On the 11th February 2008 Finn Higgins killed himself on Mount Victoria, Wellington, New Zealand.
Finn was 26 years old and had experienced bouts of depression since adolescence. In 2006 he came to the conclusion that his recurring depression was due to the pressure he experienced in coping with social and communication difficulties arising from Aspergers Syndrome.
He chose not to share that information with family and friends or seek diagnosis. He valued his independence and found his own way of coping with the difficulties he experienced.
Finn knew his recurring depression threatened his mental health and life but he wanted no involvement with mental health services or to use any medication. Sadly four days before his death and against his will he came to the attention of the Capital and Coast health Board[CCDHB] mental health crisis team
Finn's response was to turn for help and support from his family. His sister was preparing to travel from the UK to NZ when Finn suddenly deteriorated and a crisis situation developed.
Why Finn's condition deteriorated so rapidly remains a puzzle. There are unanswered questions as to whether he had an adverse reaction to the SSRI that had been prescribed days before by mental health team. Finn indicated concerns about his failing mental control, possibly due to those drugs, in his last e mail to his family and to the police who attended.
Finn knew he was struggling to survive but the mental health workers on the Wellington Crisis team had not been effectively informed or educated in Autistic Spectrum issues and failed to appreciate that the prospect of the unfamiliar can induce a level of distress that may threaten mental health and safety. Finn clearly articulated his inability to cope with the Crisis team’s proposals but they failed to appreciate, understand or accommodate his difficulty. Ultimately he refused to comply with the proposal to remove him from his home and a Mental Health Order was commenced so that mental health workers could take him forcibly to a mental institution.
Finn was placed in a situation that was personally overwhelming. The proposal to remove him from a secure environment, his home, created intolerable anxiety and undermined all trust he had in his partner . Having distressed him the Crisis team walked away leaving him and his partner unsupported.
Finn ran to Wellington harbour to drown. He returned from that first suicide attempt, heavily stung by jellyfish, and told his partner he would talk again with mental health workers. Although informed of this they failed to return and assist him.
Instead the Duty Authorised Officer Diane Allard requested police attend his home, remove him and hold him at the police station.This was an illegal and callous action. Failing to ensure there was a qualified health worker to accompany Finn and assist the police contravenes the NZ Mental Health Act.
Ms Allard neglected to assist Finn on three occasions during his last hours.
No one came to help the couple for four hours. When Finn awoke, distressed , still facing removal from his home, he left his house and killed himself on Mt Victoria.
Speaking as Finn's mother I can only say that I grieve for the lost opportunities and life that lay ahead for Finn. I was impressed by the man he grew to be.
A dedicated, talented musician and IT designer.
Compassionate, humorous, enthusiastic, intelligent and caring.
Whilst our loss remains painful I am grateful that we were able to provide a family experience that absorbed and enjoyed his early eccentricities and overwhelming passions. Finn appreciated the love and support that gave him the strength to face the challenges of adult life. My overwhelming regret is that he did not have the opportunity to mature for society has much to gain from individuals such as Finn.
His partner described him as a “beautiful, intelligent, selfish, gentle, warm, indulgent, honest, entertaining, overly enthusiastic, amazing human being.”
Workmates wrote "We wanted to let you know how often we think of your wonderful brother and reflect on how much we miss him. At times we wish we could ‘tune into’ him and get some insight on where he was up to on things - he really was very talented and was doing some great work for us."
A Friend wrote: “Finn was one of the brightest, most intelligent and articulate people I have ever met, both in life and on the Internet. His dedication to his work in the face of adversity and his helpfulness to relative strangers are two of his defining qualities and he rightfully belonged to the highest class of human being. He is being sorely missed. "
FINN’S PERSONAL ACCOUNT OF ASPERGERS
An email to Russell Brown written a few weeks before his death:
I just read your post over at Humans about the issues you’ve been having with schooling. That set off a whole load of bells in my head, as I went through a whole load of chaos with school as a teenager. I was virtually absent from formal education from just before I turned thirteen until well after I turned eighteen.
There was never any medical involvement, but it’s definitely hard to read any accounts of living with AS without feeling a lot of overlap with the experiences I had with school and my early years of working. In terms of qualifications I have virtually nothing: I passed a GCSE in maths when I was 14, but basically all attempts at getting tutors involved and running formal home education ended quite badly.
That’s not to say I didn’t learn - but anything I did learn needed to be interesting to me and applicable to my own projects. I never went to university, although I do have a 1yr diploma from a music school that would qualify for entry in the UK with some fast-talking.
If I’m going anywhere with this it’s to say that even the virtually complete rejection of formal education that I managed doesn’t need to be the end of the world. I had to deal with some serious anxiety and a few years of relatively crappy jobs when I started working, but I’m now 26 and have managed to work my way into a situation where I can go after jobs I care about and enjoy, and where I can apply myself and my skills to do things that have value to me.
I’m also comfortable enough socially that I have a wonderful partner who I love dearly, and who can put up with my occasional odd turns very sweetly and effectively. I wouldn’t claim that life is perfect or that I’d not have preferred things to have gone differently, but it’s all survivable and doesn’t have to go bad places.
My experience has been that generally life eases up on people with intellectual/practical skills and social difficulties as an adult Particularly if they’re good with computers or play the drums, two areas where being socially inept are practically badges of merit.
Anyway, let’s just say that being an exception isn’t all bad. It was no fun at the time for either myself or my mother, but I think I’ve come away from the experience with a degree of ability to guide my own learning that many people never get from years at school and university, and it’s actually become very valuable when it comes to being employed (and self-employed). It’s certainly left some scars, but they’re survivable ones.
I don’t know if any of that is helpful to read, but you seem to be doing all the right things in terms of being a caring parent from my perspective. I’ve got a huge amount of respect for you in the way you’ve taken your experiences and turned them into positive things like the Humans site.