Limerick mother speaks of son's 'mental health nightmare and death'

Majella Cosgrove vows to do utmost to improve services

Aine Fitzgerald


Aine Fitzgerald

Limerick mother speaks of son's 'mental health nightmare and death'

Majella Cosgrove walks behind her son's remains, and below, Derek

THE GRIEVING mother of a young man whose body was recovered from the River Shannon has spoken of the “living nightmare” she and her son endured in the lead up to his death.

 “I’m not a victim. I’m not a survivor. I’m a mother with an experience,” Majella Cosgrove told the Limerick Leader as she prepared for the month’s mind Mass for her 30-year-old son Derek this Saturday.

“My son would have been dead over two years ago if he didn’t have family to support him. I know that for a fact,” added Ms Cosgrove, in relation to her experience of the mental health services in this country.

On the morning of Friday, December 16 last Derek Cosgrove entered the cold waters of the River Shannon. It was 25 days before the body of the 30-year-old “gentle soul” was recovered.

That Friday morning in December, Derek went to the local shop to get messages for his mother. He arrived home and handed Majella back her Visa card. He appeared to be OK. There had been tumultuous times in the 10 days leading up to his death due to a change of medication and a lack of sleep.

But, that morning, there were no indications that within hours his state of mind would lead him to carry out the fatal act of taking his own life.

When Derek hadn’t returned home from his walk, a mother’s instinct told Ms Cosgrove that something was not right. A radio news bulletin confirmed her worst fears.

“I have seen my parents die, my partner died and you go through a process which is horrendous but you seem to know what the steps are because it is explained to you and you make choices, together, for example patient, doctor and carer. This is totally different. Totally different,” said Ms Cosgrove.

In a soul-stirring address from the altar of St Munchin’s Church in Limerick in mid-January, Ms Cosgrove from Clareview said her son had been “failed by the very system that was supposed to help him”.

“With Derek’s month’s mind on Saturday I’m reminded that it’s in between a month and over a month in terms of when he went missing and when he was found. It’s still a living nightmare and the words that I said in St Munchin’s Church are still the words I have today in terms of the services and the lack of supports.”

“I know what it’s like to be out in A&E for seven hours stuck in a little room. I couldn’t pee because Derek could have walked out and do whatever. And I have heard the stories in 5B where it has happened. It has happened to a mother who I have spoken to.

"We shouldn’t have to be doing this as mothers or carers. We are providing a service that should be provided by a system. We are not valued. We are not spoken to. We are not recognised.”

Ms Cosgrove feels that due to confidentially clauses, parents and carers who are caring for young adults with mental health issues are not adequately informed of the person’s condition which, in turn, can have devastating consequences, if the person is incapable of making rational decisions.

“Even though the patient might be an adult patient, they still are a patient with a mental issue and who is to know whether they are making rational choices or not? And although I think I would have supported whatever decision my son would have made, I was not part of the process, and I was unaware of the side effects of either coming off one medication or going on another.

"There needs to be somebody else involved. Derek had a family who loved him, a family who were paralysed by and full of fear in terms of what was going on inside his head, and of a fear of the very system he trusted.”

Ms Cosgrove says she is left with many unanswered questions.

“I am left with questions regarding services, questions regarding our Constitution in relation to families and our rights. In days gone by if you had a mental health issue or even if you did not, your family had the right to incarcerate you into a mental institution. Those days, thankfully, are gone, but now we have the polar opposite - families do not come into the equation at all.  

"A change of meds are not discussed even though the fall-out effects are experienced by the family members.”

 “I was not educated in terms of signs to watch out for, what the red flags were. It is such a shame what I know now I did not know when my Derek was alive.”

Derek had suffered a psychotic episode about three years ago. He was diagnosed with depression.

“He had been doing so well over the past year. He was determined to get work - he was sending out CVs everywhere and he had just started an online course,” his mother explained.

Derek wanted to be more alert during the day so he could concentrate, and this resulted in a change of medication “which led to sleepless nights, anxiety and fear.”

Ms Cosgrove is determined to “do my utmost” to ensure that there are supports in place - for the person who has a mental health issue and for the carers and the family.

“I will try my best to try and work alongside services and people to improve the services. Some of the services or supports that could be put in place don’t cost money. It’s about education. It’s about training. It’s about listening. It’s about respect for both the doctors, the patients and the carers.”

Ms Cosgrove paid tribute to all those who have offered their support and encouragement, including her family and friends and other families who, sadly, are in a similar position.

“I know the fear they are living with. I isolated my friends from myself. I lived in a little bubble. That was my life. Now I am reaching out. I am reaching out for support for myself because I really need them in order to try and look after my own mental health. I am also trying to do some research into the services that are currently out there. The services and supports seem to be coordinated once a body goes into the river but as far as I can tell the supports and services are ad-hoc to say the least when it comes to prevention.”

Derek Cosgrove is deeply regretted by his family and friends.

His month’s mind Mass will take place this Saturday, February 4 at 6pm at St Munchin’s Church in the city.

If you are affected by this article please contact Aware (1800 80 48 48), the Samaritans (116 123) or Pieta House (1800 247 247) or log onto