Cambridge University PhD student killed himself after 'falling apart' due to stress, inquest hears

Cambridge University PhD student killed himself after 'falling apart' due to stress, inquest hears

James O'Shea, 22, was found dead at Darwin College on January 20 after taking his own life. He is seen here in an undated photo A Cambridge

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James O'Shea, 22, was found dead at Darwin College on January 20 after taking his own life. He is seen here in an undated photo

James O’Shea, 22, was found dead at Darwin College on January 20 after taking his own life. He is seen here in an undated photo 

A Cambridge University PhD student killed himself at his halls of residence after ‘falling apart’ due to stress, an inquest heard today.

James O’Shea, 22, returned home to live with his mother in the summer of 2017 after finishing a masters degree at Bristol University, where he told doctors about feeling ‘depressed and increasingly low’.

Deferring his place at Cambridge until January 2018, he visited the local GP four times to speak about his struggles with mental health and was prescribed the anti-depressant Citalopram before being asked to return 14 days later.

However, the inquest heard his surgery did not see him again until October when Mr O’Shea’s mother, Kate O’Shea’, was concerned he might try to take his own life.

Mr O’Shea also shared that he wished to die and was seriously contemplating ‘jumping off a cliff’ and ‘wrote notes’ to family members.

However, his inquest heard he would often hide how he was truly feeling to NHS staff and a private counsellor he was speaking to online.

Mrs O’Shea said: ‘James was terrified of being sectioned. He made a good face to people.

‘He would pour his heart out to me and then would come back and say that ‘I’m alright now.

‘He had seen his uncle in a mental home and it had a big impact on him, he was really disturbed.’

Mr O’Shea took up his place at Darwin College in Cambridge in January 2018, and was found dead on the 20th of that month. 

His mother said he had been ‘falling apart’ due to the stress of his studies.

At the inquest, Bursar of Darwin College, Cambridge John Dix, was asked by the coroner ”are we seeing a lot of suicides?’ [at universities].

Dix replied saying: ‘It’s a suicide epidemic’.

Mr O’Shea has been diagnosed with low level Asperger’s as a child, the inquest was told.

Online counsellor from Action For Asperger’s, Ryan Tebbit, said that in the 11 sessions he spent talking to the student he ‘engaged well.’

‘He looked for answers and knew it could be tough when looking into yourself,’ Mr Tebbit said.

‘James was committed to working hard and I felt that we worked well and had a mutual respect and trust. I had no concerns he might kill himself.

‘He found social interactions very hard, he thought that there was a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things and he was ashamed when he did things wrong.’

Mr O’Shea did not disclose to Bristol University in his four years of study that he had been diagnosed with Asperger’s.

The talented student ‘loved’ his family and work but felt he was ‘a social failure’, the inquest heard.

David O'Shea

Kate O'Shea

Mr O’Shea’s parents, David and Kate, arriving at the Coroner’s Court today in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. F or confidential support visit Samaritans.org or phone 116 123 

The court was told police had found a handwritten note Mr O’Shea had written before his death.

Speaking at the inquest today, his father David O’Shea told the court how he could see his ‘wellbeing’ deteriorating during the time he was finishing his masters. 

David, who is divorced from his former wife, said: ‘James lived most of his time in Cornwall with his mother. He visited with his sister.

‘In 2017 it was clear his wellbeing was deteriorating. I thought it was stress. He told me he stayed in the library till 11pm. I’d call and he was in the library.’

Mrs O’Shea also told the court that it was clear James was ‘burned out’ when he returned from Bristol. 

She said: ‘He was seeking support. He spoke to GPs in the hope of getting some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

‘He was prescribed Citalopram, he took it sporadically. He grew more suicidal and we think he took an attempt on his life.

‘It became clear as he took Citalopram he became more demotivated and eventually took his own life.’

Citalopram is a type of antidepressant often used to treat depression and also sometimes for panic attacks. Citalopram helps many people recover from depression.

Mrs O’Shea added: ‘We had every hope that he would flourish at Bristol University. He needed to connect with other palaeontologists and struggled without them.

‘He was a joy to be around, but never understood his gift. His dissertation was ground breaking and he had incredible comic timing.’

His father David also told the court that Mr O’Shea was anxious about telling his classmates that he had Asperger’s.

He added: ‘He was anxious about telling friends about him having Asperger’s unless they treated him differently.’

 David had arranged to meet his son on the January 20.

He said: ‘I arrived [at the Cambridge halls of residence – Darwin College] at 12.45pm and did not reply to my telephone calls or ringing on his flat door.

‘I decided to wait, at some point between 2-3pm someone he lived with took me to the porter and we opened the door using the spare key.

‘That was when I found James face down in the wardrobe.’ 

The inquest confirmed that Mr O’Shea had taken his own life and that there was no third party involvement. 

For confidential support visit Samaritans.org or phone 116 123.

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