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.