Remembering Sarah – Thanking Nick

Almost two years ago I arrived home in the early hours from the Children and Young People Awards, to see the lights on. My stomach hit the floor – if my daughter was still up something was wrong. I was right – my sister Sarah had been found dead in her house, suspected suicide. Members in Watford will know Sarah as one of their deliverers, two weeks before she died she was out with me delivering for the PCC elections in Bedfordshire. But Sarah had one of the most painful illnesses known to man or woman – she was bi-polar and schizophrenic. She was also one of the most loving people you would ever meet, a carer all her life, a house always full of children, especially those who she thought needed feeding! However, her illness led to so much misunderstanding and prejudice, and even for someone like me – trying to get her the right care was like banging your head against a brick wall.

What made Sarah’s death more bearable was the support of friends including those in the party, like Susan Gaszczak and Simon Hughes who came to the funeral – and Nick Clegg who took the time to send me a beautiful, warm, hand written note.

SarahCL

So, I couldn’t help standing to applaud Nick Clegg’s promise to give parity to mental health patients (as he said to me afterwards, having Evan Harris say I agree with Nick and me standing up to applaud was something unlikely ever to happen again!) – a recognition of the reality that there is no health without mental health. I too hope that this commitment will be on the front of our manifesto. I have to pay especial tribute to Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb who have both worked with such determination and passion on this issue – demonstrating exactly what we as a party stand for. This is truly putting our money where our mouths are.

Having grown up with a bi-polar father, while I think there is a little more understanding of mental health issues now than there once was, there is still so much prejudice. ‘Care in the Community’ was a wheeze to save money rather than provide better care – and anyone who has ever visited Watford General Shrodell’s Psychiatric Unit will know, that even where hospital care is provided it is often in dreadful conditions.

Improving early access to talking therapies, shortening waiting times and investing more in mental health care will benefit not only the patients, but also wider society. It is also something that I believe will ultimately be a clear case of spending to save. Around 60 million working days a year are lost due to stress, depression and anxiety. 90% of prisoners have a mental health condition. While 20% of young people have or have had a mental health condition, this rises to 72% among looked after children. As well as the experience I had trying to get proper care for my sister, I also know as a foster carer just how hard it is to get a referral for a young person who needs counselling. A young man I worked with who had tried to take his life said the only time he felt he got proper mental health care was when he was in prison – dealing at the same time with terrible bullying. And we also know there is a strong correlation between debt and poor mental health.

So ultimately – I believe implementing this policy is an important plank in what I hope will be a series of strong manifesto commitments that will lead to that freer, fairer society in which no one is enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity – for which we all strive. It’s too late to save Sarah – but not too late for so many others.

* Linda Jack is a former youth worker and member of the party's Federal Policy Committee.

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12 Comments

  • Charles Rothwell 11th Oct '14 - 4:06pm

    Very moving and I am so sorry for your sad loss. Following the debate on this topic was one of the highlights of watching the proceedings in Glasgow and (again) made me proud to be a Liberal Democrat. With right wing narrow mindedness and ‘beggar-my-neighbour’ now rampaging (again) throughout Europe and the UK, it speaks volumes about the party that it is now making mental health treatment a key issue.

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Oct '14 - 4:56pm

    Sorry to hear about your loss and thanks for writing about the topic. One of my friends killed herself seven years ago and it was beyond upsetting, I remember my head burning. I can’t imagine how her best friends and family would have felt. Even seeing close friends and family get upset is bad enough.

    I think the Lib Dems putting mental health on the agenda has been the right thing to do. The only thing I would add is that spending to save only works out when borrowing costs are very low. They are at the moment, but this could quickly change and we are still financing current spending through borrowing.

    Regards

  • Eddie Sammon 11th Oct '14 - 5:07pm

    A correction: if the gains are high borrowing to spend can also work. I’m just saying a lot of the Gordon Brown era spending was meant to pay for itself and it hasn’t. I’m interested in objective economic analysis on it.

  • Natasha Chapman 11th Oct '14 - 6:18pm

    This is an incredibly moving piece. I’m so sorry for you losing your sister Linda, especially as I understand some of the pain having lost my older brother to suicide. Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Occasionally things come along which remind my why I’m still a member, and this topic is one of them. Nick made his points on this brilliantly, and with emotion. Just wish the others would follow and we could get a united path on this.

  • Catherine Smart 11th Oct '14 - 9:52pm

    Thank you Linda, for writing about this.
    I am another who came home from a meeting to hear that a relative with bipolar had committed suicide. Would better medical help have made a difference? I don’t know. But I do know that better medical help for those with mental ill-health is something long overdue.
    I am so pleased that the party is taking this stand. It may or may-not be popular – but it is right. And many thanks to Norman and Paul for working on it and to Nick for taking it up.
    And yes – on the front of the manifesto, please.

  • Alex Beaumont 13th Oct '14 - 1:55pm

    I think the party deserves so much applause for this (as does Linda for writing this piece). As a fellow survivor of suicide (my Dad died in 2011) I know how hard it is to talk about any issue surrounding this sort of bereavement.

    It makes me proud to be a Lib Dem that the party has chosen this as an issue to fight for in 2015.

  • Richard Robinson 13th Oct '14 - 5:00pm

    Thank you for writing this piece. Like everyone else, I applaud the party for doing this and also want it on the front page of the manifesto. I would also welcome it if any other party were to propose a similar policy – because it is the correct thing to do, and copying the policy would increase its chances of implementation (although I won’t hold my breath).

    If I have one concern, it is that nothing has been mentioned about the link between substance abuse (particularly alcoholism) and mental health. The links are many and complex, and provision is abysmal in most parts of the country, not so much a postal lottery as a national one! I believe that we must state explicitly that this policy will ensure that alcoholics and other substance abusers can get access to mental health support at the right time.

  • Hey Linda,

    This happened to me too (my sister committed suicide), from what you’ve written we have very similar backgrounds; I’m sorry for your loss.

    Whilst I’m hopeful about this direction, I can’t help but note that the local mental health services here have deteriorated over the duration of this government and there’s no signs of that changing. I agree with Richard above, I really hope other parties steal this policy, because I’d like to see it become legislation and I’m not fussed how that happens.

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