For the love of Tracey

Her eyes filled with tears, Kath Gorton recalls the day she answered the phone to the call she had always feared would come. Tracey, her daughter, was dying.

She had been rushed to hospital after downing a lethal cocktail of prescription drugs.

"The nurse told me I really needed to get there. I asked "How bad is it? Is it the worst?", she just told me to get there straightaway. She didn't say, but Tracey was already dead. When I arrived, she was still warm,"said Kath, (left).

"They had tried to resuscitate her, but she didn't want to live. She had stored up her pills – anti-depressants and anti-psychotics – and taken the lot. She made sure she wasn't going to wake up.

"She didn't leave a note. What she had done was to ring every member of the family the night before to check they were all right.

"I'd always known, in my heart, she would end her own life, some day. She'd made attempts before.

"She died on September 29, 2003.

"I sat with her in the hospital for two hours. She looked at peace. She had got what she wanted," said Kath.

"She felt she didn't fit here, that she didn't deserve to live. Yet she had always been loved, always had friends. There were 150 people at the crematorium for her funeral. They couldn't shut the doors there were so many people there."

Tracey, 30, had given up after grappling with years of mental illness. Irrational fears and compulsions, triggered by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at its most extreme, had dominated her every waking moment. Her head filled with demons, Tracey had taken her own way out.

Kath, who, ironically, is now a psychotherapist, had first noticed signs of OCD when Tracey was a teenager. "She would wear 12 pairs of knickers in one day. When I asked her about it, it was "So what?"

"Keeping clean, and cleaning, is part of the OCD obsessiveness, " said Kath, of South Shore.

"Her head was full of fears and yet she was the most lovable girl, so caring and so kind to others. When she left school, she got a job in a care home straightaway and then worked as an auxiliary in a psychiatric ward, like I had done. She was a natural carer," said Kath.

Diagnosed with OCD and stress, Tracey's illness escalated when she became pregnant.

"She read a book about looking after yourself in pregnancy and every contra-indication she had. She stopped her medication because she said it would kill her baby. She took everything to its worst extreme.

"This time which she thought should be the best of her life was the worst. We were on suicide watch whilst she was pregnant. We put a bed in the lounge to be near her and would sit with her.

"She told me "Mum, I don't want to be here. I don't belong here," said Kath, who feels Tracey slipped through the net of mental health care.

"I don't think her cry for help was really heard. I always feared she would take her own life. She couldn't cope with the torment in her head.

"OCD is frightening - at its worst it can become a silent killer. Tracey had to follow her rituals to stay safe, and to keep others safe. It filled her head with dark and disturbing thoughts.

"It got so bad that she was afraid to leave the house. She went as far as Morrison's one day by taxi and when the taxi driver dropped her off, he put her carrier bags on the doorstep. She took the bags and the groceries straight to the bin, because they'd been contaminated by the floor."

Tracey tried hard to be a good mother to the child she adored but had allowed her mum Kath, and dad, Mike, to take custody just before her death. " Her love as a mother was never in doubt, but she was unable to manage" said Kath.

"We love our grandchild to bits and talk about "mummy" a lot, Tracey is very much a part of all our lives," said Kath, also mum to Darren, 36.

Suicide comes at cost to those left behind. "It's unfinished business. You ask yourself why? Could you have done any more?"

After Tracey's death, Kath, who had left auxiliary nursing to study psychotherapy at Salford University, and the family moved from Bolton to Blackpool, where they now own and run Column Care, Carlin Gate, North Shore.

The mental health care home is a safe haven for "difficult to place" mental health patients, some of whom may have spent years on psychiatric wards.

"This is our tribute to Tracey. I wish there had been somewhere like this for her when she needed it.

"A place where there is no uniform, no white coats, but where there is always someone to listen when they need to talk, or space to be alone when it is space they need. We aim to be a home in the homely sense.

"We are a family here, we have something for each person who stays here," said Kath, who currently has five patients.

"We have 11 staff. When the patient number goes to our maximum of eight, the staff ratio increases accordingly. You need that intensity because of the care we provide, it is a saturation of care."

Kath runs the home, which takes professional and self-referrals, and oversees treatments and Mike, company secretary, is also trained in Emotional Freedom Techniques and Energy Therapies.

The siting of the home caused fear and protest from its neighbours when first mooted, but it has succeeded in gaining understanding.

"Anyone can come and visit. It is important to us to give a better understanding of what we do and to take away the fear and stigma of mental illness.

"The people who come here don't pose any danger. They need somewhere they can be safe ,be it for just a few weeks or for months.

"Our aim is to give respite and rehabilitation and to help them towards an independent life.

"I only wish that Tracey could have seen this. If only she had been well, she could have helped me, she would have been so good at it."

* To find out more about OCD, visit www.ocduk.org for those in crisis the Mental Health Helpline is on 0500 639000.

* Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide is a charity providing a support - the National Helpline is 0844 561 6855 9am to 9pm every day