Man killed himself after suffering crippling altitude sickness on Himalayas trek
A teacher killed himself after suffering a bout of crippling altitude sickness during a trekking trip to the Himalayas with his wife.
Paul Connell was struck by such terrible anxiety that he was airlifted off the 8,000m Annapurna range after climbing just under a third of the way up.
The trip was the start of a downward spiral that eventually led to Mr Connell, 33, throwing himself off cliffs near his family home in Ramsgate, Kent.
In his pocket, a note read: "Voices in my head. I'm sorry. Love you all x."
Now his wife Lisa has spoken out to warn others to watch out for the signs of mental health decline.
The 35-year-old said: "Paul was a really happy guy, he had a great life and he wasn't suffering with depression or anxiety.
"It was something that happened really fast, really intensely over such a short space of time.
"This can happen to anyone, it can happen to the strongest of people physically and mentally.
"Someone can change, something can suddenly snap in someone's head. You just never know."
Mr and Mrs Connell were travelling on a trip-of-a-lifetime to Nepal and set out in September last year.
They were due to spend two months in the area, but Mr Connell suddenly began suffering panic attacks and severe anxiety and was unable to sleep.
While he was up there, he texted his mum Donna Ayres to say he wanted to jump off.
Mrs Connell said that her husband became so unwell so quickly that he paid for a helicopter to take him back to the foot of the mountains.
After leaving the Himalayas Mr Connell recuperated for several months as the couple moved on to travel in India, before he slipped into a spiral of depression and insomnia from which he never recovered.
Struggling to sleep, Mr Connell cut his trip of a lifetime short and flew home to Ramsgate in the first week of February, where he was rushed straight from the airport to A&E at the QEQM Hospital in Margate by his mother.
She told an inquest into his death he looked "like a heroin addict" when she met him off his flight.
Mr Connell, a huge Arsenal fan, was in and out of hospital over several months, and although he had counselling he struggled to get a grip on his anxiety.
Doctors were left baffled by his case because he had never suffered from mental health problems before hiking to 3,000m.
Despite the love and care of his family and friends, an inquest at Canterbury Coroner's Court found Mr Connell jumped to his death from the cliffs near the seaside town on March 26.
Paul and Lisa Connell met in Sydney in January 2012, while both were working in Australia.
With a shared love of travelling and adventure, the pair became very close quickly. After exploring South East Asia, they settled in Hanoi, Vietnam, working as English teachers.
They married in July 2014, in a small ceremony on a beach in Vietnam, which Mrs Connell described as "perfect".
They made their home in Vietnam but came back to visit family during Christmas 2017 after Mr Connell's elder sister Aimee was diagnosed with cancer.
She died on Christmas Day, but Mrs Connell said her husband had been coping with the death.
It was this that inspired the pair to go travelling once again – and tick some places off their bucket list including Nepal and India.
But it was about six weeks into their trip to the Himalayas that Mr Connell became ill.
Mrs Connell, who is from Derry, Northern Ireland, said: "Once he came off that mountain he was the same normal happy Paul again.
"He embraced the first few months of India, he was happy."
But when the pair were in Bangalore in January, Paul stopped sleeping once again.
"He just become so frustrated and anxious," she said.
"Paul woke up at 4am one night and said he needed to go home.
"I thought we could just go somewhere really quiet, but he just had it in his head he wanted to go home."
Mr Connell returned to the care of his family, but had said he would try and get better so he could rejoin his wife.
However she was so worried about him, she ended up flying back to the UK five days later.
When she saw him she was shocked by his condition.
"I could see that he was still having panic attacks, and this is the point he started talking about dark thoughts," she said.
Mrs Connell took him to hospital again, and said he began crying and pleading with doctors: "If you have to sedate me, sedate me, just please make me sleep."
They carried out physical checks on Mr Connell, but could not find anything wrong.
"We were hoping something physical would show up," she explained.
"Something which would explain Paul being like this, because this person was no longer the Paul we all knew and loved. It was like a different person."
While in hospital he tried to injure himself with a rock.
He was given anti-depressants and sleeping pills, but the inquest on May 31 heard that although he had seen a counsellor the day before his death he was not recommended for further mental health assessments from specialist services.
Mr Connell said he wanted to go to a psychiatric treatment centre called The Beacon in Ramsgate, where patients are monitored closely, but there was no space.
The couple went to Mr Connell's sister's house in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, in late February, in the hope a change of scenery would help.
"We thought it would be good to come back here and relax and have some quiet time with my family," she said.
"It was the first time my sister and her husband had seen him in a long time, and they couldn't believe the change in him.
"It was like a completely different person, Paul was really anxious.
"His whole demeanour had a really nervous energy, an uncomfortable look. His eyes were kind of glassy."
He had to leave early, as a counselling space had come up.
The pair continued to speak every day on the phone, while Mr Connell took his medication, saw his therapist and spent time with his parents.
"He was seeing his counsellor once a week, he was doing everything," Mrs Connell said.
However a month later he took his own life after making 21 attempts to call his GP, but his calls failed to connect.
DS Paul Deslandes investigated the circumstances surrounding Mr Connell's death and told the inquest that two dog walkers heard a "loud thud like a boulder falling" before seeing Mr Connell lying face down on the beach 50ft below.
Members of the public attempted to revive him for 15 minutes before paramedics arrived and took over CPR but he died 25 minutes later.
Coroner James Dillon ruled that Mr Connell had taken his own life.
Mrs Connell said: "I think the biggest thing is to listen to someone who is starting to speak out about it.
"And listen to what they are asking for, because they know themselves what they are capable of dealing with."
Olympic gold medallist Victoria Pendleton has spoken of suffering depression after attempting to climb Mount Everest.
She said oxygen deprivation up the world's highest mountain left her feeling suicidal.
Last year, research published in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry found people living in high-altitude areas of the United States are more likely to commit suicide and suffer depression.
Helen Greatorex, chief executive of the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, said: "We were so very sad to hear of the tragedy of Paul's death.
"Our thoughts and sincerest condolences are with his family and those who loved him.
"We have, as everyone would expect, commenced a detailed review in to what happened in the lead up to the tragedy and are doing this in partnership with other agencies who knew Paul.
"We will ensure that in particular, Paul's family are able if they wish to include questions to which they would like answers.
"We will share the final report with both Her Majesty's Coroner and Paul's family."
Samaritans (116 123) operates a 24-hour service available every day of the year. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, or if you’re worried about being overheard on the phone, you can email Samaritans at [email protected]
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