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Teenage girl, 19, killed herself over fears she was ‘losing her freedom’ in lockdown

A teenager killed herself after suffering anxiety and depression over the coronavirus pandemic, an inquest heard.

Emily Owen, 19, feared that the looming lockdown would take away her freedom by stopping her working and going out.

Her mother and sister found her hanging on March 18 at the family home in Shouldham, Norfolk.

Emily failed to regain consciousness and died four days later on March 22 when her life support was turned off at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn.

Norfolk coroner’s court in Norwich heard how her family had decided to self-isolate in the days before her death as one of her sisters had a cough.

Her father Timothy Owen said that she had wanted to go for a drive on the morning of March 18, but was told she could not due to self-isolation.

He said: ‘She was concerned she was going to lose her freedom and independence, not being able to go to work and the gym or drive and get out.’

Mr Owen added in a statement read to the hearing that Emily had previously had mental health difficulties and had been diagnosed with autism in 2018.

But he said her health improved as she passed diplomas, learned to drive and worked in the King’s Arms pub in Shouldham where she was the ‘life and soul’.

Mr Owen said that his family had been in the process of moving to Cornwall, which was Emily’s favourite place.

He added: ‘She was really excited and looking for a fresh start. Life was really good and the future was looking better for everyone.’

Just before her death, the family had enjoyed ‘their best day ever as a family’ with a trip to Coventry to visit grandparents.

Mr Owen said: ‘The straw that broke the camel’s back was the restrictions – just being unable to cope with the restrictions, which is happening to a range of people in the UK at the moment.’

Norfolk senior coroner Jacqueline Lake recorded a conclusion of suicide and offered her sympathies to Miss Owen’s family.

She said: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic struck and this caused Emily a lot of worry and distress. She was worried she was not be able to go out, having had a taste of freedom and independence.’

The UK went into partial lockdown on March 16 when people were advised to avoid social contact and full lockdown on March 23 when everyone was told they ‘must’ stay at home.  

Emily’s sister Annabel Owen, 21, said shortly after her death: ‘She couldn’t cope with her world closing in and plans being cancelled, and being stuck inside. It terrified her.’

Her parents, two sisters and brother described her in a Facebook post as ‘our beautiful, funny, talented, and a little bit crazy daughter and sister.’

The post added: ‘We are all absolutely devastated but also immensely proud of everything she achieved in her life.

‘So many people have messaged us over the past five days saying how Emily helped them through hard times of their own, and we had no idea how much positive impact she had on those around her.

‘To many people. Emily was a really fun, energetic, happy girl, but only a few were aware of the many years of internal battles she had.

‘Few people are aware, but four years ago she was diagnosed with high functioning autism and had a daily battle to fit in and conform with social norms.

‘She didn’t want anyone to know, but now she has gone we want to make people know that autism comes in all shapes and sizes.

‘Despite this she managed to finish school, go to college, finish an apprenticeship

and start working in the King’s Arms* Please look out for people, be kind as you never know what is going on in people’s lives..’

Abbie Panks, vice-chairman of Shouldham Community Enterprises which ran the King’s Arms pub, said at the time: ‘Emily was a whirlwind of energy, so caring and funny, truly beautiful inside and out.

‘She was loved by our team and customers alike. She was also an incredibly talented artist.

‘The team are understandably heartbroken. We are going to miss Emily enormously, she was a part of our family here.’

While Emily was on life support the family urged people to check in on their loved ones.   

The post said: ‘Our darling, beautiful, crazy daughter and sister tragically decided that she could no longer cope and tried to take her own life on Wednesday. 

‘She has been in critical care since then.

‘The decision has been made today to turn off her life-support tomorrow afternoon, giving time for the hospital to prepare for organ donation, something she signed up for in 2012 when she was only 12-years-old. 

‘That sums her up as always caring for other people.

‘Emily would have wanted you to check on your loved ones in these very difficult times, as she believed the fear of the unknown may drive them over the edge and (she) was planning on volunteering to help these people.

‘We appreciate all the amazing support we have already had and apologise in advance for nor responding to all your loving messages during this difficult time.’

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