A PhD student who believed she was responsible for the Covid-19 outbreak died after jumping from a bridge into a river just half-an-hour after being discharged from a hospital stay for her mental health, an inquest into her death heard.
Emily Miller, 23, from Stockport, had serious mental health problems including psychosis – becoming “fixated” on the coronavirus and believing that her own blood could cure the virus.
The academically gifted post-graduate was studying at York University, and had been sectioned several times between March 2019 and October 2020 due to ongoing psychological problems including an emotionally unstable personality disorder, depression and anxiety.
The sections came after near lifelong struggles with mental health, with Emily first being referred to mental health teams for anxiety at the age of 10.
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Emily was last admitted to psychiatric Foss Park Hospital in York on October 27, when she was sectioned after threatening to jump from a bridge near York University before being coaxed down by police.
But, three days later, Emily received the news that she would be discharged.
At around 11.20am on October 30, following a discharge meeting with her mental-health team, Emily was let back into the community and left the hospital.
She had been “hostile and angry” at the meeting because she did not want to be discharged, heard the inquest at the Old Courthouse in Northallerton on Tuesday, August 24.
Approximately half an hour later, just after midday, witnesses saw a young woman dressed in dark clothes jump into a fast-flowing river from a bridge known as a tourist hotspot in York.
Tourists and day-trippers told the inquest they could see only Emily’s head above the water before she disappeared downriver.
“She wasn’t making any attempt to get to the other side of the river,” said one witness.
Another added that Emily “did not seem to be panicked at all” by the strong current.
Tragically, Emily was found four weeks later by a boatman at Naburn Lock, near the marina, who called police and the body was confirmed to be that of the student.
Among the medics who gave evidence at the inquest, Dr Anne Hook said that Emily had often talked of committing suicide in the past – and thought she was to blame for the coronavirus.
Dr Hook said Emily was deeply troubled by the Covid-19 pandemic and “worried the scientists would read her thoughts”.
Emily had also been “reporting messages on the radio where she worked” and “disclosed she was keeping some of her blood to cure the virus,” added the doctor.
Emily would “take herself to bridges at times” and had “these fixed ideas about the virus”. She was “very distressed” when she left the hospital wards, continued Dr Hook.
Don’t suffer in silence
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Mind 0300 123 3393 Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm) promotes the views and needs of people with mental health problems. Visit www.mind.org.uk
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SANE (0300 304 7000) Emotional support, information and guidance for people affected by mental illness, their families and carers, daily, 4.30pm to 10.30pm. Visit www.sane.org.uk/support
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Matthew Houghton, a nurse consultant at the psychiatric hospital, said that when Emily was first admitted in March 2020, at the start of the Covid outbreak, she was “quite frightened and scared”.
She had been seeing a psychiatrist and an occupational therapist before being discharged in April last year, only to be re-admitted in May. She was discharged again a week later – part of a pattern of short-term admissions in the run-up to her death.
Although Emily’s fears around the coronavirus “seemed to be wavering”, after a negative Covid swab she “just broke down in tears”.
Emily was “quasi psychotic” and “very anxious” about starting a new job, but had a masters degree from university and was described as “very bright”.
The nurse then told of Emily’s reaction to the news that she was being discharged, saying she was “unhappy” at the discharge meeting on October 30 and refused to take her medication with her, saying she had plenty at home.
“I think she was unhappy to be leaving [the hospital],” said Mr Houghton.
“She was quite angry with the decision [to discharge her].”
Ewan Murray, a maths teacher and friend of Emily’s, said she would often self-harm and which led to bleeding. She would keep the blood in a syringe which she otherwise used for her plants, heard the court.
The last time Ewan contacted Emily was on October 24, three days before her death, but she did not respond to his messages.
On October 26, Emily was also supposed to join Mr Murray and others on a Zoom meeting, but did not attend.
Mr Murray attended Emily’s home in Tang Hall Lane, only finding a “note to her therapist” and some messages from a support worker, with no sign of Emily.
Notes Emily had jotted down during therapy sessions were also found at her home, including annotations in the margin in which she wrote “I’ll kill myself.”
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Mental health nurse Alison McGrath said she was “concerned” at “how somebody could leave a hospital ward and end up in a river in such a short space of time” but added that Emily had received good care.
She said Emily’s mental-health problems were “very complex” and that there were “advantages and disadvantages” to her staying in hospital.
“The steps that were taken at that time were right, although no-one expected this outcome,” added Ms McGrath.
Assistant coroner Jonathan Leach said Emily had a “loving and supporting family who were unaware of the extent of Emily’s mental health issues because she had chosen not to share it with them”.
A pathologist gave the cause of death as drowning, with the coroner recording a conclusion of suicide.