Ilford man’s suicide possibly brought on by concern over pandemic furlough

A hard-working man who ended his life after being furloughed was an indirect victim of the pandemic, his family feels.

Michael Hathaway, 67, was found dead in his Ilford home on June 26 last year. He had no recorded history of suicidal thoughts and was not known to local mental health services.

His brother Christopher Harrison told an inquest on January 28 that Mr Hathaway had an “unquestionable” dedication to his job, working for car rental company Europcar, and may have feared being made redundant.

East London coroner Nadia Persaud concluded the death was a suicide and remarked that he was clearly well-loved, as so many members of his family had tuned in to watch the inquest online.

In a written statement, Mr Harrison told the court: “Seeking the good in people was (Michael’s) natural, default position.

“His enthusiasm for life was contagious and his excitement could be perceived as eccentric, but never in a bad way. Put simply, you could not help but like him.

“That he was dedicated to his work is unquestionable. It was not about the work itself but that he felt valued, he felt it gave his life purpose.

“I understand he had been furloughed and it’s possible that he feared redundancy, which would have played heavily on his mind.”

Another of Mr Hathaway’s eight younger siblings, Adam Harrison, told the coroner the family felt his death was a “ripple effect” of the pandemic, as “it was because he could not go to work” that his mental health suffered.

Michael’s sister Rachael Harrison said he had “seemed in a low mood” when they spoke on the phone during lockdown but that she “did not consider for one moment” he might end his life.

She told the court his last known contact was on June 14, when he wished his nephew a happy birthday, and that she spoke to him on June 6, when he seemed to be feeling better.

She told the court: “I now have reason to believe that this may have been due to what’s known as ‘suicidal clarity’, where people feel happy in the final days before taking their own life.”

Mr Hathaway lived alone with his cats, Big Mike and Princess, who were locked out of the house when police arrived and are now being cared for by his sister in Weston-super-Mare.

Police were called to check on Mr Hathaway by neighbours after his manager from the car rental agency Europcar visited, explaining he was worried as he had not heard from him for several days.

His colleague and friend of about 30 years, Toni Merola, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that Mr Hathaway was well-loved at work, even by those who had long since left the company.

Mr Merola said: “He was the funniest bloke I have ever met. Sometimes work was challenging but I would still look forward to going in to listen to him talking rubbish and making everybody laugh.

“It’s difficult for everyone that worked with him to try to understand what happened. People that left the company years ago were calling me to reminisce.

“He left such an impression on people and always came across so friendly whenever he met someone. I will never forget him, he was an absolutely amazing man.”

The charity Mind has called lockdown’s effect on mental health a “second pandemic” and says its helpline received double the usual number of calls a day in November last year. 

If you or someone you know if struggling with your mental health, you can get help here:

  • Samaritans operates a 24-hour helpline every day of the year on 116 123. 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]
  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical advice and information for anyone affected by mental health problems on a wide range of topics including treatment, support and care. Phone 0300 5000 927 (Mon-Fri 9.30am-4pm) or visit rethink.org
  • Mind offers mental health support between 9am and 6pm, Monday to Friday. You can call them on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463.
  • Campaign Against Living Miserably’s (CALM) helpline and webchat are open from 5pm until midnight, 365 days a year. Call CALM on 0800 58 58 58 or chat to their trained helpline staff online.
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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter