A ‘dearly loved’ A Level student, who struggled with his mental health during the pandemic, took his own life, an inquest heard. Lucas Anthony Backhouse, 18, died at home in Lancashire on October 16 last year, LancsLive reports.
Staff at Cardinal Newman College, where he had been studying for A levels, had not been made aware of his mental health issues. An inquest at Preston Coroner’s Court on Tuesday heard how Lucas, of Richardson Avenue in Garstang, had got nine GCSEs at Lancaster Royal Grammar School prior to starting at college, but had struggled to cope with online learning at college during the pandemic.
Lucas’s mum, Angela Backhouse, told the coroner’s court how he found online learning difficult, and said the college had returned to 40% of face-to-face learning post pandemic, adding she believed it had had a ‘significant impact’ on her son . The court heard how Lucas had repeated Year 12 twice, successfully passed Business Studies A level then returned to college last September, believing he would be repeating one Year 12 A level and doing one Year 13 course.
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This was only to discover that he had in fact been enrolled on two Year 13 courses, A level Criminology, A Level Maths as well as Core Maths. His dad said this would have affected his ability to apply for the RAF, a long held ambition of his son’s. Lucas started off the courses, last September, but quickly realized how he ‘could not cope,’ the court heard.
Assistant Coroner Sarah Sutherland college principal Nick Burnham whether enrolling Lucas onto two Year 13 courses was the way forward, to which he replied: “I can see why it was done… I don’t think Lucas should have been doing A level Maths. He was clearly finding it very difficult.” Yet Lucas’ grieving parents claimed that he had not been told he would be doing two Year 13 courses, with the coroner then asking the college principal: “Would you have expected Lucas to have been told?”
Replying, Mr Burnham said: “Yes.” The court heard how Lucas had stopped attending lessons in college, but he would attend college to see his friends of him, with his parents of him not realizing that this was the situation due to being unable to access an online college system. Support and one to one sessions were given by Lucas’s teachers, mentors and pastoral staff, but he did not attend some of the sessions, the court heard.
Principal Nick Burnham said: “I spoke to all staff… none felt that Lucas did have mental health problems. They felt he was struggling and needed motivation and encouragement to get through.”
He said Lucas was not regarded as a ‘vulnerable student’ but was perceived as struggling with online learning, adding that all staff were desperately sorry to learn of Lucas’ loss. Lucas’s grieving mum, Angela Backhouse, claimed Lucas’s attendance records were incorrect – a fact which was denied by the principal and also that the college was ‘not aware of the fact that Lucas had not attended lessons’.
She told the hearing of his struggles in A level classes, stating: “He said ‘mum, I had no idea where they were up to, so I came out and didn’t attend further'”, adding: “This was a very overwhelmed student… he attended double Year 13 not expecting to do that and not getting any further support or explanation.”
Meanwhile, Lucas’s GP, Dr Gavin Torr, of Lancaster Medical Practice, said he had received a letter in January 2021 from the college regarding concerns about Lucas’s organizational skills, asking for further information and if there was any medical cause. He added: “We are seeing a lot more mental health coming from schools and colleges at the moment, which is of concern.”
The GP said he met with Lucas and his dad afterwards, with concerns raised that Lucas might have underlying ADHD, and but owing to the restrictive processes for a Children and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS) referral, the doctor asked for more information, adding : “Because of his age, under 18, we were caught in that in between world because I couldn’t refer him through the adult pathway, and he would go through CAMHS, and therefore my hands are tied because I need more information.” He added that there were no specific concerns about Lucas’s mental health at that point.
But the court heard how he heard again from Lucas’s concerned parents about his mental health in August, adding: “There was a conversation with Lucas’ brother about going out for a walk and thinking about jumping off a bridge, but he spoke to a passer -by and decided not to.” The court also heard how Lucas had also said he didn’t think he would live beyond the age of 40.
A further GP appointment with Lucas took place weeks before his death, on September 9, with Lucas being given a self-assessment questionnaire for ADHD but the form had subsequently gone missing, the inquest heard. The coroner asked Dr Torr: “Do you know what happened to that?” with the GP replying: “We do n’t … we apologize to his family for him. The questionnaire has gone missing… as a result we have looked at our processes.”
Lucas’s mum, Angela, Dr Torr: “We refer to a suicidal child… and he was asked as not at risk, yet within a few weeks he took his own life.” Yet the doctor said Lucas had not had any active suicidal thoughts and was not clinically depressed, and said he had recommended counseling, but the waiting lists were very long. He said he subsequently tried to contact Lucas on September 30 and left a message.
The court also heard how Lucas was taken to A&E at Royal Lancaster Infirmary at around half seven in the evening on October 9 due to an eye injury sustained in rugby and was assessed before being advised to avoid contact sports for six days, avoid blowing his nose and return for an outpatient follow up, which he did on October 12. Medical experts reported a possible small fracture and said in evidence that they were not aware of any links between concussion and suicidal tendencies.
A private therapist, Aneesh de Vos, who Lucas had been seeing on Saturday mornings for weekly face to face sessions since June that year, said: “He was an incredibly compassionate person… but there was a gap in how he viewed himself. ” Describing Lucas as ‘incredibly coherent,’ she said Lucas’s mum had contacted her in August telling her of her concerns about suicide but added: “Lucas was adamant that was just how he felt at that time.”
She said safety strategies were discussed, and the therapist suggested involvement with his GP, and continued to monitor whether he had any further suicidal tendencies, adding: “He was adamant that this had not happened, saying, “It’s no longer in my thoughts. ” Yet Lucas missed a couple appointments, due to illness and a missed bus, and messaged her on the day of his death from ella to say he had missed the bus again.
The court heard how Lucas had spent the night with his girlfriend, who said he seemed happy, and returned home early on Saturday, October 16, with family members going out and returning from an event at 6.30pm and finding him unresponsive. Paramedics were sadly unable to resuscitate him.
Assistant Coroner Sarah Sutherland described how Lucas became increasingly overwhelmed by his maths studies and said he endeavored to achieve the best he could and that he was very close to his brother, Isaac. She underlined how the college pastoral systems, support services and teachers were engaging with him, but that no mental health issues were raised.
Recording a conclusion of suicide, she told Lucas’s grieving family: “My condolences for everything that you have been through…. I can only offer my condolences for the loss of a dearly loved young man.” To donate to Lucas’ family’s fundraiser for PAPYRUS, click here.