A 79-year-old woman who battled mental health issues for decades took her life in the same spot as her sister after she ‘couldn’t go on’ during lockdown.
Great-grandmother Hazel Duffield had struggled with depression for most of her life, and found her illness becoming unbearable over the last few months.
Her sister’s own suicide and the accidental death of her grandson all weighed upon her.
On February 19, Hazel sadly left her home in East Butterwick and took her own life at the River Trent, where her sister Kath Preston had six years earlier.
Hazel spent the last few weeks of her life at Great Oaks mental health unit in Scunthorpe, where the care she received will be reviewed.
Her daughter Tina Waring has shared Hazel’s tragic story in the hope that more attention will be paid to the mental health of elderly people during the pandemic.
Hazel Duffield, pictured with her husband Alvin, took her own life at the same spot near the River Trent as her sister after her struggle with depression became too much during lockdown
Hazel’s daughter Tina Waring has shared her mother’s story in the hope it will shed light on the potential mental health issues faced by the nation’s elderly during the coronavirus pandemic
‘We think that mental health problems and thoughts about suicide are just an issue for young people, but it really does affect people of all ages,’ Tina said.
‘My mum had a loving family and a strong support network, yet we still couldn’t help her. It makes you wonder how many millions of elderly are suffering like this during lockdown.
‘My mum had been on anti-depressants for around 60 years after she first had a miscarriage.
‘But she started to get really bad in November during lockdown, saying she felt as though she was going mad, and we became worried that she would do something.’
Hazel had lived most of her life in East Butterwick, and had been married to her husband Alvin for more than 60 years. She became his carer as he developed dementia.
‘On January 14, dad called me at 3.45am, saying he couldn’t get her off the floor. I ran around and found her flat on her back, barely breathing.
‘I thought she was dead at first. It was obvious she’d taken an overdose,’ Tina said.
After Hazel had been taken to hospital, she was discharged to Great Oaks mental health unit in Scunthorpe.
Floral tributes left at the spot where Hazel Duffield took her own life in February this year
She was allowed to return home for short visits after the next few weeks. However, Tina says that her mother didn’t seem like herself anymore.
‘She would cry and pace the house, saying she couldn’t go on. She didn’t want to be at Great Oaks, but she didn’t want to be at home either. She looked as though she had given up,’ Tina recalled.
‘Every day, she just seemed to get sadder and sadder, and was losing weight because she didn’t want to eat.
‘She used to love the garden, but it was the middle of winter so there was nothing we could do to get her interested outside.
‘All her interest in chatting to people disappeared too, even though she’d always been very social.’
On the day of her death, Hazel visited her home again. When Tina checked on them, she was told by her father Alvin that they were laid in bed relaxing.
‘It struck me as surreal – it wasn’t something they would do in the middle of the day. I realise now she was saying goodbye to him,’ Tina said.
Shortly after, it was discovered that Hazel was missing.
Pictured: A touching note and floral tribute left by family at the River Trent in East Butterwick
‘I immediately knew what had happened. My brother and I ran down to the river, but it was dark by then so we could hardly see anything,’ she said.
‘Soon there were over a hundred people helping us search. The whole community kicked in. Even though I was certain what had happened, I kept looking and hoping I was wrong.
‘We found her later that night. The police dogs had tracked her scent to close to where her sister Kath had taken her life six years ago.
‘Although it was incredibly sad, it gave us closure – my aunt wasn’t found for three weeks.
‘I think in the end my mum couldn’t see the positives in life anymore, she just wanted to end what was going on in her head.’
In the aftermath of the tragedy, Tina became aware of the impact that another family tragedy had taken on Hazel.
Tina’s son Michael White sadly died after falling out of a hotel window in Ibiza in 2012. Last week, Tina found a scrapbook that her mother had kept of Michael.
‘We were all trying to deal with the grief and survive what happened, but I worry that I missed signs of how badly it had affected her,’ she said.
‘We need to take all mental health problems seriously, especially with elderly people not able to leave the house for months. There are so many people who must be in a similar position now.’
The Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust, which run Great Oaks, will be looking into the care that Hazel received.
Vicky Clare, Associate Nurse Director in RDaSH, said: ‘My deepest sympathies are with the family and friends of Hazel Duffield.
‘Due to patient confidentiality we would never comment publicly on whether someone has or has not used our services.
‘However speaking generally, if a patient dies while in our care, it is standard practice to look into the care we provided and we would always ask the family if they would like to be involved in this.
‘We also always encourage anyone with a comment about any of our services to call our Patient Advice and Liaison Team (PALS) on 0800 015 4334.’
A funeral for Hazel will take place at Woodlands Crematorium on Tuesday, March 9. She will make her last trip through East Butterwick at 1.25pm should anyone wish to pay their respects.
Donations in her memory can be made to Cruse Bereavement Care through Wallace & Son Funeral Directors of Crowle.
For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or click here for details