Man suffering from tinnitus took his own life on walk to ‘build trust’ with wife

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A retired bank manager took his own life while out on a walk with his wife, after he was diagnosed with tinnitus, an inquest heard.

Christopher Wheeler was suffering from anxiety and depression for several months due to changes in his life.

The 56-year-old took his own after he and his wife, Paula, decided to go for a walk to build trust, the hearing was told.

After his death, Mrs Wheeler had raised concerns about an increase in her husband’s antidepressant medication, which was made two days before his death.

In one in 500 people it can lead to an increase in suicidal thoughts, and Mrs Wheeler said she wasn’t told about that risk.

Changes have since been made in the health service to reflect this.

Coroner Stephen Covell said Mr Wheeler retired and took voluntary redundancy from Lloyds Bank in 2015. He then worked for a short time as a driver for BMW, but fully retired when he was 55.

Mr Covell said initially retirement went well and Mr Wheeler was able to go golfing and walking and the couple had a good social circle.

However, problems arose in 2019 when Mr Wheeler was diagnosed with tinnitus. His illness started getting “significantly worse” and was affecting his sleep.

He underwent a treatment which made his tinnitus worse. As a result he was prescribed sleeping tablets, but he became anxious, agitated and lost weight.

Mr Covell said Mr Wheeler, from Perranwell Station, Truro, didn’t like being at home on his own and his wife took time off work to look after him.

Mr Covell said: “In January 2020 Chris reacted badly at the thought of Paula going back to work and she had to be signed off to be at home and support him.”

Mr Wheeler then started to make progress, so his wife felt she was able to leave him temporarily to play badminton with friends.

However, he later turned up at the badminton club.

At first she thought this was a good sign that he wanted to socialise, but he had actually come to tell her he had taken a drug overdose.

What followed was an admission to Royal Cornwall Hospital, and Mr Wheeler was assessed by the psychiatric liaison team.

He was discharged and prescribed different antidepressant medication and things started to improve over the next two weeks, so Mrs Wheeler felt able to leave him at home on his own, the hearing was told.

But he was later admitted to Royal Cornwall Hospital again following an overdose and the home treatment team became involved from March 2020, right up to the day Mr Wheeler died.

Mr Covell said: “He (Chris) started to worry about a number of matters, his feet, his finances, and prior to his illness he had been a calm, confident and capable man, but he certainly wasn’t the same man anymore.”

Mr Covell added: “The initial assessment by the home treatment team was that he was struggling with tinnitus, missing his sons who had moved away, feeling a burden and he was retired.

“There were some emerging memories of childhood trauma, he was also worrying about being bullied at work before his retirement and simply feeling a failure.”

In a conversation with his wife, Mr Wheeler expressed plans for the end of lockdown, which was positive.

At lunchtime on March 25 2020, the couple decided to go for a walk to build-up trust. The idea had been suggested to them by the home treatment team, so she could spend more time away from him or him away from her.

Mr Covell said: “The idea was to go for a walk in different directions but meet up at an agreed place after 10 minutes.”

Mr Wheeler was keen to participate in the walk and had a tracker installed on his phone.

Mr Covell said: “The plan was for Chris to ring 10 minutes after they split up. He didn’t ring.”

Mrs Wheeler was eventually able to get hold of him but he was being vague about where he was. She waited for him to arrive at the appointed place, but he didn’t.

Mrs Wheeler returned home, but Mr Wheeler had taken his normal shoes and the car was missing. She contacted the home treatment team and the police, before finding a note he had left for her.

Mr Covell said it was “an indication he had the intention to take his own life, apologising for doing so, and thanking her for being with him”.

Police received a call at 8.53pm that evening informing them that a driver had found a body on the road beside a bridge near Penryn, identified as Mr Wheeler.

Mr Covell concluded that Mr Wheeler intentionally took his own life.

During the inquest, Mr Covell addressed an issue raised by Mrs Wheeler about the home treatment team.

Two days before his death, Mr Wheeler’s support team made the decision to increase his antidepressant medication, which can, in rare circumstances, increase suicidal thoughts.

Mrs Wheeler said she wasn’t informed about this possibility, and that if she had known, she might not have agreed to go on a ‘trust walk’ with him prior to his death.

Mr Covell said the issue had resulted in a serious incident review by Cornwall Partnership Foundation Trust (CPFT) and said that information has been shared very wildly within the trust.

Family members are now being told about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts following an increase in medication, which happens in roughly one in 500 people.

Mr Covell said it’s something family members will “want to know about” and is important to “how they assess risks”.

Mrs Wheeler has since set up a fundraiser in memory of Christopher Wheeler for the British Tinnitus Association.

She said: “Having witnessed first hand the devastating effect tinnitus had on Chris’s life we wanted to raise money for tinnitus research in the hope a cure can be found and other families don’t have to suffer the pain and heartache we are. Thank you for donating.”