The family of a 24-year-old man who died days after being sectioned have demanded information about his final hours – amid growing concern about the number of black men dying in custody.
Jonathan Andel Malia, an otherwise-healthy father-of-one from Bartley Green, Birmingham, voluntarily attended hospital on 4 January after struggling with depression. He was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and transferred to two further hospitals before suddenly collapsing two weeks later at the Cygnet Hospital in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
Initial reports from the coroner suggest he died from a "massive pulmonary embolism" on 17 January. But his family say they want to know exact details of his drug treatment and whether any restraining techniques were used in the run-up to his death. Their calls come at a time of increasing concern about how black and ethnic minority patients suffering from mental-health issues are treated by the authorities, following a string of deaths in police custody and hospitals.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr Malia's aunt Michelle Fullerton said her family wanted to know how someone who had gone into hospital physically healthy could deteriorate so rapidly.
"We just want to make sure we put an end to this," she said. "He died needlessly. We want answers to come out and recommendations to be made."
Miss Fullerton, the sister of Jonathan's mother who has since been hospitalised over the stress of losing her son, said the family had been left "heart-broken" by his death. She described him as a fit and healthy man who loved playing sport and going to the gym.
"He was such a fun-loving, manageable, intelligent young man," she said. "He was studying to be a sports therapist. It is such a shame all these things happened and he didn't get to fulfil his dreams."
Miss Fullerton said Jonathan had been sectioned once – before shortly after his son was born four years ago. "He'd not been on any medication for a year and a half," she said. "But he saw the symptoms coming back said he wanted help first. I think he thought he'd just get home treatment but instead he was sectioned."
An inquest has been ordered and Cygnet Hospital is awaiting the results of its own internal inquiry. According to Miss Fullerton, Jonathan was moved from Queen Elizabeth to Meadowcroft Psychiatric Unit in the city on the second day of his detention. When his girlfriend Sarah Crawford inquired after him, staff claimed that he was "being aggressive".
On 7 January he was transferred 97 miles to the Chamberlain Ward in Cygnet Hospital, a unit that specialises in treating patients with "an acute episode of mental illness that requires assessment and stabilisation".
Over the course of the next 10 days, Miss Crawford made daily phone calls to find out about his health but was denied access and was told by staff that he was not in a fit state to come to the phone. On 17 January she was told that he had collapsed and had been rushed to the nearby Lister Hospital. He was pronounced dead that day.
In a statement, Cygnet Hospital said it was close to completing a report into Mr Malia's death which would be handed on to the coroner. "Nothing is more important to us than the well-being of those who use our services," the hospital said in a statement. "Whilst we await the final reports we believe that we did all that we could to look after Mr Malia. We have met Mr Malia's family and remain available to speak with them and answer any questions they might have."
Campaigners have long criticised the way hospitals largely investigate themselves following the death of a patient and there is particular concern about the treatment of black and ethnic minority patients suffering mental health episodes. Last year, after years of campaigning for an inquest, a jury found police used unsuitable levels of force to restrain Sean Rigg, a schizophrenic man who died in custody in 2008.
A Cygnet Hospital spokesman said: "We take concerns seriously that there are a disproportionate number of issues regarding members of the African-Caribbean community who enter the mental-health care system. Whilst the level of care that we provide is of the highest standard for everyone, the national statistics demonstrate that close attention needs to be given to this issue."
Mentally ill dying much younger due to neglect
Thousands of people with mental illness are dying prematurely because their physical health is being neglected by the NHS.
Official figures published on Wednesday show the death rate among the 1.5 million people who received treatment in the last year is nearly four times higher than the general population.
The findings, from the most comprehensive analysis of data held by the NHS, expose the chasm that exists between sufferers from physical and mental illnesses. Campaigners said the difference in death rates was "frightening".
The Health and Social Care Information Centre said mortality among mental health service users aged 19 and over was 3.6 times higher than the general population in 2010-11.
The higher overall death rate was also seen in the so-called "lifestyle" diseases of the heart, lungs and digestive system. Deaths from heart disease were two and a half times higher and deaths from respiratory and digestive diseases around four times higher among people with mental illness.
Smoking is common among people with severe mental illness and many also self-medicate with alcohol and drugs such as cannabis. Anti-psychotic drugs prescribed for their illness can cause rapid weight gain. But these side effects are often overlooked or ignored by the NHS.
Simon Lawton Smith, Head of Policy at the Mental Health Foundation said: "This data reveals with frightening clarity the inequalities in health experienced by people with a mental illness, leading to the premature death of thousands of people every year."
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