AS a young journalist covering the political scene in the 1980s in Birmingham I got to know Jocelyn Cadbury quite well.
The name, or at least the surname, will be familiar. I liked him and I envied him.
In the game of chance that is life, he was one of the blessed. Good-looking, articulate, self-confident, hugely charming, intelligent, well-educated (Eton and Cambridge), a Member of Parliament in his early 30s and, despite being a vocal opponent of then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies, already on the lower rungs of the Government ladder.
Then, on a summer Saturday afternoon – I remember it as if it was yesterday although it was in fact more than 30 years ago – I got a call that my friend’s body had been found in the garden of the large family home near where I lived, with a gun nearby.
It was never clear why Jocelyn Cadbury took his own life but it showed me, at an early age, that mental health is often a hidden illness and no respecter of social status or the other flummery by which we, too often, judge people.
The world has turned many times since then but, over the years, I have had family, friends and colleagues touched by mental health and have myself had problems with depression and anxiety.
However, I know what I have seen is the tip of the iceberg because an estimated 15 million people in this country will have some mental health issues in any given year.
Attitudes are slowly changing thanks in no small measure to the courage of prominent people including Alistair Campbell, Jack Straw, Stephen Fry, Ruby Wax and Andrew Flintoff who have ‘come out’ about their mental health problems.
The issue is now being taken more seriously and, thankfully, there is a greater awareness that mental health is an illness not a weakness.
The Government is also claiming to be taking it more seriously and steps such as the addition of a mental and psychological health expert joining the team at Station Drive Surgery in Ludlow are welcome.
Drawing hard lines between physical and mental health can often be a mistake because the two are often linked. Poor mental health can lead to poor physical health and vice-versa.
But there are some differences that add to the stigma. Mental health is unseen and cannot be simply diagnosed with a blood test or an MRI scan.
It is less clear cut because we all suffer from the blues, worry and experience stress at times, so it can be difficult and is, to some extent, subjective as to when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that make up life cross the line and become an illness.
Dr James Harris, a partner at Station Drive Surgery in Ludlow, has one of the best answers I have heard.
“Generally, my view would be that someone should seek help of their primary care provider whenever their problems are affecting their life or causing distress,” said Dr Harris.
One of the problems is that, while GPs are highly trained, they are generalists and, beyond prescribing anti-depressants that can be highly useful medication, anything further requires a specialist in this area of medicine.
Again, the initiative at Station Drive Surgery is intended to help with this.
“Here we are trying to explore an alternative patient pathway where patients can bypass the GP for a more specialist view in the first instance,” added Dr Harris.
So things are moving in the right direction.