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Cameron, Clegg, Hunt, how can someone wait six months for mental healthcare if suicide is the other option?

Posted on 24 October 2014 | 11:10am

Earlier this week, as I blogged at the time, I was on the panel of a BBC3 FreeSpeech mental health special. It was fantastic to see and hear so many young people prepared to be open about their mental health conditions. But it was also infuriating and upsetting to hear how many felt they could not access the treatment they need.

Like Oli Regan, a 23-year-old from Bromley in Kent, who has several times tried to take his own life, and yet who is having to wait several months for the CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) doctors – and he – think will help him and his personality disorder issues.

Next week Nick Clegg is on the programme. I have been supportive of Clegg’s commitment to mental health as a priority, and his support for the Time to Change campaign of which I am an ambassador. Indeed, he made mental health the centrepiece of his Party Conference speech.

But the reality is the government of which he is Deputy Prime Minister is presiding over massive frontline cuts that are making life even harder for Oli and thousands like him, and making a mockery of the line in the NHS Constitution that there should be parity between physical and mental health. He needs to be challenged on why so many people are having to wait so long for basic mental health care.

My daughter Grace was in the audience and as we headed home she said I should try to do something ‘to help that boy who couldn’t get CBT.’ So I contacted him via the producers and asked if he would like to tell his story on here. I will make sure it gets to Jeremy Hunt and Nick Clegg. And we will see if they can put some money where their mouths are.

Here is Oli’s story.

‘My name is Oli Regan. I am 23 years old. I was one of more than a hundred or so young people with mental health issues who made up the audience for the last BBC3 Free Speech programme on Tuesday, which was filmed at a psychiatric hospital in Tooting. It was great to be among so many people who at least understood each other, and understood that mental illness is exactly that, illness.

There was an incredible energy in the room as the panel – Alastair Campbell, Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, writer Jon Ronson and broadcaster Zoe Hardman – told their own stories of mental health problems. As the presenter Rick Edwards asked for contributions from the audience dozens of hands went up and I was among those called to speak.

I told my story briefly, how I had tried to take my own life, how a doctor had told me I had taken the wrong drugs, how I had tried again, and again, before finally trying to get proper help. And I am still trying. I am convinced CBT will help me. But the wait is at least six months, and getting longer.

It all started when I was young. I always acted a little different than others and always thought I was a bit weird compared with them. I just went with it but then as I got older and had to deal with problems and bigger issues – like relationships and mood swings – it became more difficult to handle.

At 17 I brought my car and at least I was able to go for a drive to let out the built up anger and reduce the stress but I was always having “tantrums”. Then at 23 I had a moment that I couldn’t control and I got arrested for damage to my own wall after I tried to take my life.

When I saw the “doctor” he told me I had taken the wrong tablets and that if I had taken paracetamol it would have worked. So guess what I did next? I tried Paracetamol! This time I got arrested and they took me to a cell which made things a hundred times worse.

I felt like I had NOONE ! And I didn’t! No support, no social worker, nobody there to help me, then I got seen and I was put on some medication. The thing is it wasn’t medication to deal with my condition – I wasn’t even sure what that was – so much as sedation to keep me calm and stop me doing anything stupid, like trying to kill myself again. But the effect of the medication meant that I couldn’t function therefore work was impossible I had to make that choice between work or pills. I couldn’t afford not to work – I was doing some acting work at the time, and am still trying to make it as a (currently unemployed) actor – so I choose work.

Everyone told me I needed to talk about my condition, my relationships, my inability to control my mood swings, in a proper therapeutic setting and I am totally up for that. But I have been waiting over 6 months for CBT and in that time I’ve tried to take my life twice. I do not think that’s acceptable from mental health”care” service.

Like Alastair said on his blog it was a great debate and like him I left feeling a bit more hopeful and with a bit more energy. It was great to be able to talk so openly in a crowd of people who understood.

But the next morning I was at home in Bromley and through the door came a letter to tell me that my mental health check up has been cancelled and the next one won’t be till January. January feels a long long way away. They know my background. They know how desperate I get. Deep down they must know I can’t wait that long.’

+++ I want to thank Oli for sharing his story. Free Speech takes some of its questions from the public in advance, so if you want to ask Nick Clegg a question, you can do so via this link on Facebook. If you want to know more about Time to Change, click here. And if you want to see last week’s programme, where I first became aware of Oli, click here.

  • reaguns

    “But the reality is the government of which he is Deputy Prime Minister is presiding over massive frontline cuts that are making life even harder for Oli and thousands like him, and making a mockery of the line in the NHS Constitution that there should be parity between physical and mental health.”

    Alastair I want to agree with you, but I find this difficult to believe. Do you dispute that Cameron has ringfenced the NHS budget? Yes I know that is before inflation, but that means there is only a small real terms reduction in overall spend, yes? Then, do you dispute that Cameron is trying to get rid of admin costs, rather than frontline services? How then can there be cuts to frontline services, do you, or any of your readers have any slightly harder evidence you can point me at?

    Now, on a slightly different tack, I do know of someone suffering from mental health issues, who used to see a counsellor brought in by her local GPs/clinic, and this service has now been cut. This was only after they tried to fob her off with CBT, which itself is a cost-cutting measure, to avoid using real psychologists. So perhaps the effect is real enough, however I am more inclined to believe that this has always been a problem, rather than one introduced or accelerated by Cameron?

    • Michele

      Re your middle para, you don’t get much more front line than A&E depts and I posted a link very recently to a shocking story about yet more of them being closed or merged with others miles away (with Jez Hunt claiming they are merely being ‘changed’ – a rich euphemism for them being locked / chained up uh?).
      When seconds count in emergency cases how the 4 letter word are the ambulance crews meant to keep patients alive for longer journeys?
      We’re watching some people with no understanding of real life, have probably never used a loo brush yet are certain they know exactly what needs to be done, nothing can be too hard for them to ‘sort’.
      Perhaps Dave and Jez could each be put on life-swap TV programmes with NHS workers and filmed live.
      We had a similar A&E threat at our teaching hospital recently; after several marches local people managed to prove that what was being attempted was illegal with our public property, judges agreed with them so our services were saved but for how long?
      I hope other areas have action groups to galvanise as much support from their communities.

  • reaguns

    Oli I hope you get the help you need, and I believe Alastair when he says he will make sure this gets to Jeremy Hunt and Nick Clegg. If Alastair decides to use his powers for good, mountains can move!

    • Gillian C.

      ‘If Alastair decides to use his powers for good, ……..’

      Well, I for one and I’m sure many others do too, believe he his trying and doing his best and good on him for it. But, it is an up-hill struggle.

  • Pingback: UPDATE: Why we made a show about mental health | Brendan Miller()

  • Michele

    Have just got round to watching the video and can’t believe the stunt pulled with the whatsisname footballer question.

    I’m sure the secondary question re him becoming a plumber was irrelevant too, he will now be on the Sex Offenders Register and is going to find it very difficult to get work anywhere, not just that involving going in to people’s houses.

    I really hope that a result from the programme is that the young fella/pupil’s doctor be reported.

    Lots of lively people 🙂

  • Ehtch

    As many quote, or maybe miss-quote, Dr. Freud, “Tell me about childhood”, referring to the nature or nurture argument. We are born, and thankfully in this country these days, we have an excellent chance to reach seven. Then there is the modern environmental issues of living in a Western country, where we seem to leave old natural feelings of empathy behind, which I think is the unhealthy part of modern living.

    So mental health issues arise and increase. And having chairs thrown in front of one constantly, trying to trip one up, is damn annoying on the mind, when considering when we evolved, hunting and gathering was our main concern, not battling with money, generationally.

  • Ehtch

    Great stuff Alastair, I like what I am hearing…

  • Ehtch

    Simple short vid I did this morning Ali, for friends. Up to you if you want to approve it for your page here, but I think it has a marvellous beat, yes?….

  • Michele

    I don’t know whether Oli will still be looking in but as I live in the same area I did a google for mental health services for adolescents and there does seem to be a lot in Bromley and nearby Lewisham / borough of.
    Naturally the web being what it is some of the listings could be about services that have since been cut but hopefully not all ……

    Some of the services could be in parts of town it’s just lovely to visit anyway eg: the gorgeous higher parts of Woolwich.

    Am not wishing to sound like Auntie Farty but do get outdoors (and without suspecs or peaked cap!!!) for that essential anti-depressive Vit D.

    Back to me knittin’ 🙂

    • Oli

      Thank you means so much there’s nothing in my area honestly I wanna start something with what I’ve been doing 🙂 Oli

  • NuttyNora

    Would like to ask what if any support has been put in place to help any of the people that featured on the programme as talk is cheap. Oli seems to be taking a real stand for mental health in young people as he was on again this week talking with Nick Clegg. I admire his bravery, he would make a great person to speak up for young people. Good luck Oli