Genevieve Butler committed suicide while in hospital. Her parents talk to Jonathan Owen about her descent into mental illness

Born into a comfortable background, Genevieve Butler, the eldest daughter of Lord and Lady Dunboyne, had the world at her feet, or so it seemed.

"She was clever, bright and quick-witted," said her mother, "very much in charge of her younger siblings, the ringleader of everything. The four of them used to have amazing day-long games. Genevieve was a very strong character, but also had great generosity of spirit. She once said that she felt happiest when the whole family were in the car together about to go off on holid'ay somewhere."

After an idyllic childhood in Rotherfield, Sussex, Genevieve took an honours degree in economics and philosophy at Bristol University.

But then, said her family, she was diagnosed with cannabis-induced paranoia. It was the start of an eight-year descent into mental illness that ended in her death.

Speaking for the first time about her daughter's illness and subsequent suicide, Lady Dunboyne said: "In a way we had been mourning the Genevieve we knew for about eight years [before she died]. When I first knew she was ill, just as she was leaving university, I felt terrible. I knew nothing would ever be the same again."

Genevieve's story highlights themes all too familiar to readers of this newspaper's award-winning mental health campaign – the side-effects of medication, violent psychiatric wards, funding cuts and lack of staff.

Suffering from bipolar disorder, she had been sectioned several times and spent eight months at Gordon Hospital in Victoria, central London, in 2004 – an experience that "nearly destroyed her", according to her mother. "The medication she was on was just not working and they just kept on upping the doses." With their daughter suffering side-effects such as skin lesions and weight gain, as well as being violently assaulted by a male patient, Lord and Lady Dunboyne sought a fresh medical opinion. They managed to get her medication changed and within 10 days she was back at home. A few months later, she started to relapse, and on Thursday 26 April 2006 she was taken by ambulance to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital after taking an overdose of paracetamol.

An inquest held last week heard how Genevieve was not seen by a psychiatrist – despite being placed under one-to-one observation by nurses. Instead, a junior member of the Central and North West London Mental Health Trust's crisis resolution team decided she should go home for the weekend.

"I was terrified," Lady Dunboyne recalls. "They had Genevieve under special observation. Yet they expected me to cover for them when she clearly needed to be admitted. But going back to the Gordon Hospital was simply not an option. She'd have given up completely."

On Friday 27 April, while being taken across a fourth-floor walkway to have a cigarette outside before going home, Genevieve clambered over the side and jumped to her death.

"There were lots of people there," remembers Lady Dunboyne, "trying to keep onlookers away, and I could see Genevieve slumped on the floor. There was a chair nearby and I just collapsed into it." Genevieve died of her injuries a few hours later. She was 28. Genevieve was the third psychiatric patient to have jumped to their death from the walkway in recent years.

The coroner is sending a series of recommendations to the hospital trusts involved in her care. The family hope the coroner will make "strong recommendations that will be rapidly implemented so vulnerable mental patients receive better care in future; then some good will have come from Genevieve's death."

Mental Health Campaign

What we are demanding:

The 'IoS' continues to campaign for better mental health services. Mentally ill people should have access to treatment when they need it, be able to make decisions about their care, and have the right to refuse treatment. They should not be detained unless for their own benefit or after committing a crime.

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