A 14-year-old girl at one of the UK’s top state schools was found hanged weeks after being taken to hospital after a self-harming incident on school premises, an inquest has heard. Elena Mondal was found in the grounds of Henrietta Barnett school in Hampstead Garden Suburb, north London, on 5 June 2017, less than four…
A 14-year-old girl at one of the UK’s top state schools was found hanged weeks after being taken to hospital after a self-harming incident on school premises, an inquest has heard.
The inquest at Barnet coroners court heard from expert witnesses that although Elena had experienced panic attacks and collapsed at school in the months before her death, and walked out of a classroom with scissors on the day she was admitted to hospital for her arm injury, they did not believe her life had been at risk.
Elena was a pupil at a selective girls’ school founded in 1911 by Henrietta Barnett, a pioneer of female education. The school was top of the Sunday Times state school league tables in 2016 and 2017 and is currently in second place. It has 780 pupils.
The inquest heard Elena was receiving counselling from Barnet’s child and adolescent mental health service for an eating disorder and self-harming and had been assessed at the Royal Free hospital in Hampstead.
Her psychiatrist, Dr Cathy Wainhouse, told the inquest that on the day Elena died she may have hoped she would be discovered before it was too late, but her “dramatic statement” had gone terribly wrong.
The inquest heard that Elena had warned that she may do something “drastic and silly”.
The headteacher at Henrietta Barnett, Del Cooke, said at the time of Elena’s death the school did not have policies on self-harm or missing students but had subsequently put these policies in place.
She said although the school did not have these policies at the time of the schoolgirl’s death it had procedures to deal with these issues which continue to be applied.
Kelly Barry, the head of wellbeing at the school at the time of the incident but who is no longer employed there, said Elena had been asked to see the school counsellor over concerns about missing meals and feelings of depression, but that she had missed appointments.
Asked about whether she had told Elena she could not continue to come to school if she did not stop self-harming, Barry told the court: “If Elena self-harmed in school we would ask her parents to come and pick her up.”
Barry said as soon as she became aware that Elena was self-harming it became “non-negotiable” that Barry would speak to Elena’s parents about the matter.
Asked if with the benefit of hindsight the school would have done anything differently, Barry said: “There is nothing more we could have done at the time and with the information we had. There was an escalation of concern around eating and self-harm.”
Wainhouse said: “Teen suicide is very, very uncommon but it has become less uncommon in the last couple of years. Teenage self-harm is very common. I feel that some of her self-harm was driven by friendship groups and social connectiveness.”
The inquest opened in March 2018 but was adjourned for almost a year to allow an expert psychiatrist to assess the care provided to Elena.
The coroner, Andrew Walker, gave a verdict and concluded on Wednesday that Elena died as a consequence of a depressive illness.
Her parents, Shyamal and Moushumi Mondal, paid tribute to their daughter at the end of the inquest. She dreamed of becoming a doctor and her father said she excelled at music, chess and badminton.
“She was a kind and good-hearted girl,” Shyamal Mondal told the inquest. “We hope any further deaths can be avoided and lessons learned. You will always be in our soul until we meet in the next life.”
Walker had explored whether steps could be taken to prevent the high number of teenage suicides. He said: “What needs to happen is that as a society we need to look at how we treat our young people and ask ourselves some questions, the answers to which may be difficult for us to hear.”
He made recommendations for improved record-keeping for the school and the health agencies involved with Elena’s care.
Cooke said: “As a school, the wellbeing and safeguarding of our students is our top priority and their happiness and welfare are paramount … We have extensive wellbeing initiatives and liaise closely with medical, counselling and other professionals to support our students. It is devastating that, despite those efforts, a much loved and cared for student has been lost.
“Since the tragedy, we have further increased our focus on wellbeing, reflecting, learning and developing, to try to provide the most supportive environment possible.”
•If you’re a young person in the UK who needs to talk to someone about mental health, Childline can be reached on 0800 1111, or by confidential email via its website atchildline.org.uk. Young Minds also offers a service atyoungminds.org.uk/find-help. For help outside the UK, seechildhelplineinternational.org/child-helplines/child-helpline-network.
In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email@example.com. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found atwww.befrienders.org.