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Labour MP Speaks About Friend’s Suicide In Bid To Improve Mental Health Services

TW: this article contains reference to suicide and mental health issues.

An MP has spoken out about her friend’s suicide in the hope she can highlight failures in the system that prevent many people from getting the help they need.

Kerry McCarthy, the Labour MP for Bristol East, lost her friend Ric O’Shea after he took his own life in November last year.

The pair met in the 1990s when they bonded over their love of music while based in Luton.

But O’Shea, who had experienced mental health problems since he was young, began to suffer from psychotic episodes in his late 30s that would often result in him cutting off contact with his friends for days at a time.

In the lead-up to his death, he contacted a crisis team which referred him to A&E. A few hours later, he walked out.

Calls and texts from friends went unanswered. His body was then discovered by police in a welfare check at his home on November 6 last year.

McCarthy hopes to raise further awareness of suicide with an event in parliament on Wednesday with New Order band members Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris. They will be joined by Simon Gunning, the chief executive of mental health charity calm.

New Order was formed by Morris, Sumner and Peter Hook after Ian Curtis, the lead singer in their previous band Joy Division, took his own life aged just 23.

McCarthy told HuffPost UK: “When it first happened we were all pretty numb.

“I’d actually gone to see New Order at the O2 when I got the news, and I came out of that for some reason thinking this was just Ric going to ground again, he’s going to be ok but that this time, we were going to sort him out — we can’t just let him be like this.

“And then I switched on my phone and saw the message from my friend saying that they’d found his body.”

Kerry McCarthy with her friend Ric O’Shea in Pembrokeshire, 2019

McCarthy describes her friend as “thoughtful, smart and creative” but that he slowly began to lose touch with reality through the psychotic episodes he experienced.

“He didn’t pretend he didn’t have problems, but he was very against the establishment, which is something that developed because of his mental health,” she says.

“He got angrier and angrier with everyone he came into contact with and thought that nobody cared.”

The latest statistics show that suicides rose to their highest-ever number since reporting began, with 4,820 suicides recorded in 2021, up from 4,475 the previous year.

This increase could be attributed to deaths that occurred before 2021 but had their inquests delayed due to the Covid pandemic.

McCarthy believes that gaps in the system meant O’Shea was failed when he reached out for help.

“I don’t think A&E is an appropriate place to direct people in mental health crisis,” she says, suggesting they should instead be cared for separately with specialist trained staff.

McCarthy also cites problems with a lack of local provision that force some mental health patients to seek treatment miles away from home, and long waiting lists.

Instead she feels intervention could be made at much earlier stages, including by identifying indicators such as difficult and traumatic childhoods.

“I think even just a tiny little thing, like if there hadn’t been a busy A&E, if they’d just seen him a bit more quickly, and maybe had him sectioned…I don’t think there was an inevitability about it,” she says.

“I feel a lot of regret that we kind of accepted his condition — we accepted it as part of who he was.

“I’m now trying to do a bit of justice to him.”

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI – this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email [email protected]

  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org



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