Son’s suicide could have been prevented – mother

Adrian Seal
Adrian Seal

THE FAMILY of a young schizophrenic who killed himself say he would still be alive today if mental health workers had listened to their desperate pleas.

Adrian Seal, 22, strangled himself with a dressing gown cord in his bedroom in Beaconsfield Road last February after a seven-year battle with serious mental health issues. At his inquest on Wednesday, April 20, Coroner Alan Craze identified three key decisions which if made differently could have helped Adrian, known as AJ to his friends and family. And though he accepted the mental health team have to make difficult “life or death calls,” Adrian’s mum Karen Donne thinks her son could have been saved if her concerns and those of AJ’s brother Sean and fiancee Becky Batchelor had been taken seriously.

Speaking after the inquest, Ms Donne said: “We were screaming out and my son would be alive today if they had listened to us.”

The former William Parker pupil had struggled with voices in his head since he was 15 and would often punch himself or headbutt walls in a bid to get rid of them, the coroner heard. He also turned to drink and drugs, made several suicide attempts and was a prolific self-harmer. The pathologist who carried out the post-mortem said he found more than 200 “recent” cuts on his body, not only on the legs, arms and neck but also “rare” criss-cross cuts across his chest and stomach.

In December 2009 he slashed his own neck with a shard of broken glass, and needed 14 stitches, which he then pulled out within days of being released from hospital. But despite being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, he was assessed as a medium suicide risk and psychologist Dr Thambirajah Jayarajah said he was not able to section him under the Mental Health Act. “He was well-ordered in time, place and person and it is better to treat people in the community rather than in hospital,” he said.

AJ was put on a daily monitoring programme by the mental health crisis team, but visits dropped off in the New Year and he was discharged from the service on January 6, 2010. Community mental health nurse John Alsopp was unable to visit AJ because of the snow that day so phoned him instead and was satisfied AJ could be put in the care of his GP. Mr Alsopp said AJ had been talking positively about the future, denied he was self-harming and said he was not considering suicide.

But Ms Donne said: “He had given up and knew how to play the system.” On January 29, she rang social worker Katherine Meyer, who decided Adrian should be assessed but did not make him a top priority case. “It was a judgement call and in hindsight maybe it was the wrong one but there were reasons,” she said. When a mental health nurse did call the house a few days later, he was on the phone to Ms Donne at the exact moment AJ’s body was found.

Sussex Partnership manager Christine Lockwood said that the death had “rocked” her staff and that lessons had been learned, with the trust streamlining processes to refer at-risk patients, but Ms Donne said it was “too little, too late.”

Mr Craze said he felt AJ had “fallen between two stools” and there should be much more dialogue between different agencies and GPs. Recording a verdict of suicide, he said: “I recognise that you are human beings and you make the best decisions you can. Sometimes they turn out to be right and sometimes they turn out to be wrong and you are not given the benefit of hindsight like I am.”

A spokesman for the trust said: “This was a tragic incident and our sympathies go to the family with whom we have been in supportive contact since the incident. Our clinicians always have to make a professional judgement on assessing the risk to a patient, taking into account what family and carers say. This is often a very difficult decision to make.”