Early last year, traffic in Fife, Scotland, was stopped and road closures were put in place – not because of roadworks or an accident, but because a woman was considering suicide. Twenty-four-year-old Kimberley MacFarlane suffers from Fowler’s Syndrome, a rare condition that makes it difficult and painful to pass urine, and has lived with mental-health issues since her diagnosis. She had previously attempted suicide by jumping off a bridge in 2016, which resulted in two broken vertebrae and having to wear a back brace for three months. While MacFarlane’s second attempt at the same road bridge thankfully failed, she found herself facing jail time as a result.
She was arrested and charged with breaching the peace, and was told during a hearing at Dunfermline Sheriff Court she had “inconvenienced the public” with her suicide attempt. “I felt like I was a criminal who had done something wrong – my mum saw me in handcuffs,” said McFarlane. “I was the only person in my holding area, no one was telling me what was happening, and when I had to go to the toilet I was escorted. In the courtroom I burst into tears when my charge was read out. They said there would be a possibility of a custodial sentence – I didn't really understand it at all.”
The sheriff overseeing the trial told McFarlane that if she was handed a custodial sentence, then that would “at least mean that the public are not being inconvenienced in this way". She says her own solicitor was open to the sentence, too, as he thought she would be more likely to get the help she needed in prison than a hospital.
The idea that an attempted suicide could lead to jail time is a distressing one and clearly shows a deep misunderstanding of how systems interact with mental-health issues
After her trial – which resulted in no custodial sentence – McFarlane felt compelled to contact her local MSP to get to the bottom of why her poor mental health was treated as a crime. According to one report, she was told by her solicitor that mental-health care is more readily available and accessible in prison than it is through the NHS.
The idea that an attempted suicide could lead to jail time is a distressing one and clearly shows a deep misunderstanding of how systems interact with mental-health issues. In this story, MacFarlane and her safety should have been the priority and concern.
McFarlane has since spent her time raising money for mental-health charities and has so far donated a total of £1,070. She also feels that her mental health is becoming more stable. “I would say I'm turning a corner very slowly,” she said. “I still have doubts, but I have a little voice as well that that says I can do it. This time next year, I hope things keep progressing and going forward, not backwards.”