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Inspirational mental health blogger ‘loved life’ but ‘saw it passing her by’

PUBLISHED: 09:26 23 February 2018 | UPDATED: 13:30 23 February 2018

Rachel Edwards, pictured during the filming of The Not So Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: 10 Years On. Picture: NSFT

Rachel Edwards, pictured during the filming of The Not So Secret Life of the Manic Depressive: 10 Years On. Picture: NSFT

Archant

A young Suffolk woman whose bravery and resilience inspired thousands of followers, finally “lost hope in this life” after a series of catastrophic events became too much to bear.

Rachel Edwards was well known for her infectious laughter. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDRachel Edwards was well known for her infectious laughter. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Rachel Edwards endured seven years of chronic pain after jumping 50 feet from a building during a psychotic episode caused by bipolar disorder in 2009.

Despite being part-paralysed the courageous 26-year-old from Fressingfield, near Eye, dedicated herself to helping others through a blog, which amassed 10,000 followers, and her work with the mental health charity Mind.

In 2016, she featured in The Not So Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive: 10 Years On, a TV documentary by Stephen Fry.

But a series of further tragedies, including a serious car crash and the loss of several loved ones left her feeling increasingly hopeless.

Rachel Edwards in hospital after her fall. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDRachel Edwards in hospital after her fall. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Yesterday, an inquest heard how on May 8, 2017, Rachel’s dead body was found at her home after an overdose of prescription drugs.

Her parents, Chris and Kay Edwards, told the inquest the difficulties she faced meant “she simply lost hope in this life”.

“However, she had a faith in heaven and so put her trust in the next life,” they added in a statement.

Coroner Nigel Parsley said Rachel had left a note and concluded she had intended to take her life. However, he said suicide failed to “fully describe” what Rachel had been through and recorded a narrative verdict referencing the seven years of chronic pain she had suffered.

Rachel Edwards. Picture: BBC/MATCHLIGHTRachel Edwards. Picture: BBC/MATCHLIGHT

Rachel’s parents’ evidence highlighted a catalogue of setbacks in the months leading up to her death, including failed attempts to undertake new pain treatments.

She had been hoping for a trial spinal cord stimulator treatment and wanted to visit the Walton Centre pain management service in Liverpool. However a burn to her foot delayed referral for the trial.

She lost three grandparents in one year, including her beloved “nan” just weeks before her death.

Rachel had strived to be independent, but in September 2016 was involved in a road accident which was not her fault. Her parents said this rocked her confidence and she resigned from her job at Mind later that month.

Rachel, a keen artist, pictured during a visit to the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDRachel, a keen artist, pictured during a visit to the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

On March 8, 2017, Rachel took a “cry for help” overdose and was admitted into Woodlands mental health facility in Ipswich.

She was discharged on March 23, despite claiming she did not feel safe - a point her family took exception to.

Despite their concerns, Rachel was reported to be improving after leaving care.

However, she suffered further setbacks for her pain treatment and was said to have become “overwhelmed” by the volume of medical letters she received.

Rachel pictured during a visit to New York. Picture: CONTRIBUTEDRachel pictured during a visit to New York. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Rachel’s care co-ordinator Peter Henson told the inquest the pain she suffered on an average day would see most people admitted to A&E. During the worst spells, she would not sleep for days.

“In the end, the pain did for her,” Rachels’ parents’ evidence added.

“She loved life and saw it passing her by and saw her friends moving on with their lives despite her most heroic efforts not to be defined by all the problems she had and in trying to live life to the full whenever she could.”

Mr Parsley offered his condolences to the family and praised Rachel for the work she did with Mind. He also acknowledged their concerns with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), which arranged her mental health care.

Although Mr Parsley said that had Rachel been kept in at Woodlands, as her family wished, she would not have died when she did, he added that the stability of her mental health would seen her to discharged within “days or weeks” anyway. He also pointed to her improvements after leaving.

However, he did raise several matters of concern - and issued a “preventing future deaths report”.

Mr Parsley said Rachel had been able to “stockpile medicine” and said there were “weaknesses” in the way GPs were given information. He also said more could have been done to prepare for “trigger” events, such as when Rachel was setback from receiving pain treatments which tended to leave her feeling “hopeless”.

Mr Parsley praised a scheme, whereby a “competent lay person” can receive personal medical information on patients’ behalf. This, it was said, could help “ease their burden”. Mr Henson was praised for having used this initiative with other patients.

After the hearing, Rachel’s family said they felt it the coroner was “fair and thorough” and thanked staff, including those at Avocet Ward, who had helped Rachel. Mr Edwards said he was pleased the competent lay person scheme had been highlighted.

The family said they wanted to take positives from Rachel’s life. They have set up an art project in her memory and a peer support scheme for mental health patients is being developed in her name.

When asked for their memory of Rachel, sister Jess said: “She loved life with a passion more than anyone I’ve ever met.

“Her laugh was infectious – everywhere she was, there was laughter.”

‘Her legacy will continue to inspire others’

Mental health bosses have praised Rachel for her energy and positivity.

Andy Mack, manager of Wellbeing Norfolk and Waveney, part of the NSFT, said Rachel was a “very special” member of their team, in her role as a peer support worker.

“Rachel brought an amazing warmth and enthusiasm to our Wellbeing service using her own personal experiences to help others with mental health problems,” he added. “She had an energy that helped us pioneer and shape the role of peer support workers and through this enthusiasm she has made an everlasting impression and had such a positive effect in our service.

“Rachel’s legacy will continue to inspire others in our service and we will never forget the impact she had upon all of us.”

NSFT added it would “carefully review” the issues raised by the coroner “to ensure that any learnings are shared throughout our organisation”.

•Visit Rachel’s blog to read about her take on life with mental ill health and physical disabilities.

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