Remembering Lorraine Nicholson

24 Aug


It has happened again. Another mental health champion has lost their fight, and died too soon by suicide.

Lorraine Nicholson was  quite simply one of the most warm, authentic, honest and discreet people I have met in nearly twenty years of mental health activism and campaigning.

There are activists who talk loudly, activists who work tirelessly, activists whose opinions clash, those who like power, those who reject power…those who thrive in the system and those who reject it or disrupt it. Our movement is broad.

Lorraine had the rare gift of being able to bring something to almost every corner of the movement, and to earn respect across the board and in any room.

Our movement has never needed people like Lorraine like it needs them now.

In mental health the term peer seems to be diluted, assumed, or mortgaged as much as it is cherished, valued and prioritised. I am humbled and proud to have been a peer of Lorraine’s, and I am certain there are hundreds of people across the world who feel that way this week.

Lorraine never sought to be a leader, but she led. She quietly and unassumingly took part, listened, took things in, and made well-crafted and intelligent points without grandstanding. Lorraine went to international gatherings and conferences, and brought back things people could use, and ideas that mean something to both policy wonks and people on the ground.  She didn’t stand up and claim to be a sage, or promote a particular canon of peer support or art. She had a calm authority that came from being totally authentic and sharing only what was relevant to the moment at hand. If you didn’t know Lorraine, this interview from BBC Radio Scotland gives a sense of who she was and how she approached life.

I’ve worked with Nordic people in mental health for a number of years and when Lorraine told me she was heading to Lapland on Erasmus I cracked a big smile. I felt sure Lorraine’s modesty, sense of social justice, love of the outdoors and rich sense of light and dark would see her adopt the Nordics, and so it proved.

As well as a unique personal artistic journey, Lorraine pushed herself to new personal achievements, relating these on social media with modest almost embarrassment to the universal delight to those of us watching at home. Of course, Lorraine also discovered the Open Dialogue method in Finland, and was determined to bring that kind of egalitarian, holistic model of care and support to Scotland.

Lorraine and I shared a passion for the exploration of emotion in visual image, and the telling of stories and the combatting of stigma through art and photography in particular. Back in 2012 we hatched a plan to being photography into the mental health arts and film festival and explore the many attachments photography had to recovery, personal journey, documentary and art. We ran the event ‘A Picture in Mind’ as part of SMHAFF 2013, and continued to meet regularly to share ideas on photography and creativity. We both used images to convey emotion, and to better understand and address our internal weather. Lorraine shared this image with me for the project. It says so much, so plainly.

be there is all - Lorraine Nicholson

Scotland is a small place. There are people in the mental health family in Scotland who have known each other for decades, many of us working in the voluntary sector but also people in other fields and now across the world. There is a respect, a mutuality, a peer connection between us, a respect for fellow travellers. It isn’t always an easy set of relationships but ultimately it’s all for one and one for all even when people are unwell, or being unreasonable.

In mental health, we’ve all lost people to suicide before, and every loss affects us all, causes many of us to value our friends and family more, and reconfirms a mutual desire to do this work, fight this fight, and make a difference.

Now we have lost Lorraine, too soon, too unfairly. And again, I find myself confirming what I felt before. There but for a few different turns in the road it could have been me, tomorrow it could be someone else, and at some point in the future that phone will ring again, and it will be another fellow traveller. Losses like this fill me with a sense of compassionate togetherness with others, as well as deep sadness at Lorraine’s loss.

Being around people like Lorraine, people who quietly challenge, give me a sounding board, share stories and make things better is so important. That counsel and grounding is arguably the most important thing in my professional life.

Losing Lorraine makes me treasure and value being part of the mental health movement even more. It makes me also doubly sure that addressing suicide and distress remains an abiding professional goal. At times like this I always return to the wonderful metanoia website intended to reach out to people in crisis. It has helped me and many others in dark nights. Suicide happens when barriers are overwhelmed, so it’s important to watch the sea, build strong walls and most importantly reach out. Samaritans volunteers are available to listen 24h, 365 days, by phone and also by email, text and in person.

I’m only sorry that I can’t pick up where I left off with Lorraine next time I see her. The rest of you reading…look after yourself. Pick up the phone or send a message. Let’s get coffee. And change the world.

14 Responses to “Remembering Lorraine Nicholson”

  1. Colette August 24, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

    Beautifully written for an amazing lady. Lorraine will be sorely missed.

  2. ainatobran August 24, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    Thank you so much for this statement. I met Lorraine in Lapland as a fellow Erasmus student. We weren’t close friends but the time we spent together, sharing classes and aventures together with many others is precious to me. She touched my heart in her quiet way of being, her strength that came in soft spoken words and warm hugs. I’ll miss her.

  3. Chrys Muirhead August 24, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    Reblogged this on Chrys Muirhead .

  4. Chrys Muirhead August 24, 2015 at 6:48 pm #

    Chris thank you for writing this eulogy in memory of Lorraine Nicholson.

    I was very sorry to hear the news on Thursday through social networks. I felt sad and angry at the same time. Sad at the loss of Lorraine to all of us in Scotland’s mental health world and further afield. Angry that mental health services are not better resourced and I say this as a writer, activist and campaigner. A psychiatric survivor and mother of sons who have been/are challenged by “mental illness” labels/diagnoses.

    Let’s change the world. Yes I agree.

  5. Linda campbell August 24, 2015 at 7:06 pm #

    Sad that lorraine gone 😢

  6. Lucy Seren August 25, 2015 at 1:27 pm #

    big huggles honey, Lorraine sounds a wonderful women and a huge loss both to you and her friends but also the mental health movement accross the world.
    Suicide is so hard, your right and needs to keep being at the top of the agenda, and things like the crisis care report by the CQC to actually make a difference on the ground.

    love and huggles Lucy

  7. LORNA GRANT August 25, 2015 at 9:34 pm #


  8. Caroline August 26, 2015 at 10:42 am #

    It is sad to read this. I was not lucky enough to have know Lorraine but I would suggest that it is a valid choice to end one’s life and challenge the accepted view that those who are able to make this choice are merely victims of mental illness! Not everyone wants to continue living for reasons they find compelling. Those of you who knew her might recognise this and respect her decision.

    • chrisosullivan August 27, 2015 at 9:47 am #

      I will always recognise an individual’s ultimate choice to take their own life. But equally I will always seek to understand that choice and offer alternatives when there is an opportunity to do so, and advocate for reduction in stigma, accessible services, and greater public awareness so that people who feel that they have no other option are able to see that other options exist.

      I don’t know about the circumstances of Lorraine’s death. I don’t need to know. I do know that Lorraine fought over years to build and grow her recovery, and I prefer to remember her as one who fought valiantly to overcome unbearable pain, and sadly, lost the battle.

  9. Krissy August 31, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    I’m stunned and devastated to hear of lovely Lorraine’s death. She helped me immeasurably. I am sure her funeral has probably taken place too and I have missed it 😦 sniff. Rest in peace Lorraine – you were a true light in the darkness. I didn’t know you long but you impacted my life deeply.

    • chrisosullivan August 31, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

      It is tomorrow. for information

      • Krissy September 1, 2015 at 1:27 am #

        How do I email you?

        Sorry appearing dim but I can’t see contact details.

      • Chrys Muirhead September 1, 2015 at 8:06 am #

        Regards to those attending Lorraine Nicholson’s funeral today, especially her family in their loss.

  10. Michael Rattray September 15, 2015 at 3:45 pm #

    Wonderfully written. I am missing Lorraine so much she was a shining light x

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