The candle that burns the brightest burns for the shortest time.
That was something a friend of Freda Douglas told her after her only child, Evie, completed suicide on November 15, 2014.
And it was an apt way to describe the pretty and talented young dancer from Peebles who had battled depression for a number of years.
Aged just 21, Evie had made three previous suicide attempts but doctors released her from their care – despite her history.
Feeling “abandoned” by the health professionals treating her in Edinburgh, just one week later, Evie took her own life.
It’s been a difficult road for her mum Freda to navigate since.
She explained: “When Evie died I just wanted the world to stop.
“Someone actually said to me: What did she have to be depressed about? She had everything.
“She was a performer though and that’s what people saw – her beautiful smile could light up a room.
“But Evie had extreme moods – she was either very high or very low, there was never really a middle ground.
“She had received a number of different diagnoses – the most common one being depression.
“Evie believed she was bi-polar because of the severe mood swings – although she was never diagnosed.
“She had contact with around 30 different health professionals in the last three weeks of her life but was then discharged from their care – despite the fact the final sentence of her report said she had ongoing thoughts of suicide and self-harm.
“She said she felt abandoned and that made her feel 100 times worse.”
In the years since, Freda has fought for improvements in mental health care.
Initially, that started with a fight to get the Intensive Home Treatment Team (IHTT) run by Lothian NHS Board to admit its failings.
The Ombudsman went on to make several recommendations after investigating the case.
These included reviewing the discharge process of the IHTT team and highlighting to A&E staff that it was good practice for them to document who vulnerable patients were accompanied by on discharge and whether that person was happy to accept responsibility for the patient’s safety.
Freda said: “Some of these recommendations really surprised me.
“I considered them good practice in a service that had been running for years.
“But it has become apparent to me that mental health is the Cinderella of the National Health Service.”
In a bid to change that, Freda has campaigned tirelessly ever since – setting up the Inspiring Life: Evie Douglas Memorial Fund.
The 55-year-old, who was diagnosed with remitting and relapsing multiple sclerosis when Evie was just seven and then overcame a brain tumour five years later, aged 45, has since gone on to train as a counsellor.
She regularly works as a volunteer counsellor while trying to raise awareness of mental health issues.
And a couple of years ago, she became a co-conspirator in the Depressed Cake Shop.
The volunteer-led movement seeks to break down the stigma around mental health issues and raise money for mental health charities by baking and selling grey cakes.
Freda said: “I’ve enlisted the help of about 30 family members and friends who regularly bake the grey cakes for me for a variety of events.
“It’s a way of raising awareness of mental health issues, while also raising funds for charities like Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) and MIND.
“Through Evie’s fund, I also donate money to SAMH and to Evie’s former school, Peebles High, where her memorial fund sponsors a dance group for pupils.”
Thanks to generous support from supermarkets in the Borders, Freda’s cake bakers often receive donations of flour, sugar and eggs to make the grey cakes.
They’ll all be baking up a storm now – as Freda’s next Depressed Cake Shop will be held in The Volunteer Hall in Galashiels on September 30 from 11am to 4pm.
Funds raised from this event will be donated to the Inspiring Life: Evie Douglas Memorial Fund.
Freda added: “This will be one of our largest events to date and we hope people will come out to support us.
“It’s unique as we’ll be joined by Walk a Mile – and asking people to walk a mile round Galashiels to challenge the stigma of mental heath.”
A girl with so much to live for
Evie Douglas’ death is all the more tragic when you consider just how much the talented 21-year-old had to live for.
In 2015, she was due to start a course with the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London.
It was all she had ever dreamed of and she worked hard to achieve her goal.
As a student with the Fiona Henderson School of Dance and Performing Arts in Peebles, she did almost every class – tap, ballet, modern dance and musical theatre. And she went on to become a teacher with the dance school, working endless hours to choreograph shows and classes for her young charges. Freda said: “She loved dancing – it was the only time she felt really free of her demons.
“She had gone to summer school at the conservatoire and loved it and was accepted to do the post graduate course there in 2015.
“I think if she’d gotten that far, it would have been a turning point for her...but we’ll never know now.”
One thing which Freda does take comfort from is the amount her daughter managed to squeeze into her 21 years – from volunteering in Fiji to a series of fundraising events for charity.
Freda added: “Evie packed more into her 21 years than some people do in 80.
“She was such an achiever and an inspiring girl – doing everything from the Tough Mudder to marathons and sky-diving for charity.
“She also volunteered in Fiji for five weeks, building a new toilet block for families.
“There were no phones and no contact with back home and she was really poorly due to the food and hygiene but she was utterly content in herself.
“Society puts pressure on kids to achieve but Evie put a lot of pressure on herself too.”