Mother whose son took his own life calls for answers: ‘The door was closed on him’
Ian Browne (25) was sent home from Drogheda hospital twice before his death
Sinead Browne at her home in Dundalk where her son took his own life last month. Photograph: James Forde.
Ian Browne (25), from Toberona Road, had a letter from his GP asking that he be admitted as he was “actively suicidal” and at “imminent” risk of serious self-harm.
His mother, Sinéad Browne, said she was told after his death he could not have been admitted as a psychiatric patient as he had traces of the sedative benzodiazepine in his system.
The standard policy in Irish psychiatric services is not to admit someone with a mental health issue who is suspected of substance misuse.
On the morning of Tuesday, March 12th, Ian told Sinéad he was “tired” with life. “He’d lost a best friend [who died in his sleep] 51 days before this. That hit him really hard.
“He’d had depression on and off for a few years. When he was bad he’d go to his GP, get a prescription, and he was seeing a counsellor,” Sinéad said.
She tried to talk to him that morning, but he told her she could not help because she was not a psychiatrist. He went to see his father Paul – from whom Sinéad is separated. Later, his counsellor referred him on to Our Lady of Lourdes emergency department, where he stayed until 6pm and was seen by staff, who filled in a detailed 12-page statement on his case.
“The decision was to send him home to come back in three weeks . . . He landed back in here after midnight and just said it was an absolute waste of a day. He said: ‘What am I going to do? They won’t listen.’
“I sat here for the night not knowing what to do, who to ring,” Sinéad said.
Ian went to see his GP, who wrote a letter to the hospital urging treatment for “this young man whom I would be very worried about”.
“He arrives in today and his history is very concerning. He is actively suicidal and an imminent threat. He was seen yesterday in your dept [department] and not admitted likely due to presence of benzos [benzodiazepine] in his system.
“I feel this is more serious due to the degree of self-harm planning . . . [Ian] informs me that he planned to end his life yesterday. All planned . . . I would be grateful if you could reassess and admit,” he wrote.
Sinéad says her son returned to the hospital. “It was the same again - ‘Come back in three weeks’. . . He came in that night and said: ‘That was a waste of 48 hours. I could have had all this done on Tuesday.’ ”
Once he was home, his mother again sought help: “They said: ‘Tell someone, present to a GP, go to an A&E.’ He did all this, did what he was meant to, and there was nothing for him.”
The following day Ian was up early, “whistling, just going about, had a shower and a cup of tea”. His mother left for work in a local school, speaking with him by phone at about 11am.
“I was at work but couldn’t concentrate. I was there in body, not mind. I tried to contact Ian, his dad tried, but we couldn’t get him. I would normally leave work about 7pm, but before 6pm I just had an awful feeling and had to come home.
“I came in and his wee dog was in the sittingroom and the door closed. That would never happen. I threw my bag on the table and was zipping down my coat going up the stairs panicking to find him.
“I knew something was definitely not right. That was when I found him.” Her son is buried in the St Joseph’s Church cemetery in Castletown, minutes from where he died.
In the following days the hospital contacted Sinéad, saying they could deal with mental health and drug issues, but not with both at the same time.
“I told them he wasn’t an addict or a down and out, that he wanted help and didn’t get it... The door was closed on him,” she said.
“I hope, talking about what happened, I can help highlight how the system failed Ian; that might help so that when some other young person is going through this terrible ordeal and goes to seek help, that they get it.”
The College of Psychiatrists says Switzerland has 30 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, while Ireland has just 19 per 100,000 – the lowest figure among all northern European countries. The HSE says the Louth region, with a population of 50,000, has two consultant psychiatrists, and that this compares well with national numbers.
Mental health issues are dealt with by mental health services, but cases involving drugs are referred on to the drug treatment service, the HSE said. “If necessary, mental health support is provided by the [drug treatment] service.”
Anyone affected by these issues can contact The Samaritans on 116 123, Aware on 1800 804 848, Pieta House on 1800 247 247 or Childline 1800 666 666.