THE family of a Lymington man who committed suicide after brain damage suffered in a hit-and-run accident led to a downward spiral of depression are raising money to help others with head injuries.
Matthew Cummings (36) was badly hurt in 2004 when he was struck by a car as he walked along a road, Winchester Coroner’s Court heard.
His mum Debbie told the hearing: “From the moment he had that brain injury, that changed him. Matt had a job as a labourer and I moved to support him. But he couldn’t cope with it, it was too much pressure.”
She explained he had undergone a six-hour operation, but nothing could be done to reverse the damage. She also felt he was suffering from undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder.
His family told the A&T that they want to raise money to create leaflets to be given to brain injury patients when they leave hospital with vital advice and support information. So far they have collected £1,300.
Speaking about the hit-and-run, Mrs Cummings said: “It affected his personality. He couldn’t cope with any pressures, he was very emotional. He didn’t like that he couldn’t express his emotions and he would get upset easily.
“He would self-medicate [with alcohol and drugs] and say he felt that when he was on drugs, he was normal.”
The inquest heard how Matthew had suffered a troubled childhood and in the later years following his accident, had turned to heroin and crack cocaine to cope. However, with support he withdrew from substance misuse and had been sober for almost one year before his death.
The inquest also heard how Matthew had been jailed in 2016 for making threats to kill but was released early from his 16-month sentence.
Mrs Cummings told the A&T: “He called the police saying there was a man with two hostages. He wanted the police to shoot him, so he didn’t have to kill himself. That was how his brain worked, it was childlike.
“He had to live with the guilt that he was in prison but that did not define him – it was just an example of his impulsive behaviour.”
The inquest heard how Matthew had stopped working in January 2017 and had also recently split from his girlfriend.
Mrs Cummings added: “Matthew wanted help. I think he wanted to be normal. I tried to encourage independence but he was reluctant to make the journey to his counsellor or the doctor’s alone. He would come back shaking – it was a big deal for him.
“One day I found him crying in the bath and he said ‘how can I ever come back from all of this?’. He just didn’t see that anyone could help him, he just felt it was all hopeless.”
Talking about the fundraising, she said: “We want something good to come out of this. There could be lots of Matts walking around without help. It is devastating to have a family member with a brain injury, it affected us all. We feel we have been let down as there was no support.
“When Matt left hospital the doctor told me he would probably get better in a few months. We didn’t know anything about brain injuries. The way people with mental health problems and brain injuries are looked after is dreadful.”
The day before he died, Mrs Cummings said they had a row as he had been drinking at home.
She told the court: “I just couldn’t sit there and watch it. He had been off alcohol for nearly one year, but it was starting to creep back in. I knew once the alcohol began, the drugs would start. He had no control. He knew I was right and the last thing he should be doing was drinking.”
Later that evening Matthew went to a local pub and she heard him come home around 10.30pm and go into his room.
The next morning when she woke, she saw a note on the kitchen side and looked into the garden, where Matthew had hanged himself from a tree.
Pathologist Dr Vipul Foria gave the cause of death as hanging. Toxicology results showed he was nearly twice the drink-drive limit and he had cannabis in his system.
Matthew had been seeing a counsellor at the Totton-based Headway charity which helps those who have suffered head injuries.
Manager Jo Hillier told the inquest how Matthew has self-referred in November 2017 and had been seeing a counsellor weekly.
The last meeting was on 2nd August when she had begun preparing him for an upcoming four-week break, while she was on holiday and the centre was closed.
Although he was “distinctly low”, he made no reference to suicidal thoughts and appeared to be planning for the future, she said.
Coroner Grahame Short recorded a conclusion of suicide and said: “He had a troubled life involving the use of drugs and alcohol and the significant head injury suffered in 2004. It reflects that he did find life generally very hard and to cope with what most people take for granted.
“It does appear he was suffering with depression again. I accept he had been drinking prior to his death – he was under the influence of alcohol but not severely intoxicated. Matthew left a note apologising for what he had done, therefore I’m sure he intended to take his own life.”
Speaking after the inquest, Matthew’s family praised the counselling provided by Headway, but said they felt it came too late to help.
They said also said they feel they have been let down by health services as despite paying tens of thousands of pounds for private rehabilitation treatment following his brain injury, his issues were not adequately addressed.
Mrs Cummings added: “We want head injuries to be recognised. It is the second biggest disability and the least recognised. In this day and age, it should be. The trouble was, he looked perfectly normal, so people couldn’t tell.
“He had a lovely sense of humour and that’s what we miss. He was loving and caring. I’ve had so many emails [since he died] from people to say he had helped them. He once even said to me ‘why do I help everyone, but I can’t help myself?’”