Author Topic: If we'd known Kate's hidden history of depression she might still be here today  (Read 2056 times)


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If we'd known Kate's hidden history of depression she might still be here today: As the grieving husband of an aristocrat daughter tells of her tragic death, experts warn thousands of mothers are still at risk

    Kate Chetwynd, a mother-of two, committed suicide in 2008
    The 41-year-old had been suffering from post-natal depression
    Her oldest son was two, her youngest boy only nine weeks old

By Rachel Mostyn

Published: 21:58, 12 July 2014 | Updated: 17:17, 13 July 2014

It was early morning on a clear July day when Kate Chetwynd told her husband Tom she was taking their dog Aspen for a walk round the garden.

He offered to accompany his wife but she told him not to worry, and that he should start getting their two boys, William, who was then just two, and their nine-week old baby Alec, ready for the day. ‘I’ll be quick,’ she said.

The weeks before had been fraught a short temper and uncharacteristic tearfulness had led to a diagnosis of post-natal depression.

But now she was on medication everyone hoped Kate, daughter of the late Sir Roderick Stirling, who had been the Queen’s representative in Ross, Cromarty, Skye and Lochalsh, had turned a corner.

The family had gone to stay with friends at their mansion home in Portree Bay, on the Isle of Skye.

Tom recalls: ‘The night before, we’d had dinner and watched TV. Kate seemed exhausted, but it was the calmest I’d seen her in a while.’

But when Kate, 41, had not returned after 20 minutes of her walk, Tom became concerned. ‘The garden was empty and I walked and walked looking for her,’ he says. ‘When the police arrived that afternoon I could hardly believe what I was hearing.’

Aspen had been found wandering alone in the centre of Portree.

Police, search dogs, the coastguard and mountain rescue combed the island and, hours later, Kate’s body was found. She had hanged herself from a bridge in a secluded spot.

To this day, Tom is haunted by his decision not to go with Kate that morning in 2008.

‘Obviously I considered whether it would have happened if I had been there, but the police sergeant advised me never to think about what ifs. Ultimately we have no control over the actions of others.’

His first agonising task was to explain to William that he would not see mummy again.

‘I took him to one side in the garden and said, “Mummy has been ill and has climbed a stairway to heaven.”

‘I remained very calm and said she was with God sitting on a cloud and that although he would not see her again, she could see him all the time.

'He asked a couple of questions and then we went off and played.’

The tragedy made newspaper headlines, and it was later recorded that Kate’s death was suicide, linked to post-natal depression. In the months and years that followed, her bereft family have had to try to make sense of  it all.

Most shockingly, Tom, 44, a chartered surveyor from Forres, Moray, only discovered after his wife’s death that she had been treated  previously for depression before they’d met but had never confided in him.

Patient confidentiality would have meant that if doctors had known, they would not have been able to tell him without her consent either.

‘Perhaps if I had known more about Kate’s background I could have looked out for signs,’ he said.

‘I had no experience of mental health issues and there is such a stigma around them.

‘Kate was only formally diagnosed with post-natal depression four days before her death.

'Only in the last week did she obviously change from the woman I had known to a completely different person, possessed by something else.

‘We did not recognise the signs until they manifested themselves so severely it was too late.’

Post natal depression is actually a fairly common diagnosis among new mothers, affecting an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 women in the UK each year.

A history of mental illness is a key risk factor in developing the condition. While most only suffer for a short time, one in ten go on to develop full blown clinical depression, which is unlikely to improve without treatment.

Most of these cases, too, will resolve within a matter of months, but Professor Louise Howard, head of women’s mental health at King’s College London, explains: ‘Sadly a handful of cases each year are so severe it results in suicide.’

Kate was a Cambridge graduate  in Mandarin who worked as a PR consultant. When first son William was born, recalls Tom, there were simply a couple of days of ‘teary’ baby blues.

But then both Kate and Tom lost their fathers to cancer, her grandmother died and in 2007 Kate suffered an early miscarriage. ‘We were devastated. But we had each other,’ says Tom.


It’s not unusual to feel low from time to time especially after delivering a baby when hormones will fluctuate wildly but if this is happening consistently over a long period, then this could be an indicator of PND.

Bursting into tears for no apparent reason, or over little things, is another sign.

Loss of appetite is another sign. Sometimes sufferers will comfort eat but generally they will go off their food and start skipping meals.

New mothers will feel a strong sense of duty to look after their child, but some will doubt whether they are actually able to and will start to seriously consider whether the child would be better off without them and that someone else would be a better mother.

Difficulties in the relationship with a partner may occur when the mother doesn’t feel any better after confiding in their partner, even if the partner tries to be helpful  and supportive.

As Prof Howard confirms, possible causes of post-natal depression include a bereavement, financial difficulties, or poor social support.

‘There are many factors but stressful events can be a cause, as can anxiety or depression during pregnancy,’ she says.

Kate became pregnant again in 2007, and Alec was born healthy at 38 weeks.

And so followed the usual chaos of life at home with a new born baby and a lively toddler.

‘Those first few weeks were emotional and Kate was certainly teary,’ remembers Tom. ‘She was such a high achiever and wanted to feel in control.

‘We got a maternity nurse in and the tears subsided. We were both tired but fine. Perhaps because she had not suffered it with William, post natal depression wasn’t mentioned.’

Professor Howard warns: ‘It’s a myth to think if it doesn’t happen the first time around, it won’t happen. Post natal depression occurs for a number of reasons and a woman’s situation may be different in different pregnancies.’

Tom says the first time he noticed anything alarming in Kate’s behaviour was about a month later.

‘She told me over dinner that she had snapped at William’s teacher for no reason and then burst into tears in the middle of the nursery.

‘We talked it through and she said it was just tiredness. I told her she should see the GP but she reassured me she was fine.’

The signs of post-natal depression are hugely varied, ranging from low mood and irritability to tiredness, inability to sleep, anxiety and hopelessness.

Looking back Tom says there were other signs too, like the mail being left unopened and Kate worrying about finances.

‘This was not like Kate but I put it down to being busy.’ Over the next four weeks things seemed to go downhill.

‘She became increasingly snappy with me over tiny things like domestic chores. But it was not all the time and outwardly she was happy most of the time.’

In July, Kate decided she needed a break and took the boys from Forres to visit their friends in Portree.

Tom recalls: ‘We thought a couple of nights away would do her good. Yes, she was tired but also very level headed and I wasn’t worried about her driving or anything.’

But that night Tom received a call from the friends saying Kate had talked of being anxious about her abilities as a mother and become inconsolable. Tom arrived next day and took Kate to the local hospital where she was sedated and slept for a few hours.

‘When she came round she was calm and very apologetic. Her main concern was the boys’ welfare,’ says Tom.

Post-natal depression was diagnosed, the drugs fluoxitene and zoplicane prescribed and Kate was discharged.

Tom says: ‘I thought the worse was over as we had started treatment. I never imagined it would end as it did.’

In the months after Kate’s death, Tom says: ‘I was on autopilot, just surviving, but friends and family were incredibly supportive. All I wanted was to be with my boys.’

In time Tom returned to work and slowly, he says, the fog has lifted. There are challenges, like childcare the family have so far had 15 au pairs and then there is the loneliness.

‘As a widowed parent who works full time it can be extremely isolating,’ Tom acknowledges.

He found support in the charity Widowed And Young (WAY) which helps those widowed under 50. ‘It’s hugely helpful to know I’m not alone. When I talk with those recently bereaved I see how far I have come.’

And obviously Tom and the boys, who are now eight and six, are an extremely close team.

‘Mummy is still very much part of our lives. We have a portrait above the fireplace and Alec in particular always introduces her to people.

‘We have a hole in our lives where there should be a wife and mother. Kate is ever-present in whatever we are doing, but we are making the most of life now.’

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Thousands of mothers and babies are at risk of life-threatening psychosis because of a ‘scandalous’ lack of NHS provision, according to the Maternal Mental Health Alliance, a coalition of organisations representing doctors and patient groups.

Last week it launched a campaign to improve treatment and training and awareness that post-natal depression can become a far more severe mental illness.

Barely half the nation’s pregnant women have access to perinatal mental health services such as specialist  mother and baby units, where the vulnerable many of whom are prematurely discharged from hospital after delivery can be referred for treatment.

There is not a single such unit in Wales, Northern Ireland or East Anglia, and at least 60 more units are needed to cope with the thousands at risk.

‘It’s a postcode lottery,’ says campaigner Clare Dolman, who suffered an episode of postpartum psychosis, which in extreme cases can lead sufferers to kill themselves or their child.

‘Even where units exist, women may not know about them, and many of those who do know and ask GPs are denied a referral because NHS commissioners do not want to pay for them.’

NHS watchdog Healthwatch is compiling its own survey into the premature discharge from hospital of women at risk.

Anna Bradley, chairman of Healthwatch England, said: ‘It’s absolutely vital that by the time women leave hospital they know the symptoms and where to find help.’

The Royal College of Psychiatrists last week declared that the current situation is ‘a disgrace’.

‘It is unacceptable that suicide is one of the leading causes of death for women during pregnancy and the year after birth,’ president  Sir Simon Wessely said.