Mental Patient Suffers Brain Injury And Dies After Drinking Too Much Water

(Photo by FRED TANNEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

John Oyewale Contributor
Font Size:

An investigation into the death of a mother and mental patient in east-central England revealed she died from drinking water excessively and from healthcare failings, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported Thursday.

Michelle Whitehead, 45, was admitted to a mental health unit in Sutton-in-Ashfield in 2021 for the second time following a mental breakdown, the BBC reported. She reportedly began drinking water excessively while hospitalized there. Following a dose of tranquilizers, she reportedly fell into a coma which the staff reportedly mistook for sleep, and was later transferred to a nearby hospital, where she died on May 7, 2021.

An investigative panel concluded that there were failings that “probably more than minimally” contributed to her death. The failings included  “inadequate monitoring of Michelle”, as staff  “were distracted by the use of their personal mobile telephones, an activity which was prohibited on the ward,” per the report. The Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust admitted the failings and apologized to the family.

“When Michelle [seemingly] fell asleep, staff should have realised something was very wrong,” 45-year-old Michael Whitehead, Michelle’s husband, told the BBC, per the report. “Had they acted earlier Michelle would have been taken to ICU [intensive care unit] and put on a drip. That would have saved her life.” (RELATED: Brooke Shields Opens Up About ‘Grand Mal Seizure’ Caused By Excessive Water Intake)

The investigative panel learned Michelle began consuming large amounts of water on May 5, 2021, two days after her admission into the mental health unit but the staff failed to diagnose her condition as psychogenic polydipsia and let her have unchecked access to water in her room, the report noted. A coroner determined Michelle died of hyponatremic encephalopathy, acute hyponatremia, and psychogenic polydipsia.

Psychogenic polydipsia commonly affects mental health patients and causes water intoxication and a critical lowering of blood sodium levels, leading to coma and sudden death, per the medical journal BMJ.

Michelle was a mother of two boys, one of whom has Down’s Syndrome, the BBC noted. She reportedly gave up her job as a nursery nurse to care for the boy for 19 years before suffering two mental breakdowns.