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‘The tragic death of Dylan Freeman shows the pressure cooker of lockdown on those already struggling to cope’


by Amanda Cassidy
29th Jan 2021

It isn’t a massive leap of faith to see that lockdown has had a substantial impact on the wellbeing of those already struggling to cope in difficult circumstances. Amanda Cassidy reports.

 

A 40-year-old woman this week pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her vulnerable 10-year-old son. Olga Freeman admitted killing her son by diminished responsibility at the Old Bailey on Monday.

Friends had reported that the mother-of-one, who was separated from the boy’s father, was struggling to cope with the demands of lockdown and the lack of routine for her son who normally attended school four days a week.

As we step into the sixth week of level 5 lockdown of 2021, and after months of being confined to our homes last year, we need to start realising the fallout such extreme measures can have on mental health.

From a young age Dylan Freeman had been diagnosed with autism, global neurodevelopmental delay, progressive myopia and significant difficulties with language and communication, self-help and independence.

The court heard that he suffered from extensive mental and physical health issues which impacted his independence and his ability to communicate.

It’s believed the little boy was suffocated at his home in Acton sometime between 14 August and 17 August 2020. A post-mortem gave the cause of death as restriction of the airways. Freeman had cared for him for many years, using local authority services and an acquaintance for assistance, and also suffered from mental illness herself. Dylan required round the clock care and rarely slept at night.

Softly

Freeman attended Acton police station to report herself following the killing. When police officers arrived at the scene they found Dylan placed in his mother’s bed covered by a duvet and surrounded by his favourite cuddly toys.

Kristen Katsouris, from the CPS said: “This was a tragic death of a child at the hands of his mother who was struggling to cope. Olga Freeman had loved and cared for Dylan for many years, but the strain and pressures of her son’s severe and complex special needs had built up and that combined with her impaired mental health led to heart-breaking consequences” Ms Freeman will be sentenced on February 11th.

The edge

How many others are struggling to cope with their high-pressured circumstances at home? And why are we not talking about this more? Of course, not everyone who is under strain will take such extreme measures and naturally, there were other factors at play in a case like this.

However, it does highlight the fact that those who were just barely holding it together are getting pretty close to the edge as the continuing home confinements roll on. Those in abusive relationships, carers, those struggling with being alone, fledgling alcoholics, even just people for who social interaction is support enough. Without the routine of school, work or other interventions, the days are long and the nights even longer.

One in six young people now have a probably mental illness, up from one in nine before the pandemic hit.

Increased isolation caused by lockdowns risks causing long-term damage to the health and well-being of hundreds of thousands of us.

And it isn’t just adults. As the conversations center mostly around education, it is worth taking a step back to consider the effects of isolation on our children. A concerning new study from UK researchers has found that one in six young people now have a probably mental illness, up from one in nine before the pandemic hit.

Already we have inadequate supports for those who need it most – both for physical health and mental health.

This pandemic is a pressure cooker and rolling lockdowns are not the answer. Let’s start having more conversations about that, and about better supports, before it is tragically too late.