Beautiful’ mum took her own life after questioning ability to be parent, inquest told

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A “bright and beautiful” college lecturer died by suicide after mental illness left her questioning her ability to be a mum, an inquest heard.

Catherine Hennelly, 42, was found hanged at her home after seeking help for bipolar disorder and showing “positive signs of improvement”.

The mum-of-one, who regularly ran 10k races to raise money for charity, had been due to take up a lecturing post at Manchester University when she was found dead on December 11, 2019.

Her then eight-year-old son, who lives with his father, had been due to visit her and that had made her “happy”, the inquest was told.

Miss Hennelly had originally worked as a researcher for Goldman Sachs before joining the staff at Xaverian Roman Catholic sixth form college in Rusholme, Manchester.

She worked as a politics tutor and then also a careers manager at the college for almost 12 years but it is thought she left in August 2019, eight months after being treated in a hospital mental health unit following an overdose and a month after she admitted herself to A&E due to a a further medical episode.

Thomas Walker, a senior social worker assigned to Miss Hennelly, told the hearing that he became her key worker after she attended the A&E of Wythenshawe hospital with thoughts of harming herself in July 2019.

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He said: “The following month I visited her at home to get a mental state examination to monitor her mood thoughts and any concerns.

“She appeared to be in a low mood and was concerned about her ability to be a mum to her son. She spoke about not wanting to live her life anymore, but had no intent to harm herself.

“She wished to continue to engage with the mental health services and comply with her medication. She had some financial issues and I passed the information over to a psychiatrist.”

Mr Walker said he visited Miss Hennelly at home on September 2, 2019 and her mood had “improved” since his last visit and she told him she had a job interview coming up.

He added: “She had thoughts about not wanting to live, but had no intention of harming herself. She said she was suffering from the side effects of her medication.”

The following month, as he arranged a third home visit, Miss Hennelly “described having fleeting suicidal thoughts” and “a difference in her thoughts, saying she was able to push them out of her head and get on with her life.”

Mr Walker added: “It was a more positive indication in respect to her condition.”

Days later, on November 1, 2019, Miss Hennelly attended a psychiatric unit “where she repeated a similar description of how she was thinking but she appeared to be stable”, he said.

Mr Walker said she was discharged and the last contact he had with her was about two weeks before her death.

Another social worker, Sofina Bibi, told the inquest that she visited Miss Hennelly at her home on December 6, 2019.

The college lecturer told of having side effects of her medication, which was making her sleep “more”, the inquest heard.

Ms Bibi added: “She was happy her son was going to visit her at home. She was also about a new job she was due to be starting. She was engaging with me in a positive way.

“I went to see her around one week later on December 12 but there was no answer at the door. A neighbour came around and explained to me she had been found dead by hanging. It was a great shock because she had been so positive one week earlier.”

Stephen Marks, a mental health nurse who led an investigation into the treatment of Miss Hennelly, said she had previously attempted to harm herself in 2017 and 2018, and had been diagnosed with type 2 bipolar effective disorder.

Miss Hennelly “was engaging with the mental health services and was showing positive signs of improvement in her mental health”, he said.

Mr Marks added: “Sadly you can never eliminate the risk of people harming themselves.”

Manchester coroner Nigel Meadows recorded a conclusion of suicide.

He told the hearing: “It is a very sad series of events. I offer my condolences to the family for your loss. Whatever help and assistance can be given, some patients will still go on to kill themselves, because it is impossible to prevent every death.”

Miss Hennelly’s family have raised £1,600 for the mental health charity MIND.

Her sister Claire said: “She was just a bright and beautiful woman, very enthusiastic and very friendly and so open about her illness and her battle.

“She tried very hard to get better but ultimately it was too hard for her.

“She really was held in a high regard everywhere by so many people and only since this happened did we really understand how loved she was by everyone that knew her.”