Teen who took her own life in lockdown 'was terrified of losing independence'

A teenager who hanged herself days before the UK went into lockdown was ‘terrified’ of losing her freedom and independence, an inquest heard.

Emily Owen, 19, was found by her mother and sister at home in Shouldham, Norfolk, on March 18. She failed to regain consciousness and died four days later at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.

Her father, Timothy Owen, said she was ‘really excited and looking for a fresh start’ as they prepared to move to Cornwall. They had also recently enjoyed ‘their best day ever as a family’ visiting grandparents in Coventry.

But Norfolk Coroners’ Court was told the family had decided to self-isolate in the days before her death because one of her sisters had a cough, and she became anxious at the looming lockdown. Mr Owen told the inquest: ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back was the restrictions – just being unable to cope with the restrictions, which is happening to a range of people in the UK at the moment.’

He added: ‘She was concerned she was going to lose her freedom and independence, not being able to go to work and the gym or drive and get out.’

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In a statement read to the hearing he explained that Emily had previously had mental health difficulties and had been diagnosed with autism in 2018.

But he said her health improved as she passed diplomas, learned to drive and worked in the King’s Arms pub in Shouldham where she was the ‘life and soul’.

The UK went into partial lockdown on March 16, when people were advised to avoid social contact, and full lockdown on March 23, when everyone was told they ‘must’ stay at home.

Emily’s sister Annabel Owen, 21, said shortly after her death: ‘She couldn’t cope with her world closing in and plans being cancelled, and being stuck inside. It terrified her.’

Norfolk senior coroner Jacqueline Lake recorded a conclusion of suicide and offered her sympathies to Emily’s family on Friday.

She said: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic struck and this caused Emily a lot of worry and distress. She was worried she was not be able to go out, having had a taste of freedom and independence.’

Her parents, two sisters and brother described her in a Facebook post as ‘our beautiful, funny, talented, and a little bit crazy daughter and sister’.

The post added: ‘We are all absolutely devastated but also immensely proud of everything she achieved in her life.

‘So many people have messaged us over the past five days saying how Emily helped them through hard times of their own, and we had no idea how much positive impact she had on those around her.

‘To many people Emily was a really fun, energetic, happy girl, but only a few were aware of the many years of internal battles she had.

‘Few people are aware, but four years ago she was diagnosed with high functioning autism and had a daily battle to fit in and conform with social norms.

‘She didn’t want anyone to know, but now she has gone we want to make people know that autism comes in all shapes and sizes.

‘Despite this she managed to finish school, go to college, finish an apprenticeship and start working in the King’s Arms. Please look out for people, be kind as you never know what is going on in people’s lives.’

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