Tim Rhys-Evans: All in the Mind, BBC 1, 10.45pm. Director Mei Williams.


I must admit I hadn’t a scooby who Tim Rhys-Evans is. I find out here he’s the auteur of a male voice choir, Only Men Aloud, which won a competition called Last Choir Standing, which led to sell out concerts and record gigs and an MBE from the Queen. None of these things interest me. What interests me is Rhys-Evans’s admission that he’s got a mental health problem and tried to take his life. People that make lists are flagged up as in danger. Rhys-Evans made a list. People who write suicide notes are one step away from death. Rhys-Evans’s suicide note ran to fifteen pages. He’s still here and read it at the end of the programme. It’s a poignant moment. Rhys-Evans recalls as he was writing the suicide note something broke within him and he began wailing. There’s something biblical about this. A calling out of the self to the void.

I was supporting someone that was being assessed whether they were ‘fit for work’ as he had a depressive illness. Appointments were running two hours late because the assessors were on the sick and not enough of them had turned up for work. That’s irony for you. But we sat it out. We could see the different members of the latest professional group that has taken over from ATOS and most of them seemed to be female. I said to my mate, ‘you’ll get him’.  Older man, shirt and tie, shiny shoes, light-blue suit. ‘You’ll get Dr Gestapo,’ I said.

‘Aye,’ he said, ‘I probably will.’

That’s what happens when you’re depressed. You always think the worst. I hadn’t seen Rhys-Evans’s programme at this point. So I tried to cheer him up by saying just because your suicidal doesn’t mean you’re depressed. But he was having none of it. He was sure it was his fate that he was going to get Dr Gestapo.  I gave him a few examples of people that were suicidal but not depressed. I couldn’t mind the name of that group that killed themselves because they thought they were getting picked up by a spaceship, but I did mention Spock and the early Christians. Think positive, cheery thoughts. Ying and Yang.  Singing hymns and fling their weans at lions and shouting eat me first, but that ended up sounding like a Proclaimer’s track. I got him a drink of water. At least it was free. Dr Gestapo was waiting file in hand. He’d more chance with the lions, but what can you say? No wonder he was depressed. I was too.

Fate intervened in the case of Tim Rhys-Evans. His local mental health authority crisis-intervention team had him on the phone and they came to the door and rescued him. Tim Rhys-Evans had nothing but praise for their professionalism and caring. They literally saved his life.

Goldenhill Crisis Prevention Team, in my local authority, also run an out-of-hours service. But my advice is don’t bother wasting your time phoning them if you or any of your loved ones are having a mental-health breakdown. By the time an appointment is booked –three weeks on Tuesday- the crisis will have solved itself or the person will be dead. This is one of those public services that isn’t a service and isn’t open to the public. So I’m glad it worked out for Tim Rhys-Evans in Wales. It helps if you are a celebrity, of course. That makes me sound cynical. That’s depressing, but true. Even Tim Rhys-Evans with a tape of this programme in hand would still have no chance if he was being assessed by Dr Gestapo. Fit for the works.

Worth watching.

Panorama: I’m Broken Inside – Sarah’s Story, BBC 1. 7.30pm.



How many children die whilst in psychiatric care?

You probably don’t know. If you were health secretary, you might say something to the effect, none that I know of, or you might guess the answer to be four this year, one of them Sarah Green. You might suggest that the knock on effects of broken Britain (my words) is the number of children seeking psychiatric care placement has, according to Deborah Coles, who under Freedom of Information made a request to the appropriate authorities (a mismatch of NHS Trusts and local authorities) and suggest that that number has  doubled since the nineteen eighties and quadrupled between 2010-2014.

In quantitative terms 0.7% of the NHS budget is spent on psychiatric care (mental health) of young people and gaps in services mean that young people can be shipped hundreds of miles from home, as Sarah Green was. Her final placement was in The Priory which receives eighty-five percent of its funding from NHS clients. Sarah’s family complained that at a case meeting about her care the NHS trust, and CAM’s team openly squabbled about who was to pay for her care. None of this surprised me. Nor did Sarah’s death. What shocked me, I’m sad to say, was the cost. The NHS Trust were paying £800 per day for Sarah’s care. The Priory as a private consortium does not have to disclose what happens to whom in its institutions. There’s big bucks in patient care. Economic rent. Sarah could have hired two or three full-time staff and stayed at home. Let’s put this into perspective. Justin King who has taken over the running of Four Season’s Care Homes (debts £50 million) complained that local authorities were paying as little as £400 per week for care of the elderly. He argued the break-even figure was nearer £500. My argument is quite simply we should be doing these things ourselves. Self-help. Not paying for both care and adding on profit as a justifiable cost. For me that’s unjustifiable.

Rachel’s story is the story of some many other kids. Frozen out and shipped to some far-flung institution that in the jargon has the appropriate resources. Tara Philips, for example, featured and her petition [below] from Change Org., appeared in my inbox.  Her story is Sarah’s story, but without the suicide. They deserve better. We deserve better.

I am a mum of 6 kids. My oldest, Rachael, just turned 15. Growing up she has always been a loving, thoughtful, young lady with an incredible sense of humour. But  when she was 13 she developed severe depression and was soon sectioned. At a time when she needed her family the most, she was moved to a specialist unit on the other side of the country. It costs £100 every time I travel to visit her. I can only afford to visit once every two weeks.

It has become unbearable to have my daughter so far away when I know she is suffering, that’s why I have started this petition to get her care closer to home.

Petitions have helped other families in similar situations.  When Phill Wills started his  #BringJoshHome campaign to get care for his son, his local authorities started to listen. Public pressure can do the same for us.

Young people’s mental health care has been overlooked in this country for far too long and thousands of families like mine are being neglected. In Lancashire, particularly, I know people aren’t getting the treatment they deserve. High quality local care for Rachael could be the first step to creating better care for all young people in the area

Please sign this petition and join me in calling on Lancashire NHS Trust to localise Rachael’s care and get her treatment closer to us.



Patrick and Henry Cockburn (2011) Henry’s Demons. Living with Schizophrenia. A Father and Son’s Story.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Roaring Laughter.”

tree demon

Patrick and Henry Cockburn (2011) Henry’s Demons. Living with Schizophrenia. A Father and Son’s Story.


David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, cousin to Patrick and uncle to Henry writes a blur on the cover: ‘A truly remarkable book, and a brave one’.

That’s clichéd. Clichés are quite common in mental illness. If you shot everyone that mouthed a cliché you’d have quite a few bodies lying at your feet. My favourite is the story of the thirds. A third recover from mental illness with no lasting effect. A third with the help of medication lead a normal life. Bang. There goes another body. And a third go and live in limbo land.

I’ve heard the same story applied to alcoholics and drug addicts.

Their stories are always remarkable, if not always true. Bang. Bang.

They are always brave. Bang.

By Henry Cockburn’s own estimation 1% of the world’s population suffer from schizophrenia. He suggests a particular uniformity in this. But then revises this estimation to suggest it is uneven. Immigrants for example are seven times more likely to suffer from it. And schizophrenia clusters around city centres like drunks waiting for the last bus home.  It is no respecter or class or gender, but does fit a particular pattern and strikes after late adolescence. What makes Henry’s demons unique is his father is a journalist that writes for The Independent, his mother Jan is an academic that teaches English graduates and so they encourage Henry to forge and new identity not as a sick person, but as a writer. He too is artistic, went to public school, his brother Alex a skilled mathematician won a scholarship to King’s College Canterbury, the same school Henry attended, but with less distinction. Writing it out helps mental illness. Bang.

Henry writes about a ten percent of this book. Patrick about eighty-five percent and his wife Jan about five percent. Henry’s passages are the leaven which make the book. He describes institutional life as cigarettes and time. ‘Life passes so slowly you start thinking numbers…’ But trees, in particular, talk to him. Welcome him. A robin tells him what to do. And after reading Lord of the Rings he believes he’s turning into Gollum. There are terrors. But the sense of ecstasy and oneness with nature is so wildly exciting that being naked in sub-zero temperatures, suffering from hypothermia, frostbite, almost losing his feet, starving and almost dying seem incidental. Over seven years he absconds from hospitals that incarcerated him over thirty times. The police put pressure on hospitals to keep him properly incarcerated because, of course, they have better things to do with their time than look for vulnerable young men. Bang. They could, for example, be putting up road blocks and asking motorists ‘where are you going sir? What exactly is the purpose of your journey?’  Even at the end of the book Henry admits he was not really sure he was ill. Is ill.

Get some alcoholics talking about their former drunks and you’ll get some good stories. Heroin addicts rhapsodise about that time when everything was sweet. Nothing compares to the ecstasy of Joan of Arc, for example, hearing voices. And Patrick is good at teasing out another of his relatives Evelyn Waugh’s real-life ascent, not descent, into madness in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold.   But Henry’s reading from the script of recovery.  Bang.

What the book is best at is describing how the bomb of madness blows away any idea of normal family life. A shell is left to construct a new shelter. One of the first barriers they encounter is Henry is an adult and doesn’t believe he is ill. They are a highly educated, upper middle class, couple, but as anyone familiar with the mental health system knows the omerta rule that applies to the Mafia also applies to mental health, indeed any National health institutions. The Data Protection Act 1998 is the perfect stick to beat away any enquiries. There are a few writers on ABCtales (whom I shall not name) that could tell you interesting tales how this instrument of torture is used and calibrated.

Patrick, Jan and Alex find what many other of us have found, the mental health system when you pull back the curtain is like the Wizard of Oz an old man pedalling a bike and shouting through a loudhailer. The cost is its own horror story. Patrick estimates it is cheaper sending your child to the most expensive public school in England, Eton. And let’s face it at Eton he might not get the job of Jesus when he grows up but will have a very good chance of becoming a politician, becoming prime minister and selling all those nice bits of lands used by hospitals to property developers who really need the land. Care in the Community has a nice ring to it. The reality is prison, which costs even more, as the American model shows.

Asylum, Patrick suggests, is an ugly word. His family in their bones know how necessary it is. Lesson learned. One in three people will suffer from mental illness at some time in their life. I love that kind of dramatic certainty from tabloid headlines. Don’t get sick. Don’t get ill. That’s madness. If you do you enter an underworld in which there is no key. Jan finds it a world of snakes and ladders (with not many ladders). Be warned. Stay well. Stay sane. Or at least become wealthy. More bangs for your buck.