Blackpool is experiencing an “almost perfect storm” of drug abuse and depression, a charity warned after another tragic death of a teenager.
The stark alert that people desperately need help came after the inquest of Alexander Wesley, 19, who died after taking a fatal amount of cocaine.
He was found lifeless at his flat at Burlington Court, a support-living facility in Burlington Road, South Shore, after penning a journal containing his plans to kill himself.
Lucy Schonegevel, from the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “It’s an unfortunate truth that mental illness and substance misuse can often go hand in hand. Whilst the reasons behind this are numerous and complex, the effects on the individual are clear.
“Blackpool is experiencing an almost perfect storm, with rates of suicide and admissions to hospital for drug abuse both significantly higher than the national averages. Many people around the country looking to get help find that they’re currently unable to access the mental health services and addiction support they so desperately need meaning too many people are falling down the gaps.”
Mr Wesley, who had a history of self-harm, was found dead by staff at Burlington Court, less than three weeks after being admitted to Blackpool Victoria Hospital after threatening to kill himself.
There was damage to his flat, windows were smashed, and there was white powder on the kitchen counter.
Giving evidence to the inquest, held at the town hall, police officer David Priest said he also found two notebooks in which Mr Wesley said he wanted to “take a life”.
PC Priest said: “Ever since I was released from hospital I feel so alone I just want to die.”
He went on to write about his plans for a week-long drugs binge, during which he planned to record music before killing himself on the final day.
The hearing was told Mr Wesley was open about his drug use and staff at Burlington Court were told approximately 10 days before he died that he was in possession of three grams of cocaine, a class A illegal recreational drug.
Staff decided to try to continue supporting Mr Wesley through his drug addiction, which resort coroner Alan Wilson said was appropriate.
Sarah Bull, Burlington Court’s operations manager, said: “At the supported living project there are staff in the building 24 hours a day. Alex had support with tenancy, paying bills, managing finances and dealing with emotions.
“Alex was engaging with staff, engaging with mental health professionals, and we believed he was making some progress.”
Ms Bull said Mr Wesley had been prescribed medication for his mental health problems, though he did not always take them and had to be reminded by staff.
When asked by Mr Wesley’s mother, Jane Edwards, why the teenager was not checked on during the night that he died, she explained: “We were not licenced to do checks on Alex through the night and that was not part of his support. “Sometimes he would have agreed to have checks during the night, sometimes he wouldn’t.
“Ultimately it’s his own flat, it’s his own front door, and we don’t have the right to go in without his permission.
“We are not an authority that has the legal right to do that.”
She added that Mr Wesley had previously been checked on overnight by staff, but only with his permission, and that staff saw no reason to ask to check on him that night as he had had a positive day.
However, the following morning, staff became concerned as Mr Wesley was not awake and listening to music as usual and entered the flat, finding Mr Wesley slumped and unresponsive on the sofa.
It is believed he died in the early hours on Thursday June 14 last year because of the cocaine.
Mr Wilson said it was impossible to know whether Mr Wesley intended to die when he took the drug.
On June 13, the day before he died, Mr Wesley told his care coordinator Michael Lovell he was concerned he would one day kill himself by accident.
Mr Lovell’s statement read: “Alex stated that he was focused on getting back on track. He showed me some lyrics that he had been writing and played some music on his guitar.”
The court heard that Mr Wesley did not want to be sectioned under the mental health act and both Mr Lovell and his psychiatrist Dr Gadekar agreed that he was not in a state to be forcibly sectioned.
The month before his death he had asked Mr Lovell to prescribe him anti-psychotics to help stabilise his mood.
Mr Lovell said: “I thought he had improved quite a lot. The chaotic behaviour that we saw before going to hospital had reduced massively. He was expressing goals and what he wanted for his life.
“I went to see him and his mental state was good. There was no evidence of acute mental illness when I saw him. He didn’t want to die. He expressed worry that when he does have these moments that he might go too far. He was discussing what he wanted to do for the future.”
Mrs Edwards said her son’s positive outlook must have been due to mania, but his psychiatrist said he did not have the necessary symptoms.
Handing down a conclusion of a drugs-related death, Mr Wilson said: “In my view, there was a fatal level of cocaine in his system in the hours prior to his death, but not inevitably so.
“There is insufficient evidence for me to determine that Alex intended to take his own life.
“He was someone who had a drug habit sand this could easily have been a cry for help rather than someone seeking to end their life, and again the level of cocaine in my view wouldn’t have automatically have told him that his was going to be an event that led to his death.”
Teenager had history of self harm
Alexander Wesley was born on March 11, 1999, in Kent and moved to the Fylde coast with his mum Jane Edwards and dad Alan Wesley in 2014.
He was put in Burlington Court, a supported housing project for people with complex mental health problems, in December 2017 by the Fylde Housing Team.
He had a history of self harm and suffered from mixed personality disorders and was said by his doctors to be emotionally unstable, though he was not believed to be seriously ill before he died.
The court heard how Mr Wesley had been estranged from his family since March last year and did not want his doctors or staff at Burlington Court to have any involvement with them on his behalf, which they respected.
Addressing Mr Wesley’s parents, Mr Wilson said: “He still was 19 and it’s regrettable that on this occasion he felt that he couldn’t involve you more, because I feel it could have been a protective factor.”
Paul Lumsdon, the interim director of nursing and quality at Lancashire Care, the NHS trust responsible for mental health care across the county, said:
“We express our sincere condolences to Alexander’s family at this very difficult time. In light of the issues that family members have raised and because he was known to mental health services we will undertake a full review of his care to ensure that the support he received was appropriate and meeting his needs.
“As part of this review we will reach out to Alexander’s family to be involved in the process and to ensure the investigation addresses their areas of particular concern. We will also take into consideration the findings of the coroner.”
He said there had been an increase in people going to A&E under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including former legal highs, which “can sometimes make it difficult to assess someone for mental illness”.
He added: “There are conversations on-going to ensure that there is provision in place for people with substance misuse issues as it is a growing concern and challenge for all health professionals.
“We are also working with police and ambulance colleagues on a street triage service called Psynergy [as reported in The Gazette] to ensure individuals receive prompt care accessing the appropriate services in a timely manner.
“Some people with mental health problems, as with the rest of the population, can also abuse drugs and alcohol which can therefore give an extra layer of complexity to their treatment.
"Over recent years, the strength of some drugs such as Marijuana has been greatly increased and what we see as a result of this is a rise in people experiencing their initial psychotic period as a result of drug misuse.”
Blackpool is one of the worst places in the UK for depression.
More than one in seven registered patients in Blackpool have been diagnosed with depression, one of the highest rates in England.
Public Health England data shows that, between April 2017 and March 2018, the proportion of patients in the local authority with depression was 15.4 per cent, up from 10.7 per cent in 2013/14.
At the same time in Blackpool, the percentage of patients being diagnosed with the mental health condition increased from 1.9 per cent to 2.5.
SUICIDE IN THE UK
According to the Samaritans mental health charity, men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women.
In 2017 there were 6,213 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
However, there has been a significant decrease in male suicides, with 2017 providing the lowest rates in 30 years, while female suicide rates have remained roughly the same.
Still, suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 in the UK and is the leading cause of death for men under 50.
The Mental Health Foundation said: “One reason that men are more likely to complete suicide may be because they are less likely than women to ask for help or talk about depressive or suicidal feelings.”
Only 27 per cent of people who died by suicide between 2005 and 2015 had been in contact with mental health services in the year before they died.
SUICIDE HAS FALLEN IN BLACKPOOL
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics in September 2018 showed the suicide rate in Blackpool had dropped over the last three years, reflecting lower rates across the country.
There were 51 suicides in Blackpool between 2015 and 2017, at a rate of 14 deaths per 100,000 people.
Between 2012 and 2014, there were 17 suicides registered per 100,000 people.
The rate over the last three years was lower than that across the North West as a whole, where 10.4 suicides were registered per 100,000 people. Last year, there were 16 suicides in Blackpool, the lowest number recorded since 2011.
The charity Samaritans said that “one death by suicide is still one too many”.
Gary Tallett, 21, died on January 29, 2017, after taking a large number of pills in a ‘cry for help’.
The young dad suffered a brain injury after taking a large number of pills at his parents’ St Davies Road home in St Annes on January 26.
At his inquest in June 2017, coroner Alan Wilson revealed that the Mr Tallett, of Hesketh Avenue, Preston, had a history of mental illness, and had survived a previous overdose in 2016.
Two days before taking the beta blocker pills, which belonged to his father, Mr Tallett had been arrested for breaching the peace outside his girlfriend’s house.
He texted her indicating his intentions to take the pills, before texting “What have I done?”.
He also sent an online message to his mother Veronica telling her he had taken an overdose. She returned home and called an ambulance.
Mrs Tallet said: “After reading his text messages I think it was a cry for help. I still believe that if the ambulance had arrived sooner with the relevant equipment my son would still be here today.”
Blackpool businessman Robert Stevens, 51, took his own life at his Clifton Drive home on May 13 2018 just a few days after being discharged from Blackpool Victoria Hospital.
He was found on his bed by his friend, David Jones, whom he lived with.
At an inquest at Blackpool Town Hall in November, coroner Claire Doherty heard how Mr Stevens had been suffering from poor health for around a year.
Handing down a conclusion of suicide, she said: “There was evidence that he was very worried about his health. Despite the efforts of his friends, these worries still hung over him, and I think they have played a part on his actions.”
Paul Corlett, 49, was a soldier for 24 years and served in the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan, and was awarded medals for his dedication.
But he was haunted by his memories of war, and was found hanged in his back garden on June 28 2018.
A suicide note, written by Mr Corlett, was left in his kitchen at the Falkland Avenue home.
He did not seek any professional help before taking his life.
His partner Sarah Ray said: “He was a complete closed book. He’d say certain things, like he wasn’t getting enough sleep, but I wasn’t ever alarmed. He kept it to himself. He didn’t divulge anything. “
Morgan Murray, 17, from Fleetwood, took a fatal overdose in a desperate cry for help last year.
The teenager, who her family said had ‘a heart of pure gold’, died on July 22 of bronchial pneumonia caused by brain damage due to an overdose of prescribed anti-depressants and beta blocker tablets, which she had taken at her home five days earlier.
At her inquest at Blackpool Town Hall, coroner Alan Wilson heard how she had suffered from depression and anxiety from an early age and had a history of self harm.
He said: “This seems to be a cry for help rather than an intention to end her life.”
Blackpool dad Trevor Wooding, 45, died of blood loss after cutting his arms in what his inquest heard may have been a ‘cry for help’.
A neighbour had heard three knocks from the former factory worker’s Central Drive flat - a sign he was seeking help - before he was found dead on August 18 2014.
The court heard that he suffered from problems with alcohol and depression and had been referred to the local mental health team.
Coroner Alan Wilson said Mr Wooding’s actions were “suggestive of someone making another cry for help” .
He said Mr Wooding may have regretted harming himself.
Concluding that it was unlikely that Mr Wooding had intended to take his own life, Mr Wilson recorded a narrative verdict which found the blood loss had proved fatal.