Last week, an inquest heard 15-year-old schoolboy Patrick Roberts (left) described as a “loveable” teenager who “had so much to look forward to.”
On December 3rd last year, some of Patrick’s school-friends received messages from him saying that he had taken some pills and had a noose around his neck. Police were alerted, and Patrick was later found hanged in woods near South Oxney, Hertfordshire.
The coroner was told that Patrick had been on the SSRI antidepressant Fluoxetine (Prozac) for about one month before his death. Toxicology results showed that, as well as Prozac, Patrick had therapeutic amounts of ibuprofen, paracetamol and codeine in his system.
Police officers looked at Patrick’s laptop, and found that during the past month he had been looking at websites “that might give an indication about how one can take one’s own life.”
Coroner Graham Danbury recorded a narrative verdict, saying: “His own actions ended his life but I don’t know that it was his intention to commit suicide. He physically did what was necessary but he was not doing a set out plan to end his own life.”
Last month, an inquest into the death of “bright and intelligent teenager” Martha Bradbury was held. Martha (right) was a schoolgirl from Stoke Newington, North London, who was struck by a train at a nearby station on October 13 last year – just a week after her 16th birthday.
Martha had told her mother Charlotte Foster in December 2012 that she felt depressed and had been self-harming. Charlotte called Martha’s GP, who referred her to the local Child and Adolescent Mental Services, and she was subsequently seen by professionals at a nearby health centre in January last year. She was prescribed antidepressants.
The following month, Martha took an overdose of her medication and was admitted to a residential centre. Charlotte told the inquest that Martha refused the offer of anti-psychotics because she had seen some children at the centre who, in her own words, “walked around like zombies.” She did not want to have a “fuzzy mind.” Martha was deemed to be well enough to be discharged in April.
A 15-year-old friend, whose statement was read out in court, said that, before her death, Martha admitted she heard “bad” voices in her head and “really struggled” with the idea of it continuing for the rest of her life.
The coroner, unnamed in the report, ruled that Martha “took her own life while suffering from severe depression with psychotic symptoms.”
In a statement, Martha’s family said after the inquest: “Martha was a bright, funny, musical, artistic, beautiful and much-loved daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece and friend. She leaves us all wondering where so much grace came from and why it was around for such a short time. We will always cherish her memory.”
The previous month, in Caernarfon, an inquest was held into the death of 15-year-old schoolgirl Pauline Swatridge (left), who had jumped from the Menai Bridge in May 2013.
Pauline, who was multilingual, attended the local comprehensive school Ysgol Friars, where she was assessed as bright, with a particular talent for art and music.
At the inquest, the pathologist’s report stated that blood tests showed she had taken a variety of drugs prescribed to her by doctors for a mental illness and these were above the therapeutic range.
Recording a narrative conclusion, coroner Dewi Pritchard Jones (right) added: “It is difficult to ascertain the intention of those who have mental health issues and I prefer to steer away from speculating what was in this young lady’s mind.”
Two months ago I wrote at length about the tragic death of Tallulah Wilson. 15-year-old Tallulah (left) had been prescribed antidepressants while grieving for her grandmother. Two weeks after taking an overdose of her medication in October 2012, she stepped in front of a train at St Pancras Station.
Tallulah had posted pictures of her self-harming on the Tumblr website, and Coroner Mary Hassell (right) said that she would make a Prevention of Further Deaths (PFD) report following the inquest in relation to websites like Tumblr.
When I wrote that article just two months ago, I did not anticipate that I would soon be writing about the violent, avoidable deaths of three more children. It is not clear from the reports available whether Tallulah, Martha and Pauline were prescribed Prozac. However, just over 10 years ago, the UK Department of Health stated that SSRIs were not to be prescribed to anybody under 18, as “the risks outweigh the benefits.” The exception to this, for somewhat idiosyncratic reasons, was Prozac.
In 2004, tests carried out in the USA showed that there was no noticeable difference between Prozac and the other SSRIs available. Prozac was subsequently required by the FDA to carry the same black-box warning as the other brands of SSRIs. In spite of this, Prozac was, and still is, the only SSRI licensed for use with children in the USA as well as in the UK.
In September 2010, Harry Hucknell (left) hanged himself in his bedroom. He had been diagnosed as having ADHD and was subsequently prescribed Ritalin and Prozac. Harry was just 10 years old at the time of his death.
At his inquest in April 2011, Harry’s father Darren (cousin of Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall) said about Harry: “He had never mentioned killing himself before going on those tablets.”
The inquest heard that it was difficult to say how the drugs affected Harry’s state of mind but that their influence could not be excluded. Recording a narrative verdict, coroner Ian Smith (right) said: “What a child with ADHD is prescribed by his doctor is mind-altering drugs of a powerful nature. I’m not saying that no children should be prescribed drugs, but the doctors must be extremely careful of what they are prescribing in a 10-year-old boy.”
Columnist Peter Hitchens (left) congratulated Mr Smith on his “understatement”, and wrote: “Harry’s case became known because his cousin is a rock star. How many other tragedies like this are going unreported? We are long overdue for a proper inquiry into the prescribing of such drugs, especially to children. Let it come soon, please.”
Mr Smith’s summation may well have been something of an understatement, but at least he acknowledged that mind-altering medication can have an influence on a child’s state of mind. At the inquests of Tallulah, Patrick, Pauline and Martha, none of the parents raised the question of the efficacy of their medication. Therefore Ms Hassell, Mr Danbury, Mr Pritchard Jones and the coroner at Martha’s inquest were all able to assume a position of ignorance, which appears to be the default setting where coroners are concerned.
It is time that the licence to prescribe Prozac / Fluoxetine to persons under the age of 18 was revoked, and that a complete ban was placed on the prescription of all antidepressants to children.