The family of a vulnerable Meath woman who repeatedly tried to take her own life within a short time of being discharged from hospital has expressed concern about the care provided by mental health services.
An inquest heard Linda Kennedy (56) of Cardrath, Collon, Co Meath, was found dead in her home on August 26th 2021 just hours after being discharged from Drogheda Department of Psychiatry – a Health Service Executive-run facility operated as part of Louth Meath Mental Health Services.
It was the fourth time the woman who had been classified as a “moderate to high risk” had tried to kill herself in the space of seven weeks.
A pathologist, Muna Sabah, said postmortem results showed the mother of two had died as a result of asphyxia.
Although Ms Kennedy had a “toxic level” of an antidepressant in her blood, Prof Sabah said it did not mean she had taken more than the amount prescribed, as such readings can occur due to how the drug breaks down in a body after death.
In a statement read out at the hearing in Trim Courthouse on Monday, the deceased’s daughter, Sarah Kennedy, outlined how her mother had attempted to kill herself on three other occasions in the weeks before her death.
The coroner, Nathaniel Lacy, heard that each attempt occurred shortly after Ms Kennedy had been allowed to return home after seeking medical care.
The inquest heard Ms Kennedy’s brother, Patrick Dixon, and her son, Jack Kennedy, brought her to the emergency department in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth, on July 9th 2021 and then to the Drogheda Department of Psychiatry.
However, she was not admitted and was allowed to return home.
Ms Kennedy took an overdose of prescription medication three days later and was brought back to the hospital on July 12th 2021 by her family but was not admitted.
The coroner was informed that the reason she was not admitted on her second presentation at the hospital was because she had an appointment with the Louth Meath Mental Health Services the following day.
Just hours after returning from Our Lady of Lourdes, Ms Kennedy took another overdose which required her to be returned to the hospital for the second time that day.
Ms Kennedy remained a patient at the hospital until she was discharged a week later on July 19th 2021.
While she was in hospital, Ms Kennedy sent a suicide-like note to her son.
The deceased’s daughter said her mother was brought back to the Drogheda Department of Psychiatry after suffering several injuries when she threw herself off the roof of her dormer bungalow in the early hours of July 20th 2021.
She said her family had expressed concern to medical staff on August 20th 2021 that Ms Kennedy was due to be discharged back to a house where she lived on her own.
The deceased’s daughter said her mother died within hours after she was discharged from the hospital five days later.
She noted each of four suicide attempts had occurred just hours after her mother had been discharged or allowed to go home.
Yvette Giblin, a consultant psychiatrist from Louth Meath Mental Health Services, said she and two other consultants had assessed the patient in the two months before her death and had all concluded that she did not suffer from clinical depression.
In evidence, Dr Giblin said Ms Kennedy was suffering from a number of long-standing psychosocial stressors including concerns about her finances and divorce proceedings while also having feelings of isolation.
However, Dr Giblin stressed that nothing could be done in an in-patient setting to address such stressors.
She told counsel for Louth Meath Mental Health Services, Rebecca Graydon BL, that she felt Ms Kennedy’s issues were primarily linked to personality traits or difficulties.
Dr Giblin said the majority of such patients were treated in the community and not in hospital.
However, she accepted she had assessed Ms Kennedy as being “moderate to high risk” of suicide or self-harm.
Under cross-examination by counsel for Ms Kennedy’s family, Doireann O’Mahony BL, Dr Giblin said a test for a personality disorder had to be done by a psychologist which was not available in an in-patient setting.
She said Ms Kennedy had agreed to having such a test.
Asked if it was safe to allow someone who might have a personality disorder to leave hospital, Dr Giblin replied: “It is not a reason to keep someone in hospital. Had we done [a test], it would not have changed her discharge plan.”
The coroner returned a verdict of self-inflicted death and offered his condolences to Ms Kennedy’s family.
Speaking after the inquest, the deceased’s daughter said she remained concerned that someone who was assessed as being a “moderate to high risk” was allowed to leave hospital.
She said there was “a glaring gap” in the provision of mental health services if someone could not be tested for a personality disorder without being discharged from hospital.