A retired police chief in the U.K., who became “paranoid and neurotic” while undergoing self-quarantine due to the Wuhan coronavirus, committed suicide to spare his family from infection.
Fifty-eight-year-old James Connelly Webster was found dead April 1 in a garden chalet at his Crackington Haven home. The former assistant chief constable of Devon and Cornwall isolated himself in the chalet when he began to develop COVID-19 symptoms after returning from London at the end of March. His death was ruled a suicide.
Webster’s widow Maureen told authorities during an inquest that her husband isolated himself after developing a cough and fever in order to protect their two children. She added that they had planned this course of action if either of them developed COVID-19 symptoms.
Maureen mentioned during the inquest how she and James would often go out for coffee when she first met her husband in London – a tradition they continued well into the marriage. During her husband’s isolation, they continued having coffee together – although with proper social distancing at the bottom of the garden.
The family also held Zoom meetings and ate socially distanced meals during Webster’s eight-day quarantine.
Before, Webster would open the curtains every morning and say how beautiful the day ahead was.
“A perfect storm” drove Webster to take his own life amid pandemic
However, Maureen and their two children noticed a slow transformation in Webster’s mental health – he became “paranoid and neurotic.” He became more reluctant to join his wife for morning coffee as the days passed. (Related: Long coronavirus lockdowns causing people’s mental health to rapidly DETERIORATE.)
On the night before he died, the family held a socially distanced meal together – with James reassuring them his thinking “was getting clearer” and he “would be out tomorrow.” Maureen discovered her husband’s body the following morning, alongside a long and detailed letter revealing his struggles before taking his own life.
Webster’s son Max also gave a statement during the inquest, saying that his father spoke with him around 9:30 p.m. about watching British television series Game of Thrones before going to sleep. He also mentioned that his father “did not have any mental issues” before displaying suspected COVID-19 symptom, but “had become increasingly unstable” since isolating himself.
Prolonged isolation due to COVID-19 exacerbates mental health problems
Webster’s widow believed that he would not commit suicide in his right mind as he has spoken countless times about the “devastation left behind” after a person takes their own life, given his experiences as a police officer. She spoke of the psychological effect of the pandemic — “media, fear and lack of control” as a contributing factor to his decision to take his own life.
Maureen also added that in the days before he died, Webster felt afraid of what their neighbors would think about them if either of them walked at the nearby beach with their dog – adding that “it was not like him to think like this.”
Almost a month after Webster took his own life, 83-year-old Dennis Ward committed suicide after a long period of self-isolation for fear that he would catch the virus. Ward’s grandson James Parnaby described his grandfather as “the life and soul at family parties” and spoke of how he loved betting on race horses and entertaining people with stories. Parnaby urged people to pick up the phone, speak to their relatives or any vulnerable persons and find out how they are doing.
The Wuhan coronavirus has negatively affected the mental health of people around the world, leading to a potential mental health crisis once the pandemic is put under control. Sadly, it will take a long time – and more instances similar to what happened to James Webster and Dennis Ward – before the pandemic is kept at bay.
The U.K. currently has a total coronavirus caseload of 357,613 as of writing with 41,683 deaths and 1,831 recoveries, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Find out more news about how countries are dealing with the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic at Pandemic.news.