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by Anne Sheridan
November 8, 2013
A DOON man who was suffering from bipolar disorder should have been admitted to a psychiatric unit in hospital before his tragic and untimely death, his family have said.
Limerick Coroner’s Court heard that PJ Richardson, 49, was found dead in a field close to his home on January 10 this year, after a toxic level of anti-depressants in his system.
After the hearing, his family said while they did not wish to apportion blame, they said medical professionals “should ignore the [family] carers at your peril.”
His mother, Hannah Richardson, a nurse, told the court that PJ, who lived with her, was suffering from a manic episode, hadn’t slept the weekend prior to his death, and was “high and anxious”. She said he needed urgent medical help and attended St Anne’s with him, where he was an out-patient, after being diagnosed in 1998.
Mrs Richardson said she was told by staff that he was “not severe enough” to be admitted to the psychiatric unit in the University Hospital, known as 5B. She said he had been admitted possibly four times over a period of eight years, and this time “his symptoms were worse”. “He was anxious and upset and he knew he was not well,” she said. Accounts by staff at the clinic contradicted this version of events, and they said they felt it would be best if his condition was “treated in the community” – at home.
After returning home, PJ left the house to return some books to a neighbour. However, his friend was in the shower at the time and did not hear the doorbell. A lady who offered him a lift to the house saw that there was no answer and offered to drive him home, but he declined.
PJ failed to return home on the night of January 9 and a large-scale search operation was mounted.
His body was located in a marshy field the following morning, less than a mile from his home in Lacka. The area was sealed off and the local priest and doctor were called.
Sergeant Ted Riordan, Bruff garda station, said there were scratches on his face “but nothing suspicious”.
Nurse Eileen Finn of St Anne’s centre said a colleague dealt with Mr Richardson and said “neither Mr Richardson not his family requested admission to 5B”.
She said she was aware that his family were concerned about his long-term care and wanted to see his mood stabilised.
Dr Sheena Fleming said PJ self-presented at the clinic on January 9 and was reviewed by two of her senior nurse colleagues.
She said she was of the impression that he was not keen to be admitted to hospital, and did not offer this to him as she thought it had already been discussed.
She said she believed it was a “team decision” not to refer him to hospital, which was discussed before she reviewed him.
Dr Fleming said the decision was taken “to manage it in the community and review it in two days’ time”.
Pathologist Dr Terezia Laszlo said he suffered from acute heart failure due to high levels of an anti-depressant. An open verdict was recorded into his death, as the coroner Dr Timothy Casey said “No one knows what the terminal event was, and we don’t know why he ended up in the field.”
PJ, who was greatly loved by the community in Doon, lost one of his arms aged nine as a result of a farm accident.
However, that did not stop him from going on to win county hurling medals, in the U14, minor and U21 championships with Doon. The former CBS Primary School and St Fintan’s CBS student, attended Trinity College in Dublin. He was part of a Doon All-Ireland winning Scor Question Time team.
He was the eldest of 11 and one of his brothers, Johnny, paid a moving tribute at PJ’s funeral mass.
He recalled the time the Richardsons were on the quiz show Where in the World. “We were like extras in a film. You couldn’t get near the buzzer, he was deadly, “ said Johnny.
In a moving and poignant video online, called Bipolar Bare, PJ described the highs and lows of his life. He said “a high” was “absolutely superb, but it’s artificial, it’s not real..it’s dangerous. It can lead you to disregard risks.”
Of manic depression, he said: “It’s awful, woeful, terrible. It really is soul destroying.” “It’s madness, on the one side, and a great sad loss on the other.”
“They told me I was very talented and bright at school and all that, but I didn’t believe them. It was my own self doubt. For some reason, I just had this thing that I don’t want success. … I always went for the negative and I suppose that was a handy way out.”
His final, poignant reflection, while looking on at cricketers playing on the green at Trinity College, was this: “I look back at it another way. Life is a game. I’m at the halfway point now. I think I am going to come with a late run and make it.”
In a moving six-minute video captured by his sister Bunny, a director and producer, PJ Richardson laid his soul bare on his long battle with bipolar disorder and manic depression.
Filmed in Trinity College Dublin, where he studied, he said he always felt he “wasn’t good enough to be up there with the top people”, even though many believed he was ‘gifted’ with a brilliant mind.
Entitled Bipolar Bare, the short film has had thousands of views on YouTube.