Harriet Rowlands inquest: 'Lessons to be learned' from death of 'generous, luminous and loyal friend'

Harriet Rowlands inquest: 'Lessons to be learned' from death of 'generous, luminous and loyal friend'

Harriet Rowlands inquest: 'Lessons to be learned' from death of 'generous, luminous and loyal friend'

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St Albans & Harpenden Review: Photograph of the Author by , Senior Reporter

A 60-year-old "beloved" mother and wife who was a St Albans drama teacher took her own life after suffering with a severe depressive illness, an inquest heard.

Harriet Rowlands, late wife of St Albans district councillor Anthony Rowlands, was found hanging at her Beaumont Avenue house on January 7.

She was discovered by her cleaner, who attempted to resuscitate her and later a handwritten note, was found in the kitchen with the message ‘sorry x’.

The mother-of-two, who taught English and was Head of Drama at Beaumont School for 12 years until her retirement in 2013, had suffered with a ‘brief and unexpected’ severe depressive illness since July 2013, Hertfordshire Coroners’ Court heard today.

Speaking to Mrs Rowlands’ family and friend’s coroner Edward Thomas said: "Clearly Harriet was a very talented teacher.

"She had a great affection for her family and it was clear how deeply loved she was and this was reciprocated.

"She has been described as a strong, balanced, resilient person who was artistic and talented. She was somebody who was afflicted by a severe mental illness."

During evidence from psychiatrist Dr Mani Sairam the court heard that there had never been any indication that Mrs Rowlands suffered with mental illness until the latter part of July last year.

Mrs Rowlands was transferred to Albany Lodge, a psychiatric unit based in St Albans, in August 2013 and after discharge she was in regular contact with a Crisis Assessment and Treatment (CAT) team.

Speaking about a meeting with Mrs Rowlands in September last year Dr Sairam said: "Harriet had recovered from the illness, she was mentally stable.

"She had a severe depressive illness with psychotic features."

He continued that Mrs Rowlands’ depression did not stem from a "reaction to life circumstances" but it was a psychiatric illness.

The court heard that Mrs Rowlands’ mental health began to deteriorate again between October and January, which was caused by anxiety and agitation.

Mrs Rowlands was unable to drive for a short period because of her medication intake, which the court heard, made her increasingly anxious. Concerns of Mrs Rowlands’ not taking all her medication, which could cause side effects such as anxiety, were also discussed during the hearing.

Community psychiatric nurse Marvellous Maseko, who visited Mrs Rowlands at home, said she spoke of "fleeting thoughts of self harm" during a phone conversation in early January. 

Family concerns about Mrs Rowlands' visit to A&E at Watford General Hospital in August were also heard.

Mr Thomas explained: "There were obviously concerns of the family because of the bustle and activity that goes on in an A&E.

"Actually that can accentuate the anxiety and difficulties."

Due to a delay of a CAT team, lack of rooms aside for psychiatric assessments and a Rapid Assessment Interface Discharge (RAID) team, who had left by 9pm the RAID team will now be available until midnight three days a week.

Post mortem results showed Mrs Rowlands died of asphyxia.

Mr Thomas concluded: "The fact that she was so deeply respected by people is shown by the presence of her family and friends who have come along today- that is a tribute to her.

"This is a lady who was very well respected, planned her retirement sensibly and had good family support. Her family loved her and she loved them.

"She had symptoms of a severe depressive disorder that would have been incredibly frightening for her and her family.

"Harriet took her own life while suffering with a severe depressive illness. She wasn’t reacting to circumstances, it was an illness."

Mrs Rowlands was the daughter of the late Professor Alick Isaacs, eminent virologist who discovered Interferon, and the late Dr Susanna Isaacs-Elmhirst, consultant in child psychiatry and psychoanalyst.

After attending North London Collegiate School, she studied English and Music at York University and dance at the Laban Studio before qualifying as a secondary school teacher at the Institute of Education, London.

As well as teaching at Beaumont School, in Oakwood Drive, Mrs Rowlands was head of drama at Loreto College in St Albans and Kings Langley School.

She was a longstanding member of the Company of Ten drama group and after retirement worked as a volunteer steward at the Globe Theatre and had also begun to help at a local Primary School. 

She leaves behind her two grown-up children Alice and Sam.

Councillor Rowlands paid tribute to a "beloved" mother and wife.

He said: "Countless people in St Albans and beyond lost a generous, luminous and loyal friend. Former students lost a teacher who had motivated and inspired them.

"Harriet suffered a brief, wholly unexpected and cruel illness. Her experience reminds us of the fragility which can lie with us all.

"My family are deeply grateful for the affection, understanding and practical support we have received from so many people. This continues to sustain us through our shock and bewilderment.

"We will continue to work with the local mental health services to identify the lessons to be learned from how Harriet was treated during her short and tragic illness. We understand, as well, that so much remains to be done at a national level to improve mental health provisions."

Mrs Rowlands’ family have organised a celebration of her teaching career and creative interests, with an afternoon of theatre, music, dance and literature readings, to be held at Beaumont School on Sunday, July 6 from 2.30pm.

To find out more visit: http://arowlands2.wix.com/rowlandsfamily

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