Monday 21 August 2017

'My son didn't want to die' - mum of young man who ended his life a day after he was sent home from hospital

Heartbroken mum Majella wants health services in Ireland to change after her son Derek's battle with his mental health ended in suicide

Derek and Majella Cosgrove
Derek and Majella Cosgrove
Laura Larkin

Laura Larkin

A heartbroken mum whose son ended his own life has said he did not want to die and has called for an overhaul of Ireland’s mental health services.

Derek Cosgrove (30) ended his own life on December 16 2016,  at a time when his mum, Majella, said he had “so much to live for”.

The involvement of families in the care of someone battling mental health also needs to be examined, the heartbroken mother has said.

Derek battled mental health issues for a number of years after smoking hash triggered a form of psychosis.

Derek Cosgrove pictured on his 30th birthday
Derek Cosgrove pictured on his 30th birthday

He was first hospitalised in 2013 and would return to hospital on five other occasions as an in-patient.

During this time his mum said she was forced to wait with him in A and E for several hours on three different occasions, which she said amounted to “torture”.

On one visit to University Hospital Limerick he and his mum were again placed in a small room to wait Majella said.

“Derek was thought blocked which meant he could not talk at all, but he kept getting off his chair and trying to leave.

“I think we were there seven hours before he was admitted. A&E was really busy and scary. Derek was terrified, “ she said.

During those visits she often had to restrain Derek from leaving herself and was afraid to use the bathroom in case he left.

In March 2015 Derek was again admitted to hospital after presenting himself to the day hospital, having recognised he wasn’t feeling well.

“Derek was very lucid I always remember his psychiatrist saying on that occasion ‘I will get you Derek back’.

Derek Cosgrove
Derek Cosgrove

“This was the last time that Derek was in hospital and for the next nine months I believed that he had.

Derek attempted to take his life in a number of places during his battle with depression and mental illness, but he confided in his mum in his clear moments that he did not want to die and was “scared of what was going on in his head”, she said.

As well as the psychosis Majella feels two events in Derek’s life may have also contributed to his difficulties. The first was a severe leg break when he was six, which left him sleep deprived and in pain for days.

The second was a stabbing.

“He was walking home from a friend’s house with four friends when they were attacked by two youths,” she said. 

“One had a knife Derek ran, and one of his friends was stabbed. It was a random act of violence and I'm not sure Derek ever got over it.”

As well as inpatient treatment his mum requested that he undergo psychotherapy.

“The first time I asked I was told that, Derek might recall false memories and "it could have dire consequences,” she said,

“The second time I asked they told me that there was a waiting list,” she said.

However she doesn’t think her son ever availed of counselling and he declined to see someone privately at her urgent.

“He said he  felt that his Psychiatrist was not in favour of it,” she said.

His mother was always heavily involved with his treatment but feels that she was left out of the loop on critical issues, including a change of medication she feels was instrumental in his death.

“Each time Derek was admitted to hospital I always made an appointment to meet his team and to discuss his treatment,” she said.

“Derek would sometimes be left home on an overnight pass, on two occasions we had to call the Gardai as Derek was talking of self-harm because he was psychotic and did not want to return to the psychiatric unit in University Hospital Limerick.

“I had to keep informing the staff at the hospital to not let Derek home without my knowledge or to discharge him without me knowing.”

However, crucially Majella was not made aware when Derek came off Lithium at his own request and was  prescribed Provogil on December 7.

He had been advised to contact his healthcare team immediately if there were any side effects from the change but his mum did not realise his tablets had been changed.

“The new medication was making Derek anxious he stopped them after three days  At this stage Derek was feeling very unwell and was trying to allow the new medication to work its way out of his system,” Majella said.

“On the December 15 we attended the day hospital, Derek went with a bag packed for admission, he was anxious, sleep deprived and hearing voices.

“This we were told were all side effects of his new medication and a good night sleep should sort it out, we were sent home.

“I think we were both confused but a little bit relieved, that he was not as bad as we both thought, which led up to have a false  sense of security,” she said.

At the time of his death Derek was suffering from sleep deprivation but on the day was more lucid and seemed better than he had in recent days his mum recalled.

As he left his house for the last time he told his mum he planned to go for a walk to try to clear his head.

‘What was going on inside his head? Why did the hospital not admit him the day before?,” his mum said.

His body was recovered after 25 days from the River Shannon after a search operation and Majellawas plunged into what she calls her “living nightmare”.

In recent days she has retraced his final steps as she steels herself to mount a campaign to seek meaningful reform in the way mental health services are run in this country and how drugs are prescribed in psychiatry.

She has gathered a group of like-minded people and is forming a group which will petition for reform in how people are treated from their initial assessment to their ongoing treatment.

But she does not want the person Derek was to be lost in discussion about why he died.

Her son was “gifted”, with a talent for maths. He eventually became heavily involved in online gaming, including poker and Clash of the Clans.

As a child he was worried that he wasn’t as tall as his brothers, but took a growth spurt at 15.

“He was often in trouble with teachers until his excellent junior results changed his attitude to school changed  as did his teachers towards him,” his mum recalled, adding that he loved football and had a quick wit.

He had started dating in December and was looking for employment, having enrolled in a course and engaging it his local employment office, who described him as “enthusiastic and interested”.

Despite his difficulties his mum believes at the time of his death he was “positive about his life and his future”.

“My son did not want to die… he had a lot to live for. He was terrified of what was going on inside his head, was reaching out looking for help,” she said.

“We all failed him, my bright, fun-loving, frightened son got lost.”

University Hospital Limerick is unable to comment on individual cases but said:

“Where a patient presents to the emergency department of University Hospital Limerick requiring the services of the psychiatric department,  they are initially assessed by the ED triage nurse and then appropriately assessed by a crisis intervention nurse.

“On-call psychiatric services are available to the ED 24-7. Having been assessed, patients may be admitted to the acute psychiatric unit; referred to other services or discharged as appropriate.”

The HSE Mid West Community Healthcare which manages psychiatry services in Limerick said “we remain available to engage with and support family members as required”.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the Samaritans Helpline on 116-123

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