Warning: This article references mental health issues and suicide and may be distressing
A coroner who investigated the deaths of a loving married couple wants more work done to remove the "stigma" surrounding mental health and to encourage people to talk about it.
Coroner Heidi Wrigley found Kevin Maulder killed his wife Patricia and their cherished black labrador Hannah before taking his own life in January 2017.
"Both Patricia and Kevin may be regarded as victims of stigma surrounding poor mental health and Kevin's associated reluctance to speak with others about his mental health struggles," she said.
The Maulders lived on a small lifestyle block in Central Hawke's Bay for 30 years and – apart from three years running a fish and chip shop – Kevin, 68, had worked for the same employer since the age of 17, at Johnson's Electrical in Waipukurau.
He had been married to Patricia, 66, since 1969 and despite some early difficulties with alcohol, the marriage was described as a loving relationship.
However, on January 14, 2017, the couple's daughter-in-law Kerrin Maulder awoke to find a text message from Kevin apologising and saying that he could not take "the s*** in my head" any more.
"We are both gone," the text said. "There is 33,000 in Rabobank."
Kerrin and the couple's only son Justin tried calling his parents but got no response, so they contacted police.
A police officer found Patricia dead in bed and Kevin nearby, also in the bedroom. The dog Hannah was found dead in the kitchen.
Coroner Wrigley said she was told by family members that Kevin had had a "breakdown" in October or November 2016 and Patricia had been worried he would "do something silly".
Kevin became "overwhelmed" with impending changes in his life and concerns about the lifestyle block, downsizing to another house, and money worries as he reduced his working hours.
"I consider that this struggle was at least partly attributable to Kevin's unwillingness to share with others the difficulty that he was having with his mental health," the coroner said.
She said "matters came to a head" on January 13, 2017, the day that a caravan the couple planned to use for a holiday failed its warrant of fitness. This was the "final straw".
The coroner said that the text message received next morning was "highly probative" of an intention by Kevin to take his own life, and that of his wife.
Patricia was a nervous person who suffered from chronic anxiety and was reliant on Kevin for many household tasks such as banking, paying bills and using the internet.
"Being conscious that Patricia would be unable or unwilling to cope without him, and from a mentally unwell perspective, I find that Kevin ... decided that Patricia must die with him," the coroner said.
She said it was unlikely that Patricia knew of Kevin's plan. She was probably asleep when she was killed.
Coroner Wrigley acknowledged the work of the Ministry of Health and groups such as the Mental Health Foundation, Farm Strong, Movember and Head First to encourage people to talk about their health issues.
However, she said ongoing work was needed to destigmatise poor mental health and to support open communication about it.
"Such work, which may prevent suicides and deaths like Kevin and Patricia's, requires funding and specialist oversight commensurate with New Zealand's unacceptably high rate of suicide," the coroner said.
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