Alcohol is our hidden menace, says grieving former Shrewsbury mayor Jane Mackenzie
Former Shrewsbury mayor Jane Mackenzie - who has just been reinstated as a Shropshire councillor after she missed council meetings to nurse her terminally ill daughter - has spoken of the hidden dangers of alcohol addiction.
Jane Mackenzie remembers the last conversation she had with her daughter Amy Jane.
“She was in a good place,” recalls Jane, “She had made lots of plans, she was going to stay with my sister in Aberdovey the following week.”
The next morning Jane received a call that her daughter had died at the age of 37.
Outwardly, Amy Jane Liebich was a happy, successful young woman with a bright future ahead of her.
She had just helped organise the Shrewsbury Comic Festival, was a keen charity fundraiser, and had served as a councillor.
But few would have realised that behind the happy and confident facade, Amy Jane had been privately fighting a battle with alcohol addiction.
Alcohol addiction is the hidden killer in our society.
In 2017, a total of 7,697 people died from alcohol-specific causes in the UK, equivalent to 12.2 deaths per 100,000 population.
But many of these people will show no outward symptoms, and few people will be aware that they have a problem.
“When you talk about alcoholism, you think of the old guy on the bench in the park,” says Jane.
“But it isn’t that. It could be the teacher teaching your children at school, the young person who’s just gone to university and is expected to get a first, it can be a company director or a successful lawyer.
“Many people with addictions function perfectly normally, and it is something people don’t talk about because of the stigma.”
Jane is now seeking to use her experience to help others by setting up a charity to provide support for both people with addictions, and their families.
Share Shrewsbury is based in the Riverside Shopping Centre. The charity is part-funded, with a £12,000 share of the £22,000 that Jane raised during her term as mayor, and the launch of the charity is doubly poignant as during the last months up to her death Amy Jane had been helping her mother to set it up.
“She studied events management at university, and she was an excellent fundraiser,” says Jane.
The charity will begin by hosting a weekly support group for mothers and mothers-to-be at risk of addiction, but Jane hopes that by the end of the year it will also be able to offer professional counselling as well.
“We have had a number of professionals who have come forward offering their support,” she says.
Jane’s burning hope is that by removing the stigma surrounding addiction problems, people will be more willing to talk about them and get the help they need.
“The terrible thing is there a stigma, and people are ashamed to come forward and talk about it,” she says.
“Amy must have suffered for 10 to 15 years, but she never spoke about it.”
Jane is planning to create a picture gallery at Share Shrewsbury for people to remember their lost loved ones, with Amy Jane's photograph being among those on display.
Anybody who would like to see a lost loved one displayed on the wall, or would like to get in touch with Share Shrewsbury can contact her on by emailing Jane@shareshrewsbury.org.uk or telephoning her on 07973 702772.
Jane and her ex-husband Peter Liebich say that, looking back, there probably were tell-tale signs that Amy was having problems, but at the time the warning signals were difficult to spot.
Peter says: “When you have children and they are in their late teens and early 20s, and they go out and get drunk, you think it’s normal, it’s what young people do.
“You just think it’s a phase they are going through, and usually it is. But there is a proportion of people for who it will be a problem.”