessed his final acts.
“If Charlie [Ross’ son] couldn’t keep him on this earth, nothing could.” Mike uses his own experiences as a father to relate to how Ross must have felt about his own son: “as a dad you want to fix things, to take the pain away.” He talks lovingly about how Ross was as a young boy: “he was very funny…he wanted others to be happy”. As an adult, Mike describes his son as ”outgoing and gregarious on the surface”. And then he makes a poignant and crucial observation: “although he couldn’t achieve it, he wanted others to achieve the best in happiness.”
There is a selflessness in the way Mike describes his son and this selflessness is particularly manifested in these words: “He always made a superhuman effort to pretend he was OK.” Anyone who has experienced mental health difficulties will know that the hardest thing to do when you are suffering is to summon up the energy to pretend that nothing is wrong. But Ross, like so many other people with depression, did not want to be a burden to his family or society, he wanted to be well but he was not able to achieve this.
Mike’s ambition is to now to raise awareness of depression in society to change the way we often stigmatise mental illness, even wanting to change the language around phrases such as “committing suicide”. Noting that suicide was decriminalised in 1961, he describes it as no more of a crime than cancer: they are both devastating illnesses, so much so that, in the UK, for men under 45, suicide is the biggest killer.
Mike’s bravery and sadness while talking about his son is powerfully affecting and will relate to all those who have had mental health struggles of their own or those who have close experience of family members or friends who have battled with this illness. One in three of us will suffer directly with this illness at some point in our lives, so it is crucial we understand exactly what we can do to improve our society in order to protect the Rosses of the future.