Girl found hanged weeks after school self-harm incident, inquest hears
A 14-year-old girl at one of the UK’s top state schools was found hanged weeks after being taken to hospital after a self-harming incident on school premises, an inquest has heard.
The inquest at Barnet coroner’s court heard from expert witnesses that although Elena had experienced panic attacks and collapsed at school in the months before her death, had walked out of a classroom with scissors, and been admitted to hospital for her arm injury, they did not believe her life had been at risk.
Elena was a pupil at a selective girls’ school founded in 1911 by Henrietta Barnett, a pioneer of female education. The school was top of the Sunday Times state school league tables in 2016 and 2017 and is currently in second place. It has 780 pupils.
The inquest heard Elena was receiving counselling from Barnet’s child and adolescent mental health service for an eating disorder and self-harming and had been assessed at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead.
Her psychiatrist, Dr Cathy Wainhouse, told the inquest that on the day Elena died she may have hoped she would be discovered before it was too late, but her “dramatic statement” had gone terribly wrong.
The inquest heard that Elena had warned that she may do something “drastic and silly”.
The headteacher, Del Cooke, said that at the time of Elena’s death the school did not have policies on self-harm or missing students but it did have general procedures to deal with the issues and these continued to be applied alongside specific policies that had since been put in place.
Kelly Barry, who was the head of wellbeing at the school at the time but is no longer employed there, said Elena had been asked to see the school counsellor because of concerns about missing meals and feelings of depression, but that she had missed appointments.
Asked whether she had told Elena she could not keep coming to school if she continued to self-harm, Barry told the court: “If Elena self-harmed in school we would ask her parents to come and pick her up.”
Barry said as soon as she became aware of the self-harming it was “non-negotiable” that she would speak to the girl’s parents.
Asked if, with the benefit of hindsight, the school would have done anything differently, Barry said: “There is nothing more we could have done at the time and with the information we had. There was an escalation of concern around eating and self-harm.”
Wainhouse said teeange suicide was rare, but had become less so in recent years.
“Teenage self-harm is very common. I feel that some of her self-harm was driven by friendship groups and social connectiveness.”
The inquest opened in March 2018 but was adjourned for almost a year to allow an expert psychiatrist to assess the care provided to Elena.
The coroner, Andrew Walker, concluded on Wednesday that Elena died as a consequence of a depressive illness.
Her parents, Shyamal and Moushumi, paid tribute to their daughter at the end of the inquest. She dreamed of becoming a doctor and her father said she excelled at music, chess and badminton.
“She was a kind and good-hearted girl,” Shyamal Mondal told the inquest. “We hope any further deaths can be avoided and lessons learned. You will always be in our soul until we meet in the next life.”
Walker said he had explored whether steps could be taken to prevent the higher number of teenage suicides. “What needs to happen is that as a society we need to look at how we treat our young people and ask ourselves some questions, the answers to which may be difficult for us to hear.”
He made recommendations for improved record-keeping for the school and the health agencies involved with Elena’s care.
Cooke said: “As a school, the wellbeing and safeguarding of our students is our top priority and their happiness and welfare are paramount … We have extensive wellbeing initiatives and liaise closely with medical, counselling and other professionals to support our students. It is devastating that, despite those efforts, a much loved and cared for student has been lost.”
• If you’re a young person in the UK who needs to talk to someone about mental health, Childline can be reached on 0800 1111, or by confidential email via its website at childline.org.uk. Young Minds also offers a service atyoungminds.org.uk/find-help. For help outside the UK, see childhelplineinternational.org/child-helplines/child-helpline-network.
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.