Helen’s daughter, Charlotte, had mental health problems. When Charlotte was 30 she was found dead in her flat. She may have taken an overdose or may have taken her own life. Helen has been well supported. She also finds comfort by helping homeless people.
Helen’s daughter, Charlotte, was well until she was aged about 15. Then she used cannabis and started to have mental health problems. She managed to complete a foundation year in art at a local college but at times she became psychotic. Sometimes she thought her mother was trying to harm her. Charlotte used other drugs and was then admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Gradually she felt better and left hospital and started a degree course, but she soon had to leave because she became unwell and started hearing voices.
Charlotte also had psychotherapy for a long time, and sometimes felt more positive. However, the good times only lasted a few weeks, and she often felt very depressed.
Charlotte was then diagnosed with probable schizophrenia and was admitted to hospital on four occasions. Later she was under the care of the local psychiatric team, but in and out of respite care. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder about two years before she died.
Charlotte became pregnant, and Helen recalls that Charlotte was doing well through parts of her pregnancy. When Charlotte’s baby boy was born she said she was glad that her sister could look after him. Charlotte said that she knew that she could not look after her baby herself. About four weeks after the baby was born Charlotte may have taken drugs again. She became angry and said that her sister had stolen her baby.
Charlotte became very unwell and took an overdose of a common medication and drank some alcohol and then phoned for help. She was taken to hospital for a couple of days, but then sent back to her flat. The psychiatrist thought she was seeking attention. Charlotte took an overdose again, and went back to hospital, but was soon sent back to her flat again. The psychiatric team told Helen that they thought that there was a very low risk that Charlotte would take her own life. However, Charlotte had discussed suicide with Helen on many occasions.
One August bank holiday weekend in 2004, when Charlotte was aged 30, the psychiatric team did not visit Charlotte as they had planned because she did not answer a knock at the door. Helen was worried because she thought Charlotte had reverted to taking harder drugs[Class A drugs], but she had not visited Charlotte over the weekend because the psychiatric team had specifically asked her to stay away when Charlotte was psychotic or unwell. Thus Charlotte had not seen a member of the psychiatric team for six days and she had not had her medication. On Thursday Helen insisted that the police were involved and when they went to Charlotte’s flat they found that she was dead, and had taken some heroin.
The police told Helen what had happened. She felt a sense of shock and a terrible, terrible loss. She also felt many other emotions, including a sense of disbelief. Her legs felt numb for many weeks. At times she almost felt a sense of relief because she had seen Charlotte suffer so much distress and because of the constant worry.
Helen felt angry that the psychiatric team said that they thought that Charlotte had died from an overdose of heroin and that they would not consider that she might have killed herself.
Helen was supported by her partner, family and friends. Her faith in God was a huge help and she found comfort by going to church. She had counselling from a man who worked for Cruse and also found support from a group of other people who had lost a child, a group called Compassionate Friends. Helen has also found great comfort by helping at a centre for homeless and vulnerable people.
Helen was also glad she had attended meetings with parents of those involved in drugs and parents of those with psychiatric problems, because they had given her strategies on how to cope.
There was no autopsy. Helen went to see Charlotte’s body at the hospital mortuary. Helen felt that this was as important as the funeral. The funeral was seven weeks after Charlotte died. Helen was glad that she put Charlotte’s ashes under a cherry tree in the park.
The inquest was the following May, nine months later. The coroner gave an open verdict because there was no suicide note and because it is possible that Charlotte had taken an overdose of heroin by mistake, or that she had taken a bad batch of heroin. However, Helen thinks that Charlotte had meant to take her own life.
Now, three years after Charlotte’s death, Helen feels that in some ways an open verdict was the best one because she feels that it is worse to think that Charlotte meant to die than to think it may have been an accidental overdose.
Helen was interviewed in July 2007.