34. Calling International Rescue. Discreetly.


After an extensive rebranding exercise, the chief executive is announcing a brilliant new name for the mental health service. ‘We are going to call it…’Emotional Rescue’…’  The applause is more muted than expected and there is muttering. Someone whispers to let him know it was a Rolling Stones album, and not one of the better ones, flirting a little too closely with Disco.

David Miliband has made a similar mistake in agreeing to be head of International Rescue. Doesn’t he realise he or his brother must spend half their time in space, monitoring all the radio frequencies, just in case there is a distress call?

Imagine just popping out into space for a cigarette and while you aren’t watching there is an earthquake or motorway pile up. How let-down would people feel? This never happened to the Tracey brothers –  puppets never need the bathroom.

The notion of being rescued, of someone watching over us, is a favourite one in fiction, popular culture (superheros) and religion (saviours). The gold standard for benign oversight is the catholic concept of the guardian angel. The nuns taught us we had one each.

Could that explain why some people seem very lucky? And might some guardian angels be better than others? Is each one newly created for each human, or are they deployed like the police, in a largely reactive role? Do they have a team leader, like social services, who will be vilified in the celestial media in case of a guardianship faux pas?

Do they confine their advice to moral matters, or would they for instance, stop you from buying shoes a size too small because they were in the sale, or attempting to hit a 3 wood out of a fairway bunker?

Might they have served other people in the past, like Kevin Costner’s character, Frank, in The Bodyguard? Don’t forget, last time Frank had a day off, Reagan was shot.

What a shame the real life Whitney Houston didn’t have such a person looking after her. Celebs seem to get much worse mental health care than ordinary folk. Perhaps it’s because they are surrounded by sycophants and parasites, rather than loyal and heroic servants.

Think about it. Say what you want about the NHS, we would never have gone round and given someone with severe insomnia a propofol injection, as happened to poor Michael Jackson, not even on a weekend shift.

I shudder to think what might have happened if Michael Jackson had been an NHS patient. In the USA a doctor was tried and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. In the NHS there would have been a serious incident inquiry lasting years and finally releasing a 9000 page report, criticising practically everyone involved, with particularly scathing mentions for Martin Bashir for his interviews, and Paul McCartney, for disputing  whether ‘the girl is mine’.

So many missed opportunities to prevent a tragedy. All those cosmetic operations. The accusations about children. That tea party when Bubbles took things too far. The controversial version of ‘They don’t Care about Us’. Where was the inter – agency working? Where was the properly completed Risk Assessment?

Where should celebrities turn when their lives get out of control? If they are lucky enough to be in a government or large corporation, there are people who can look out for them. In particular, people who can manage publicity and pull strings. There are lawyers and personal assistants, special advisors, coaches and trainers. Imagine having someone who comments on your actions very favourably and sends a glowing account to the media. How long would it take you to believe your own publicity? Not long in the case of people already prone to narcissism.

However many people there are in a ‘support network’ there is often no-one there when you really need them. Michael Jackson even had a full time personal physician present in his house, yet still died.

It takes a massive effort to be there for someone 24/7, which is why we invented the guardian angel, and why Trusts use grandiose titles like Crisis Teams to describe one bloke and two phones.

People who have the so-called borderline personality like to test the rescue services, both metaphorically and literally. You find out who your friends are when things go wrong, so why not test them out in advance, like a fire drill, by putting yourself in danger? Is David Miliband listening or not? This should get his attention…

Maybe NHS Trusts should set up special teams to protect celebs from the evil clutches of corporations and private healthcare.

At present, celebs with problems seem routinely directed toward spells in what gets called ‘rehab’. This means being admitted to an expensive private clinic, focussing on detoxification and abstinence programs for addiction.

No-one ever criticises such approaches as misguided or ineffective. When a movie character says, ‘I’m checking you into Rehab right now,’ no-one ever responds, ‘but the outcome after a year is no better than a control group who just see a counsellor’. It’s just not drama.

Residential drug misuse services are seldom provided in the NHS, because the cost benefit analysis for such treatment is very unfavourable. Perhaps showbiz types take a different perspective. They want a proper emotional rescue, not cosy chats, pottery and yoga.

Celebs never seem to get a social worker or CPN or get to attend the allotment project. They never seem to get taken shopping, by health care assistants, or make mosaics from broken car window glass.

There is an increasingly large gap between inpatient services like rehab clinics, and the next rung down, which is an appointment once a week in converted premises above Poundland. There is very little mental health care provided within the night-time economy, just the usual haunts – police station and A and E.

It’s comforting to imagine that an outfit like the A team or International Rescue would come and help you if you hit a downward spiral. That is perhaps why the ambucopter service attracts a lot of charitable support. It’s there when you need it – you hope. But should we have to put money in a pub collecting box to pay for the ambucopter, when we are paying £3.15 for a pint, most of which goes in tax?

Since tax on alcohol amounts to nine billion pounds annually, almost 2% of total revenue, perhaps we really could afford more Emotional Rescue, and even buy the phrase off Mick and Keith.

Just in case the Crisis Team needs more staff at night, i.e. more than one.

Just in case David Miliband is in the space station jacuzzi.

Just in case the nuns were wrong, and your angel can’t really fly.


28. Removing labels, without toxic chemical solutions.


Cows are basically hippies.

Who are those people hiding behind the boiler house, just outside the strict boundary of the Foundation Trust premises? Are they common or garden smokers? Are they A and E attenders, who have finished all the books they brought to read while they wait? Or are they escaped but tagged dementia patients?

If you go near them they shy away, like geese, toward a small clutch of untidily parked Fiats and Volvos. Finally, I realise who they are – they are my colleagues who work in community psychiatry.

They are hiding for a good reason though. People are pursuing them, ‘wanting a diagnosis’. And those people are angry.

The history of mental health tends to characterise psychiatrists as predatory. The accepted wisdom is that psychiatrists are part of the forces of social control. Their traditional prey, according to folklore, is a harmless eccentric or political dissident. Their modus operandi is to label these folk with an invented illness concept in order to render them powerless in the eyes of society and the law, so as to drug them or lock them up or both. Such is the myth of ‘anti-psychiatry’.

People used to fear the psychiatrist like a 70s DJ fears the child protection team. But now the tables are turned. Some people are desperate to get labelled as mentally ill. None of my colleagues know why, but they mutter about the internet, celebrities and the drug companies, not to mention the benefits system.

The world seems to have turned upside down, like Twelfth Night. Not as regards boys playing women on stage whose characters are pretending to be men. Rather, more in terms of poacher turning game-keeper.

The story usually starts this way. A short GP letter ending with the words ‘this man thinks he has bipolar disorder, please do the needful’. A patient with a large bundle of papers downloaded from the net. Stating that the description of bipolar disorder fits him perfectly right down to the last semi colon.

The psychiatrist tries to explain that diagnoses are merely conventions about what to call things, that in the UK at least people are rather conservative about the use of diagnostic labels, that labels in their own right can become dangerous and lead to people thinking of themselves in an unhelpful way, even getting stuck in a sick role and benefits trap.

That he doesn’t really seem to have bipolar disorder, at least according to the absurdly narrow conventional diagnostic system that bow tie wearing people in Geneva have written on our behalf in quill pen on parchment.

Finally the meeting ends under a cloud, unless the psychiatrist gives in and recommends a tablet with Q or Z in its name.

It’s tempting to blame our cousins in the US and /or big pharma. There is money to be made from atypical antipsychotics, but only if a group of people can be convinced they need to take them. I have not tried this (Your Honour), but I’m pretty sure atypical antipsychotics and mood stabilisers have practically no street value.

Last time I went to the US I saw some hilarious direct to public advertising for these substances, where the baritone disclaimer tag – ‘may cause impotence, heart failure, convulsions coma and sudden death, take with caution’ – was longer than the advert itself.

I’m not sure why labels are fashionable now. Labelling theory was all the rage in the 1970s and we were all taught not to label people and put them in pigeon holes. Perhaps it started with designer clothes, where the Nike swoosh added $20 to the value of a $2 tee shirt. People who took labelling theory too literally even got tattoos. When we make a diagnosis, we always play it down – we say it’s just a name people give to this type of problem area.

My proposal is that we use a barcode instead. This is a cheap shot, but I think  one or two of my colleagues would be happy to advise people where to stick it.