The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman found last month that Averil Hart, who had anorexia nervosa and died in December 2012, was failed by ‘every NHS organisation that should have cared for her’. ‘Sadly these failures, and her family’s subsequent fight to get answers,’ the PHSO report says, ‘are not unique.’ In October 2009 I went to see my GP to ask for help with my anorexia.
When Sylvia Plath's marriage to Ted Hughes foundered in August 1962, her family assumed that she would move herself and her children back to America. ‘The worst difficulty is that Ted is at the peak of his fame,’ she wrote to her mother on 21 October, ‘and all his friends are the ones who employ me.’ Aurelia Plath published her daughter’s Letters Home in 1975. ‘I opened a joint account in a London bank,’ she wrote in a note, ‘so she could use it in any emergency, hoping she would consider returning to the United States. We, as a family, were prepared to set her up in her own apartment here.’
In 2014, police across England and Wales recorded 26,000 offences involving a knife or sharp instrument. Yet on Saturday 5 December the Met was quick to announce that a stabbing at Leytonstone Tube station was being treated as a ‘terrorist incident’ because of reports that the culprit had said ‘this is for Syria.’ A bystander told him: ‘You ain’t no Muslim bruv.’ The phrase was quickly picked up from mobile video footage of the incident and trended across social media, even being parroted by David Cameron. Muhaydin Shire has been labelled a ‘terrorist’, a ‘jihadi’, ‘no Muslim’, ‘barbaric’. He is accused of attacking not only the people he sent to hospital, but Britain as a whole, in a politically motivated assault on Western freedoms. According to his family, however, Shire was no radical, but a young man with mental health problems, including paranoia.
As I was heading for the chemist the other day, a very large, wild-looking man paced outside, agitated, mumbling, grubby. He came in while I was waiting to be served, walked distractedly up and down for a bit and then stood still beside me and loomed. I turned to look at him. 'I'm not drunk,' he said to me, 'I'm mental.' Actually, that was what I supposed he was. Street drunk looks different from street mad. I understood the distinction as well as he wanted me to. I once lived in a flat full of dopers with a junkie who insisted: 'You lot just take drugs, but I'm an addict.' He meant both that he was more serious then we were, and that he was under the doctor. It's probably the case that being an alcoholic is as much of a condition as being 'mental', but there's a kind of respectability or responsibility hierarchy involved.