Autistic teen kills herself after she was locked in a psychiatric care unit for mentally ill as parents blame the facility for lack of support
An inquest into the death of 19-year-old Sophie Bennett heard of how the poor care she received at a privately-run psychiatric unit may have been responsible for her suicide
An autistic teenage girl killed herself in the bathroom of a residential care unit which aimed at helping psychiatric patients return to a normal life but the place was severely mismanaged and had employed unqualified staff, an inquest into the 2016 death heard.
According to Daily Mail, 19-year-old Sophie Bennett took her life in the bathroom of the Lancaster Lodge in Richmond, Southwest London, in May 2016, and her parents, Ben and Nickie Bennett, believe that the teen's life could have been saved if she had received better care.
Bennett was as talented as they come. She was a competitive swimmer who was also gifted at art and music and had thrived in primary school. But she also had underlying issues. She had autism, which would together spark severe stress, anxiety, and depression as she moved from primary to secondary school. Her inability to fit in with her peers at secondary school despite having many friends in primary then saw her develop an eating disorder and go through significant weight loss, the inquiry heard. She eventually started self-harming and was then diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but her parents still say autism was the root cause of the trouble.
"She became very paranoid that people did not like her, although she had great friends from primary school," Nickie said. "She was never very confident. She would come home very upset and not want to go to school."
Sophie attempted to take her life on two separate occasions prior to her fatal 2016 one and was put into the care of mental health services. Her condition only deteriorated from that point onwards but Nickie and Ben both told the inquest they had no problems with how her initial care was handled. However, when it came to the residential care unit, the story was different.
The 19-year-old was sectioned in specialist private psychiatric units intermittently for four years before her death, and the living conditions of the Lancaster Lodge, where she took her life, were far from conducive recovery environment. It was claimed that Sophie's mental health became worse after she was admitted to the charity-run Lancaster Lodge because it was run like a "boot camp." It was detailed how the Lodge cut trusted therapists and employed unqualified staff, and how at least one other patient had previously attempted suicide while in residence.
"When she was inside units we were totally distraught she was there, and when she came home we could not manage her feelings of self-hate," Nickie said. "She thought she was a terrible person but she was the kindest, gentlest girl you could know."
A friend and fellow patient Clarissa Jeffrey is said to have told the coroner that the changes seemed to be prompted by a drive to save money rather than help those at the house and that it felt as if "the residents were running the house."
The concern over the welfare of those at the Lodge had grown to a point where health watchdogs paid the residence a visit and patients were being moved out to other units. At the time of the 19-year-old's death — she was rushed to the Kingston Hospital for treatment after her suicide attempt but would pass away two days later — just one other patient lived at the home.
"I ask myself all the time why did this happen?" the mother told the Mail. "If she had not gone into hospital, would we have ended up here? Adolescent psychiatric wards are full of very troubled people and there are problems with learned behavior for girls like Sophie." The inquest is set to continue for another week and will determine if her living conditions at the Lancaster Lodge played a role in her taking her life.