Teaching assistant took his own life after mental health battle

A much-loved former classroom assistant took his own life after a battle with his mental health, an inquest has heard.

Plymouth Coroner’s Court heard Neil Gray sadly took his life on May 25, 2019, after multiple visits from the emergency services in the weeks before his death, including a referral to the mental health team after he was taken to Derriford Hospital by ambulance.

The inquest heard the 48-year-old had suffered with his mental health for many years, including anxiety and depression and as a result was prescribed a number of medications and treatments.

Neil had been allocated a social worker from Livewell Southwest in 2017 and had been detained under the Mental Health Act on two separate occasions.

He had most recently been discharged from Livewell Southwest’s Glenbourne Unit in November 2018 after being detained in May 2018.

Neil had also been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism.

In the lead up to his death, Neil had developed pain in his shoulder, neck and jaw, believed to be tardive dyskinesia, as well as tics [Tourette Syndrome], which were said to have made Neil more anxious.

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Coroner Ian Arrow, for Plymouth, Torbay and South Devon, held the inquest remotely but family members attended the site.

Detective Constable Thomas Northmore told the inquest the days leading up to his death were “particularly difficult” and that Neil’s parents were “at breaking point”.

They were due to leave for two nights respite on May 24.

They cut their stay short to one night and when Neil was informed they would be going away he was said to be un-phased by the news and made plans with his friends.

At about 4am on May 25, Neil attempted to contact his mother’s phone but due to the time, she did not see the call.

DC Northmore explained that Neil’s “last movements were completely captured by CCTV” as well as being witnessed by a member of staff from Tamar Crossings.

At 6.22am, Neil was seen to “walk onto the pedestrian cantilever on the Plymouth side towards Saltash” and was reported to be walking slowly. DC Northmore explained that footage showed that he “bumped into a bin and stumbled”.

At 6.26am, Neil is seen to “climb over the railing” and edge out of site. CCTV then captured him falling off the bridge.

Police, the fire service and paramedics all attended the scene and recovered Neil’s body, but he was sadly pronounced deceased at the scene.

DC Northmore confirmed: “CCTV and witness accounts confirm there are no suspicious circumstances and no third party involvement.”

He said that as there was “no note left” he could “not be sure what his intentions were,” but added that “previous occasions showed he did have suicidal idealisations”.

DC Northmore told the inquest that Neil’s family had “expressed concerns of care of mental health services” but that the concerns fell out of police remit.

Neil Gray
(Image: submitted)

One of these concerns, which was heard by the inquest, was how long it took for the mental health team to him as a patient in Derriford Hospital’s emergency department.

It was also heard that Neil had walked out of Derriford Hospital in the days before his death, before being seen by the liaison team, resulting in police being called and a missing persons report filed.

The inquest heard Lisa Gimingham, from Livewell Southwest, had been tasked with improving the service. She revealed that several changes have now been put in place since Neil’s death.

This includes where someone “presents with a primarily mental health problem” can skip the need to see a doctor on arrival and be immediately referred to the mental health team after triage.

She explained: “Sometimes t[…] there regularly is a wait, but at that point it is now possible for someone to be referred to the liaison team”.

Another change put in place is to what happens to those who leave the department prior to being seen by the mental health team.

While the GP has always been informed, there is now a follow-up phone call with the patient to “find out how they are” and get “feedback of why they left”.

Livewell Southwest has also “worked really closely with Derriford to improve those pathways”, Lisa said.

Summing up the inquest, Mr Arrow explained: “He received many different medications. He also received electroconvulsive treatment [ECT]. He reacted adversely to some of these treatments. This increased his anxiety. Changes in his social arrangements had an effect.

“He found changes from a structured lifestyle difficult to manage. Particularly changes in his employment voluntary work and accommodation.

“He suffered pain and anxiety from involuntary actions, tics and squawks. His parents had planned to go away, the rest of the night on May 24, 2019. In the early hours of May 25, he visited the Tamar Bridge, a place he had visited before.

“On the balance of probability, he had capacity and intentionally climbed fencing on the bridge, with the intention of ending his own life.

“He left the bridge structure from a heart and died as a result of the injuries he incurred.”

Mr Arrow recorded a conclusion of suicide.

He offered condolences to Neil’s family and loved ones.

A spokesperson for Livewell Southwest said: “We would like to share our deepest sympathies with Neil’s family, friends, and loved ones for their loss at this difficult time.

“We support the outcome of the inquest today and made a clear commitment to fully supporting the coroner and this process.”

Tributes to the ‘most loving’ brother

Neil Gray
(Image: submitted)

Neil’s sister, Kirsty, previously paid tribute to the her brother and described a man who lived life to the full, entertaining and helping others.

She told Plymouth Live: “My brother Neil was the most caring and loving brother and son who always put others first.

He lived life to the full with a passion for music and he was a wonderful DJ and a music quiz genius.

“He worked in schools as a Teaching Assistant and enjoyed creating games for children and entertaining them and seeing them laugh and enjoy their playtime.

“Neil enjoyed the theatre and his smile could light up the stage. He can now finally enjoy his music again with the angels. Love you and miss you always.”

Advice and support for those in need

Talk to someone.

There are useful helplines and websites available now.

Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at jo@samaritans.org.

Childline (0800 1111) runs a helpline for children and young people in the UK. Calls are free and the number won’t show up on your phone bill.

PAPYRUS (0800 068 41 41) is a voluntary organisation supporting teenagers and young adults.

Depression Alliance is a charity for people with depression. It doesn’t have a helpline, but offers a wide range of useful resources and links to other relevant information. http://www.depressionalliance.org/

Students Against Depression is a website for students who are depressed, have a low mood or are having suicidal thoughts. Bullying UK is a website for both children and adults affected by bullying. http://studentsagainstdepression.org/

The Sanctuary (0300 003 7029) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year, for people who are struggling to cope – experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks or in crisis.

Andy’s Man Club now has four groups across Devon (Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Torbay, Exeter). It provides men with a safe, non-judgemental, confidential place to chat and get stuff off your chest. To gain access during lockdown, any man over 18 can email info@andysmanclub.co.uk.

Plymouth Live