LibLink: Norman Lamb MP – My son’s struggle with OCD showed me the unfairness people with mental illness face

Norman Lamb has been much in the news this week, having launched a cross-party campaign for mental health to be treated equally with physical health across the health service. Norman has written a piece for the Guardian drawing on themes that will be familiar to party members from his excellent conference speech earlier this year.

Here’s an excerpt:

When our oldest son, Archie, was 16, he was clearly very unhappy. He eventually told us just how distressed and troubled he had become. We got a referral to our local children and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and a diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder followed.

Archie has subsequently revealed that he’d had disturbing thoughts for two or three years prior to finally talking about it. It is hard to imagine how tough it must be for a teenager, struggling to understand what is happening to them and yet too embarrassed to talk about it. I still remember Archie asking us: “Why am I the only one who’s going mad?” This is really difficult for a teenager to grasp.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be an incredibly disabling condition – rated as one of the top 10 debilitating illnesses by the World Health Organisation. It is often unhelpfully trivialised. People talk about being “a bit OCD” – keeping things in order, obsessive about tidiness, or checking things. But the real illness is very different.

Affecting about 2% of the world’s population, it involves persistent and unwanted disturbing thoughts and fears. These fears are often completely irrational – perhaps that you could kill someone. The sufferer tries to escape from them through compulsions or rituals. Just imagine going through that as you struggle with growing up.

The response from CAMHS was supportive, and Archie did receive treatment. But sadly the condition stubbornly persisted. He was put on medication, but it seemed to have little effect. We later discovered that the dose prescribed was at a level which would have no effect on OCD.

We tried again to get Archie referred for cognitive behaviour therapy. By this time he was eligible for adult services and we were told that the wait would be up to six months – despite his condition being “moderate to severe”. We felt desperate. We couldn’t wait. You do what you can for your child. We paid for treatment. But I am acutely aware that this isn’t an option for very many people. This is intolerable.

Norman concludes:

So my plea to the government is this: respond to our campaign. Provide the extra investment in this spending review. The impact on the wellbeing of our country could be profound and the government will find that it saves money in the long run. An approach which focuses on intervening early, stopping the deterioration of conditions, aiming for recovery and getting people back to work is not only the right thing to do; it will reap dividends for the government – and help families all over the country like mine.

You can read his full article here.

* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.