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  • Writer's pictureTom Robinson

“My son begged to be sectioned before his death”: why we need services that treat dual diagnoses

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

There was a heartbreaking story on the BBC News page last week which really resonated and stood out for me.

Once again it involves learning from the messages that those who have taken their own lives leave behind them.

Each one gives us so much to think about and consider, and the lesson we can learn from this particular case involves the mental health system which, as I have highlighted before, is failing people time and again.

The news article details one mother’s heartbreak and anguish at losing her son to drug addiction and mental illness. She believes that the system failed him, and her tragic loss highlights the need for provision of a service that effectively treats those with a dual diagnosis.

Jack Brennan, 23 from west Belfast in Northern Ireland, died of a suspected drug overdose after begging to be sectioned by mental health services.

This story highlights two very important issues for me, the first being that I know that pleading and begging to be sectioned when you are in crisis doesn’t happen, and secondly there is absolutely no drug counselling or alcohol addiction therapy WHATSOEVER in NHS psychiatric hospitals.

In 2018, after my brain had been severely damaged by the disastrous ketamine infusions, I was left suffering from racing suicidal thoughts, agitated depression, and what I now recognise as severe mixed state bipolar disorder.

I had been discharged from hospital under the supervision of a ‘care-coordinator’ who would be my liaison with the psychiatrists in the community. A great initiative and on paper an excellent idea, but in practice pretty bloody useless.

I told my care coordinator repeatedly that I was suicidal in every waking moment, week in week out, and nothing was done about it. I needed immediate intervention and (even though current psychiatric care would have done nothing to help me), it might have stopped me from taking my life.

Every time she came to see me, I would crawl downstairs, completely crippled with depression to discuss my concerns over my state of mind and completely ineffective medication plan. I’d be lying on a sofa in the sitting room with the curtains closed, when she would arrive and find me in absolute crisis, and in obvious agony and extreme pain.

I said to her one day while staring her right in the eye “This is going to end so badly”, obviously hinting at the fact that I was going to act, yet still nothing was done! I was then told to ‘try harder’ at my next appointment at the hospital – that’s by a mental health nurse – and we’re surprised at suicide rates?!

I then realised that the only way of actually being sectioned was if I made an unsuccessful attempt at taking my own life. As I’m typing this, I’m even astounding myself and wondering how on earth I’m still alive.

Somehow, I clung on but only by the smallest of margins, and if I hadn’t been constantly cared for and supported by my parents there is no way I’d still be here.

I managed to resist the urge to act by reading everything I could to educate myself about how to challenge my suicidal thoughts and I drew on scraps of resilience and patience.

Thankfully, I am now better but that’s because I finally found an amazing private doctor with a treatment that’s not even available on the NHS – it’s all so utterly wrong.

The other thing to learn from Jack Brennan’s tragic death is that the system needs to cater for both mental illnesses and drug addiction problems because very often the two go hand in hand.

It’s really a case of the chicken and the egg, because some people develop mental illnesses from drug taking and some have mental illnesses first and then self-medicate.

I completely understand why they do this, especially when the psychiatric drugs fail them because you get so utterly desperate, and you’ll try anything to blot out the pain.

My parents are always horrified when I talk about the fact that drugs have been everywhere as I’ve grown up. Every party, dinner, or night out that I went to in London through my 20’s and 30’s, included drugs. I was never really interested in taking them but they were constantly being offered to me - I’ve known the dessert at a dinner party to be cocaine served up on silver platter – recreational drugs are everywhere.

God alone knows what the state of things is like for the 20 year-olds of today, I know it’s a huge problem, and if you are predisposed to mental illness, recreational drug taking can jump start a dormant mental health condition.

Sometimes drug taking has irreversible effects and there were several boys in my last hospital admission that had completely destroyed their mental health through drug addiction. But even in light of the fact that at least 80% of the patients had a drug and/or alcohol problem there was NO drug education, therapy or addiction support available to them. In fact, there was no counselling, therapy or support WHATSOEVER!

The state of things is far worse than anyone can imagine, my local psychiatric hospital has a revolving door with the same patients going round and round and round.

They say insanity is “doing the same things over and over and expecting different results” so why don’t they provide these poor boys with some therapy and drug addiction support? I’ll tell you why – lack of insight, lack of focus, and lack of MONEY.

Oh dear! This problem is huge and the more I write, the more I realise that it is going to take so much more than telling people to “talk” and “get some fresh air” to reduce suicide rates.

There are people saying that suicide is preventable which is probably true, but the current system is so far away from providing support and preventative measures. What actually happens is that you have an attempt, get thrown through a chaotic and disturbing psychiatric hospital admission, don’t get any better, and then next time you’re in crisis you make sure that your attempt is successful because you know that the system won’t help you, and you’re definitely not going to go through the trauma of a psych ward again.

I know I’m being very blunt and direct this morning, but every suicide is such a tragedy and Jack Brennan’s death, and the thousands of others MUST be learnt from. I’m tempted to copy this post into an email and send it to Boris Johnson, because I can’t believe that he can realise what is really going on out here, otherwise surely something would be being done about it?

Yet again I’m taking a deep breath this morning but fortunately I am riding out for the local racehorse trainer, and now that I am finally well again, riding is giving me such escapism, sense of freedom and even that elusive feeling of pleasure! Thank God!

Please keep the suggestions for posts and the comments coming and thank you for all the support!

If I can get a following, I will be campaigning for changes, and as soon as the restrictions are lifted, I’m going to go and visit the boys on the psychiatric ward in Oxford and try to support and educate them myself!

If you would like to read the BBC News article then you can find it here.

Thanks for reading,

Speak to you soon,


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