Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

The sudden death of Sean Kessels: ‘Money wasn’t a problem'

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Sat, 1 Jun 2024, 9:17am

The sudden death of Sean Kessels: ‘Money wasn’t a problem'

Anna Leask,
Publish Date
Sat, 1 Jun 2024, 9:17am

WARNING: This story deals with suicide and self-harm. Please see below for help and crisis information. 

- Sean Paul Kessels died suddenly in November. The 26-year-old had depression, bipolar disorder and other severe mental health issues.  

- Leading up to his death Sean was ‘pleading’ for specialist help - a secure bed in a facility where he would be safe as he sorted out his medication and mood. Money was no object; his family could afford private treatment. However, they say there was simply nothing available for Sean.  

- Today his mother Kelly is sharing his tragic story to highlight what she believes is a critical shortfall of mental health help in New Zealand. 

Sean Kessels wanted to live and get better but was overwhelmed by his severe mental health issues. Photo / SuppliedSean Kessels wanted to live and get better but was overwhelmed by his severe mental health issues. Photo / Supplied 

Kelly is haunted by the call. 

The call that marked the end of her child’s life - and the end of her own life in so many ways. 

It was November 6, 2023, around 8pm. 

“He passed away on the Monday night. On Saturday he had lunch with me, my mum and my sister. He was good, in a good mood ... That was a really good day,” she said. 

“The next day he was the complete opposite ... he was really bad, his cousin was with him and was really concerned for his health. 

“He came over … he was a wreck. He said he was having hallucinations. 

“I was trying to get help - the crisis team, everything.” 

The next day Sean was at his father’s house in Auckland. 

He sent Kelly, who lives in Pukekohe, a message saying “it’s worse”. 

“I rang and told his dad to keep an eye on him. And then the next day I was trying to ring and get help … his mental health support team were not returning my calls. 

“I just I remember texting him just saying ‘I haven’t heard back’ and he said ‘ok’. 

“And then his father came home, and he had done it … he rang me and just said ‘I’m sorry’. And I said ‘for what’ and he said ‘he’s done it … he’s killed himself. 

“I found out recently that before he died, Sean had been trying to ring and get help too.” 

Sean Kessels was 26 when he died. Photo / SuppliedSean Kessels was 26 when he died. Photo / Supplied 

Kelly rushed to the house where Sean died, arriving as police carried out their grim duties. 

“One of the cruellest things is seeing your own child dead,” she said. 

“My immediate thought was that I understood it. I got it. I know why he did it. I wasn’t angry … I’ve never been angry at him, I just miss him terribly. But he was living such a sad, hard life.” 

Sean’s death has been referred to Coroner Tracey Fitzgibbon - who will look at his mental health history and care, and what happened the day he died. 

A coroner is also tasked with determining if anything could or should have been done differently in the lead-up to a sudden death and, in many cases, they will make recommendations as to whether anything can be done to prevent similar deaths in future. 

Kelly has asked the coroner to look at the phone calls she and Sean made the day he died, and the responses. 

A letter from the coroner’s office confirmed she had all the evidence she needed to make a finding, including statements from police and other witnesses. 

A formal inquest will not be held in court but written findings will eventually be released. 

Kelly hopes the outcome helps other people like Sean, and their families. 

Sean Kessels is deeply missed by his family. Photo / SuppliedSean Kessels is deeply missed by his family. Photo / Supplied 

Sean was diagnosed with depression at 13 and bipolar disorder at 15. 

Kelly said he spent numerous stints as an inpatient at mental health facilities. 

“He was there on his 18th birthday,” she said. 

“Then he was diagnosed with schizoaffective psychosis. He spent a couple of years unable to leave home, isolated and miserable. 

“He managed to do a wee bit at uni and did some acting. Before Covid he went to drama school. He did okay until the second lockdown.” 

Sean and Kelly bought a house together in Pukekohe and he got a job landscaping through family friends. 

“They took him on as a son,” said Kelly. 

“Sean was at his healthiest.” 

Things went downhill in December 2022. Sean stopped taking his meds and made two suicide attempts. 

Kelly said both times he was rushed to the hospital but discharged within hours. Both times she had hoped he would be admitted to an acute mental health unit 

“There were no beds anywhere for him. Not even at private facilities. We were fortunate enough that money was no issue for us,” she said. 

“Money wasn’t a problem if we could get the help - but we couldn’t.” 

Sean Kessels was very close to his sister, pictured, and his mother. Photo / SuppliedSean Kessels was very close to his sister, pictured, and his mother. Photo / Supplied 

In 2023 Sean developed imposter syndrome and his behaviour at times scared Kelly. 

She said she called crisis teams several times, but there was nowhere for Sean to go. 

One night Kelly, desperate and afraid for herself and her son, called 111. 

“I had no choice but to ring the police … now he was in the criminal system,” she said, heartbroken. 

“He was bailed to his boss’s property and went back on his meds, which helped. He got back to normal but he was having flashbacks about the things he did to me and he felt like shit.” 

Kelly said the day before Sean died, she was frantic. Desperate. 

Kelly has told the coroner she made numerous calls to Sean’s support team that day - and the next - but no one got back to her. 

She said she learned after Sean died that he had also been making calls to specific people “pleading” for help. 

Kelly said Sean struggled for most of his life, but he wanted to get better. He wanted to act, work, have relationships. 

But he just could not get stability in his mental health. 

“He was just the perfect child. He was the nicest person you’d ever meet - genuine, true, never gossiped about anyone,” said Kelly. 

“He was super intelligent. I don’t think there would be one person that could say anything bad about him. 

“Sean was 26 years old. He was so gentle, an animal lover. He was tall, handsome and the best friend anyone could wish for. 

“He just needed help and no one came.” 

One of Sean's favourite photos of himself. Photo / SuppliedOne of Sean's favourite photos of himself. Photo / Supplied 

Kelly reached out to the Herald after reading about the sudden death of 13-year-old Raiana Boyd. 

“I just had this urge for people to know Sean’s story,” she explained. 

“He had his struggles but he still went to university and got into acting school. He did some stints on Shortland Street. He was the owner of two properties in Christchurch. 

“He just had so much on his side.” 

Kelly said when Sean was first diagnosed with depression in his early teens, her “whole life stopped”. 

“From the very first day I’ve just lived my life for him. I did everything I could … it was just my life’s work to try and keep him alive. Living solely for him took a toll on his sister and I know that was just so hard on her. 

“With bipolar you’re up and down. They could actually help his high, suppress his mania but they couldn’t lift his depression. He had severe bouts of depression that could last months because they couldn’t help that side of it. 

“It was a really hard life for him. I think he went through periods of being angry … it was a lonely existence, in his early 20s he would go months without socialising or talking to people. 

“I had to leave my job just to make sure he was sort of existing. It was hard, and it was lonely. And he chose not to tell a lot of people … Sean had lived without some family and friends knowing how severe his illness was. 

“He felt he couldn’t bear people’s judgments. He would hide from the world when he was bad and tried his best when he was well. He wanted to fight it, he wanted to be a better person.” 

Kelly said her journey with Sean was exhausting - for both of them. 

“It was just so hard for me. And I just think, if I was tired, how tired was he?” 

Sean died suddenly in November 2023. A coroner is looking into the circumstances. Photo / SuppliedSean died suddenly in November 2023. A coroner is looking into the circumstances. Photo / Supplied 

Sean was extremely close to his mother and dearly loved his sister Courtney and grandparents Tom and Carole Logan. 

“When they discovered how unwell he was last year, my dad would have paid anything he could. We tried private. We tried to get him into anything. There was nothing,” Kelly said. 

“I couldn’t have done more for him. All those years, every breath I lived was to try and get Sean help. Sometimes I did. And sometimes I didn’t.” 

Kelly hopes Sean’s death will be a catalyst for change - that more services for people like him will be established and people will talk about mental health more, normalising and destigmatising issues many Kiwis struggled with. 

“I’m broken … I’m just so sad,” she said. 

“The system is so broken and people need to know about it. 

“We are losing people because they can’t get a f**king bed … it’s awful. 

“A secure place where they could put Sean back on his medication, get him back to a relatively normal state - that is all he needed, for probably two to three weeks. 

“He was pleading for it. He said to me in the last few months: ‘I have to be somewhere, I have to go somewhere’. 

“I so want my best friend back with me - but I wouldn’t want him back the way he was and knowing he was going to continue suffering … that’s a pretty hard thing to say.” 

Anna Leask is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers national crime and justice. She joined the Herald in 2008 and has worked as a journalist for almost 19 years with a particular focus on family violence, child abuse, sexual violence, mental health and youth crime. She writes, hosts and produces the award-winning podcast A Moment In Crime, released monthly on nzherald.co.nz 

Where to get help: • Lifeline: Call 0800 543 354 or text 4357 (HELP) (available 24/7) 
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: Call 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) 
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906 
• Youthline: Call 0800 376 633 or text 234 
• What's Up: Call 0800 942 8787 (11am to 11pm) or webchat (11am to 10.30pm) 
• Depression helpline: Call 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7) 
• Helpline: Need to talk? Call or text 1737 
• Aoake te Rā (Bereaved by Suicide Service): Call or text 1737 
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111 

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you