It was very upsetting to read the story about your brother Tariq’s suicide in yesterday’s Observer. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and suffering this will have caused your family, never mind the inner turmoil Tariq must have been going through.
My heart ached when I read your words: “Maybe I could have made a difference. And I guess I will never know the answer to that.” No, you will never know the answer to that but you should not feel guilt. The truth is that if you had known about his demons you would have acted. I know how guilt works, but you should feel none about your brother.
As the secretary for health and social care, it is wonderful that you are now on a “deeply personal” mission to prevent suicides. As a senior government official, you have the power to do so. I hope you use it wisely. From my point of view, you haven’t made a very good start.
I have had mental health issues since 1969 and I still have clinical depression and at least four types of anxiety. The NHS you run has nothing long term and meaningful for me, other than drugs. The drugs keep the worst elements of my depression away, for much of the time but I feel I am running to stand still. Various therapists and GPs have told me that I am likely to have had undiagnosed ADHD, possible autism and PTSD from childhood. Treatment for my depression and an ADHD diagnosis would improve my life no end, but the waiting list for an ADHD assessment in Bristol is between 3.5 to 4 years and I had to wait a year just to get on it. And you say this:
“All of us at some time of our lives can have a mental health challenge and there is nothing wrong with that. The most important thing is to tell someone, to speak to others and to seek help.” These, I’m afraid, are just words. Yes, there is nothing wrong with having a mental health challenge – my challenge has lasted over 50 years so far – but to “tell someone, to speak to others”: you can do better than that, can’t you? When you are very ill, you need help and you need it now. If you’re lucky, you might get six weeks of counselling but then what? Unless you are in the position of needing to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, there is nothing for you. I know because there is nothing for me.
I wrote to you four months ago outlining my own problems. I opened up completely, totally without politics and told you I was not writing in confidence, that you could speak and write to whoever you wanted. Maybe you could have made a difference – as we know, you literally run the NHS, so in theory you’re not a bad person to write to – but neither you nor your office has even acknowledged my correspondence.
You added in The Guardian: “I make sure I make time for people and ask them how they are feeling.” That’s very laudable of you but for some reason you didn’t make time for me and you didn’t ask how I was feeling.
You are part of a government that has cut mental health spending to the bone. It would be generous to say that the NHS currently runs a skeleton mental health service. I was struck by your apparent sincerity when you accompanied the Sky journalist to get his Covid jab and I don’t doubt that you are sincere about your “deeply personal” mission to prevent suicides. But I need to be convinced your mission exists beyond mere words.
My life has been largely ruined in so many ways by my ongoing issues but to date I have not gone down the road of ending it all. Your personal heartbreak is tough to read and I hope it has given you empathy to understand what many of us are going through.
Mental health is the Cinderella part of the NHS and in your heart of hearts you know that.
I am desperate for help but the way things are I am not going to get it. Your words are good to read, but without accompanying actions they are worthless. As a fellow Bristol boy, I’m depending on you.
With all best wishes,