Posts Tagged 'Telling Admissions'

Telling Admissions 4

So far in Telling Admissions we have recounted the stories of a poet, a pop star and an occupational therapist. This month we turn our attention to a political advisor – one of the highest-profile political advisers in living memory – and in particular to the account he has given of his psychiatric hospitalisation in 1986. According to Tony Blair’s Head of Communications at 10 Downing Street, Alastair Campbell, “it was the worst day of my life – at the time – one during which, from waking with a hangover to rushing for a flight to Scotland, I felt a relentless march towards what, in my developing madness, I imagined was going to be my death.” Campbell adds wryly, “you will know by now that I didn’t die, which may be a disappointment to some”.

“Instead I was arrested by two plain-clothes policemen, and taken into custody, where my madness saw me strip naked and draw messages on the walls of my barren Hamilton cell. A doctor arrived, and, on condition I sought help, I was taken to Ross Hall Hospital in Paisley. I was sedated, slept, and after several scary days of paranoia, shakes from alcohol withdrawal, and engagement with a kindly psychiatrist called Ernest Bennie, I began the slow road to recovery. It’s a road I continue to tread.”1

Like Lydia Scotting, Campbell writes perceptively concerning the nature of his own recovery: “I’m the same person I was in 1986. I don’t drink like I used to. But I still get depressed, can still be self-obsessed, obsessive, brooding and introspective, and can still be riddled with self-doubt at times about what I do and why I do it, not to mention what I don’t do and why I don’t do it.” And remarkably (though with the benefit of hindsight), he says: “I now look back on 7 March 1986, not as the worst day of my life, but as the best. I faced up to problems, like alcohol. I admitted to obsessions, like politics and a desire to see the back of the Tories. I came to understand what really mattered – beliefs, values, friendship…”2

It is as if his psychiatric admission was the first step on his road to recovery, as it seems to have been for others recently in the news. Is it too much to claim that it was the most formative experience of his life, as it appears to have been for the likes of Edward Oxford, Wilhelmina Geddes and Adam Ant?

1 Alastair Campbell, ‘Why self-doubt is a good thing’, BBC News website, 13 April 2012.

2 ibid.


Telling Admissions 3

This is the third of six posts in a thread devoted to the stories of those who have gone on the record to talk about their experiences of psychiatric hospitalisation (not necessarily at Bethlem or the Maudsley, be it noted) between 1975 and 1995. In telling their stories, these people have performed a valuable service to a public that is generally uninformed and fearful when it comes to issues of mental ill-health. Some have spoken of experiencing depression or distress at the same time as continuing to shoulder clinical responsibilities within mental healthcare, thereby addressing another taboo – the permeability of the distinction between patient and professional. There are many such stories. A couple of years ago we highlighted one drawn from Wounded Healers: Mental Health Workers’ Experiences of Depression by Vicky Rippiere and Ruth Williams (1985), and here we draw attention to another.

Lydia Scotting was an occupational therapist who was admitted to hospital in Canada in the early 1980s following a suicide attempt. “The next thing I remember”, she wrote, “is waking in a hospital bed, surrounded by a maze of tubes. I felt disgusted with myself for still being alive. I later learned that only my daughter’s quick response when she found me, my husband’s skilful resuscitation and the resourcefulness of the ambulance men had saved my life.”1 Scotting candidly admitted to being “ill at ease” on the hospital’s psychiatric ward “because I couldn’t distinguish some of the patients from the nurses because no one wore uniforms”, and an offer of occupational therapy was initially “of course refused – ‘Anywhere but there’, I thought.”2 The baseline from which she started her road to recovery was not promising: “I felt completely desolate because I believed there was nowhere I could turn to for help and I was unable to voice this fear”.3

Nevertheless, she did recover, and later provided some interesting reflections on the precise nature of this recovery: “I would like to be able to say that since my recovery I have conquered all my character deficits but unhappily this isn’t so. I do, though, now have a much greater understanding of myself and my character flaws. I have a greater self-respect, too, because of the knowledge of what I experienced and survived…I will probably always be an anxious person, but I hope this trait is less pronounced now. The illness was a terrible experience…however, now I am no longer subject to devastating mood swings and I feel more in control of my future than I did in the past.”4

1 Vicky Rippiere & Ruth Williams, Wounded Healers: Mental Health Workers’ Experiences of Depression (Wiley: Chichester, 1985), p. 114.

2 ibid., pp. 114-115.

3 ibid., p. 118.

4 ibid., pp. 117-118.

Telling Admissions 2

Celebrities are said to live their lives in a goldfish bowl, such is the level of media interest in every aspect of their personal as well as professional lives. No doubt this accounts for how the mental health difficulties of Adam Ant, the British pop singing sensation of the 1980s, first became public knowledge – at least, those difficulties which led to the compulsory treatment orders that were placed upon him a decade or so ago. Ridicule may be nothing to be scared of but, by virtue of being in the public eye, he has had to bear more than most. Yet it is striking to note the courageous way in which the singer has chosen to respond to the intrusive press reports of that time. In publicity associated with his recent return to the music business, he said of his own mental health history: “It’s not something I’m ashamed of. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I did wrong things as a result of it. But there’s only one thing worse than making a mistake, and that’s not learning from it… and I’ve learnt from it.”1

Further, in his published autobiography Ant gives details of an intense trauma – culminating in a suicide attempt – which was the occasion of a much earlier psychiatric hospitalisation, but also led to him discarding his given name – Stuart Goddard – in favour of the one by which he later became so well known.
“Adam Ant was born in 1976, in the grey, cold, echoing emergency ward of Friern Barnet Hospital, North London. He was smacked into consciousness by a hard-faced and overworked charge nurse, who calmly said, ‘Wake up, you little bastard’.
“I groaned.
“Satisfied that I was awake she left me alone. Somewhere out of sight down a winding, peeling corridor a woman was screaming. There was no one else in the emergency room. As I sat up, groggy and feeling lost, I saw the name Stuart Goddard written in chalk on a board next to a door marked ECG.
“But I had killed Stuart Goddard. A handful of my mother-in-law’s pills taken from the yellow cabinet in her bathroom had done the job.”2
 From Ant’s account it might not be too much to infer that this crisis proved to be the fulcrum of his career. The ‘rebranding’ of his own person is permanent testament to his having weathered that storm, and emerged the stronger for it. “I really knew I wanted to be Adam”, he said later, “because Adam was the first man. Ant I chose because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive.”1
1 Matt Everitt, ‘Adam Ant on fame, depression and infamy’, BBC News website, 23 February 2011.
2 Adam Ant, Stand and Deliver: The Autobiography (Pan Books, 2007), p. 1.

Telling Admissions 1

This new thread, to which we intend to post in alternate months throughout 2013, is devoted to first-hand accounts of what it was like to have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital (‘sectioned’) under the UK Mental Health Act in the twenty years between 1975 and 1995. Many such accounts have been written, some by people in the public eye, others not. Their willingness to have details of their contact with mental health services in the public domain forms a powerful counter-weight to the secrecy, shame and stigma with which issues of mental ill-health are usually treated. This thread will highlight in turn a poet, a pop singer, an occupational therapist, a political advisor, a psychiatrist and an actor, all of whom have ‘gone public’ with their stories. It has been inspired by the remarks published on this blog in 2011 of someone who regarded her admission to Bethlem as “harder” and “a greater achievement…than getting into university”.

The first story, which we reproduce here without further comment, is that of the poet James Bellamy, who in the mid-1990s “was…sectioned at the age of 21 after nearly two years without treatment” for psychotic symptoms.

“When the psychiatrist and social worker arrived to take me away I was terrified and refused to co-operate. The fear that this day would come had haunted me for months, so I ran out of the house and managed to evade them. Two days later, they returned with two policemen and I remember being put in handcuffs, shut in a meat wagon and taken to the Maudsley Hospital. As I was carried away I was screaming, ‘What’s going to happen to me?’ and ‘What about my poetry?’ One of the reasons I shied away from treatment for so long is because I was scared I’d be shut away forever. Far from being locked away for good, I was told early on I would only be in hospital for a matter of weeks. This helped reassure me and start to trust the Maudsley, which I still do to this day.”1

1 Hannah Cordle et al, Psychosis: Stories of recovery and hope (Quay Books: London, 2011), p. 106.