Belfast Telegraph

Tyrone musician suffered bad reaction to antidepressant, inquest is told

Steven O’Neill who died in 2016
Steven O’Neill who died in 2016

By Anton McCabe

The coroner at the inquest into the tragic death of a Coalisland musician has acknowledged that he suffered an extreme adverse reaction to an antidepressant about six weeks before he died.

Coroner Patrick McGurgan was delivering his verdict in Omagh yesterday in the case of Stephen O'Neill, who passed away in July 2016.

Mr McGurgan said that all medical witnesses at the three-day inquest acknowledged that Mr O'Neill had suffered a catastrophic reaction to Sertaline.

In his verdict, Mr McGurgan quoted the evidence of psychiatrist Dr Pat McMahon that Sertaline alone was not responsible for Mr O'Neill's death.

"It possibly contributed, along with other identified stressors," the coroner told the inquest.

Mr McGurgan noted that Mr O'Neill had periodic struggles with depression and anxiety, and sought help from his GP.

In 2011, he had suffered a bad reaction to Fluoxetine, an antidepressant belonging to the same family as Sertaline. The depression was resolved.

Subsequently, he was successfully treated with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

In April 2016, Mr O'Neill's anxiety flared up again, but he was not depressed. However, medication was ineffective.

He was referred to a counsellor, for whom there was a waiting time.

In June, he returned to his GP. The GP felt "this was a different Stephen" and was alarmed at his condition.

However, the inquest heard "there were no thoughts of self-harm or suicide."

The GP prescribed Sertaline as "the deceased was so unwell he would not be able to avail of psychotherapy."

Within two days, Mr O'Neill had become very emotional and tearful. He was staying with a sister, who revealed that he said "if she was going out he might kill himself."

He reported the bad reaction to a local pharmacist and stopped taking Sertaline.

Other medication was prescribed, but was ineffective.

In the subsequent weeks, Mr O'Neill was twice admitted to the psychiatric unit at Craigavon Area Hospital.

There, consultant psychiatrist Dr Matthew Armstrong examined him.

"That the deceased would take his own life was not on (Armstrong's) radar," the coroner said.

On one occasion, Mr O'Neill had said: "Life is worth living, but I'm struggling."

He was prescribed Buspirone, another antidepressant.

A week before he died, he told the sister he was staying with he had woken up in the hallway in a distressed state.

His brother Patrick found him dead on the morning of July 29, 2016.

Mr McGurgan ruled that Mr O'Neill took own life when the balance of his mind was disturbed.

Mr O'Neill (48), a single man, was very well known in Coalisland as a musician.

Mr McGurgan also paid tribute to the O'Neill family.

"I wish to credit and acknowledge the family and the way they have dealt (with their brother's death)," he said.

If you feel any of the issues in this article affect you, ring the Samaritans on 116123 or PIPS on 0800 088 6042

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