June 20, 2016
The silence of Norman Lamb MP
What follows is a cautionary tale.
I am a casualty of bullying in a British university, having sustained acute psychological injury (depression and post-traumatic stress disorder/PTSD) inflicted by academic colleagues and others. The abuse led me to attempt to end my life. The university offered to pay me a six figure sum to withdraw a grievance I had lodged and vacate my position, but there were echoes in the offer of the abuse that had been so damaging to me and I rejected it. The university's tactics became increasingly grotesque, leaving me with no choice but to resign.
I doubt that the word "recovery" can realistically be used when one has sustained this kind of injury, but one hopes that somehow life will become at least tolerable again. The grim reality, though, is one of constant struggle against prejudice surrounding mental ill health and against exploitation of the vulnerability arising from one's disability. But there is something potentially positive in all of this, that being the possibility of being able to help others through perhaps increased understanding of the nature and effects of brutality. It was with this in mind that I took the decision to write to Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Lamb.
Mr Lamb has been described in a national newspaper as "one of Britain's leading campaigners for improvements in mental health care" and he has said of himself in a publicly broadcast interview that it is his "mission" that every person should be "treated as an equal citizen" and that all people suffering with mental ill health should be treated "with the utmost respect". I really believed that contacting Mr Lamb would be a safe exercise and I conveyed this in my letter to him, saying that as someone who had repeatedly been given cause to feel betrayed and degraded by privately demonstrated contempt or indifference of individuals or bodies who professed publicly to care about the plight of vulnerable people, I would not be writing to him if I did not feel that he was genuine and committed in respect of the concerns that he articulated.
One of the challenges faced by people like me, identified in my letter to Mr Lamb, is the problem of stereotyping, prejudice and other cruelty in the National Health Service, including mental health services. Discussion about mental health services is dominated by reference to a lack of funding, but as I explained to Mr Lamb, having witnessed psychological abuse of patients by staff in those services and having experienced such abuse myself, I am very concerned about the issue of attitudes and the way that this is linked to society's apparent disconnectedness from the (interconnected) values of social responsibility, compassion and commitment.
Other very painful details of my experiences and my current circumstances were explained in my letter, as was my willingness to make a contribution to any discussion about positive change that might be effected in the various areas and structures where the existing culture can pose particular challenges for people living with the agony of mental ill health. I invited Mr Lamb to let me know if I could make such a contribution with, or through, him.
Having sent my letter by a secure form of delivery, I knew that it had been delivered to Mr Lamb's constituency office (and it was signed for by either him or someone with the same last name). I did not receive a reply and wrote to Mr Lamb again seven weeks later. I could not believe that he could show such cruelty and felt that I should give him the benefit of the doubt. My second letter, as courteous as the first one, asked if he could send me, by a secure form of delivery, a copy of any reply he had sent, or any reply he might wish to send. I enclosed a £10 bank note to cover the cost of postage. That letter, too, was delivered to his constituency office (and again, signed for by either him or someone with the same last name). Four weeks on, his silence continues.
What does this tell us about Mr Lamb's claims of commitment to promotion of the equality and dignity of those suffering with mental ill health? If Mr Lamb does not wish to engage in a dialogue with me about my experiences, that's fine. But where is the compassion, the decency, the humanity, in not even saying, in whatever way, "I hear you and good luck"? Is his silence not a form of abuse?
I hope that this cautionary tale will help others concerned about Britain's appallingly backward approach to mental ill health. Perhaps there are less painful ways of seeking to make a difference than reaching out to public figures whose media profile may be misleading.