Labor MP speaks out about friend’s suicide in bid to improve mental health services

TW: This article contains references to suicide and mental health issues.

A parliamentarian has spoken out about her friend’s suicide in the hope of highlighting the flaws in the system that prevent many people from getting the help they need.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Order was formed by Morris, Sumner and Peter Hook after Ian Curtis, the lead singer of their previous band Joy Division, took his own life exactly 42 years ago when he was only 23.

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

“I had actually gone to see New Order at the O2 when I got the news, and I came out of it for some reason thinking it was just Ric coming back down to earth, he’s going to be fine, but this time, we were going to figure it out, We can’t let it be like this.

“And then I turned on my phone and saw my friend’s message saying they found his body.”

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

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

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

“He was getting more and more angry at everyone he came in contact with and thought that no one cared.”

The most recent statistics show suicides rising to their highest figure since reporting began, with 4,820 suicides recorded in 2021, up from 4,475 the year before.

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

McCarthy believes that the gaps in the system meant that O’Shea failed when he sought help.

“I don’t think A&E is an appropriate place to direct people in mental health crises,” he says, suggesting they should instead be cared for separately by specialized staff.

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

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

“I think even a little thing, like if there hadn’t been a busy A&E, if they’d seen it a little quicker, and maybe sectioned it off… I don’t think it was inevitable.” about it,” she says.

“I am very sorry that we accepted his condition, we accepted it as part of who he was.

“Now I’m trying to do him some justice.”

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

  • Samaritans offer 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 (Campaign Against Living Miserably) offers a helpline open from 5 pm to midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a web chat service.

  • The Mix is ​​a free support service for people under the age of 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

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

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