He said: “There was a day where I noticed that I was perceiving more things in a sensory way than I usually would, but I was young at the time.
“Over the coming months and years, it became more obvious that these were sensory hallucinations. It took a while for me to realise that the voices were perhaps in my head and they weren’t a radio trapped in the wall that I couldn’t get to.
“It’s really strange to know you’re delusional about certain things but you still can’t shake that belief. There are those phobias and fears that are so incoherent and when I say them out loud and try to explain it to people it can feel like ‘oh my goodness I am actually a crazy person’.
“I can’t shake that feeling but also it’s so logical. Some things are just absolute facts and no matter how much you try to resist them those beliefs just don’t go away.
“As an early teenager, people couldn’t understand my justifications of certain things and I couldn’t understand how they couldn’t see my justifications of things.
“That was the first time I really noticed a difference between my experience and what other people were living.
“I didn’t realise that it was abnormal for a really long time. There was a really long period where I didn’t understand how people were functioning with the same problems that I had.”
Spencer’s book, which combines poetry and prose, has been a work in progress for 18 months, beginning after he made an attempt to take his own life.
“About two years ago I made a suicide attempt and jumped out of a window. I broke my spine and that was kind of the first time I’d ever considered how my mental health could affect other people,” he said.
“That’s a big part of the book – we always think about looking after ourselves with mental health but how do you care about the people who care for you? Because some people got really hurt in the process.
“Around six months after that, when I moved to Manchester, I was speaking to a friend who had been affected really badly by my mental health. I decided that, for the first time, I really wanted to make positive moves to try and change myself so I started writing the book.”
An encounter with Dundee-based author Tina McGuff, who wrote a memoir about her recovery from anorexia, was key in Spencer’s decision to share his story.
“She made me believe how honest we need to be with our mental health. It’s great talking about ending stigmatisation but the only way to do that is to actually educate and speak, which is really what I wanted to do,” he added.
“Over those 18 months I focused on writing, developing poems and trying to rack my brain for everything that other people might not know about schizoaffective disorders, even if it may be obvious to me.
“I tried to Google for some self-help books to see if there was anything about coping mechanisms. There were quite a lot of stories and information but there wasn’t really anything about how you live it and how you can function alongside it, rather than recover from it.
“You have to learn to make it a part of your life and accept that, which is what the main premise of the book became; how to make this as accessible to people who would have absolutely no understanding of the situation.
“When you meet someone in the street you have no idea about their background or their daily life or how difficult it might be for them to keep up with the same routine as you.”
The book, which was published on Sunday, is currently ranked number one in new releases for poetry books on Amazon.
He said: “The initial reaction was really beautiful. The amount of messages I’ve received and support from people that I would never have expected has been amazing.”
Spencer is now looking to the future and is hopeful for what a post-lockdown world looks like.
“I’m currently not taking any medication, I prefer to try and just live my best life as I can with the tools that I have,” he said.
“I’m definitely in a better place now than I was two years ago in terms of my mental health but it doesn’t mean that those problems are gone, it just means I have better coping mechanisms.
“I can definitely make it through the next months but I think it’s going to be a mixed bag.
“I would like to stress, particularly in quarantine, the importance of looking after yourself and making sure that the people you love are OK.
“It’s a really difficult time. Humans need to look after each other, we can’t be selfish right now.”
Mental heath services in the city are “among the worst in Scotland” according to one patient who feels she is being failed by the system.
Lynsey-Jane Gray, who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder and depression, has received care for her mental health struggles in other cities across Scotland in the past.
But since moving to the city two years ago, Ms. Gray has been left dismayed by the service provided to people here – prompting her to speak out about her concerns.
She said: “I have lived in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling and had excellent assistance, but I have never experienced anything like Dundee.
“There is no community psychiatric team and I have only been seen by the current team once or twice since I moved here. When you compare to the bi-weekly treatment I was receiving in Stirling, it’s abysmal.”]
Lynsey-Jane said that consistency was vital in helping cope with mental illness, but she has claimed she has rarely seen the same consultant twice during her time living the city.
“I never see the same psychiatrist twice and this exacerbates my condition she explained.
The city centre resident pointed to figures released earlier this year that showed that nine people per 100,000 people in Dundee have committed suicide in the last five years, claiming it’s evidence the system is failing people.
She said: “Dundee has the highest suicide rate in Scotland and it’s not difficult to see why when you look at the service that is available.
“There’s not enough practitioners, it’s going to put people off asking for help.”
Lyndsey-Jane said she tried to phone her doctor’s surgery more than 100 times before she was able to get through to the receptionist to book an appointment.
“My partner and I were on the phone simultaneously trying to reach them. I had phoned 131 times and he phoned around 20,” she said.
“By the time I got through, the response was ‘what is wrong with you today?’ What if someone was severely suicidal and wanting an appointment? It’s awful practice.”
The service provided to Dundonians is so bad that Lynsey-Jane claims she would have second thoughts about moving to the city if she had known about the level of care she would be able to access here.
The admin worker said: “There are many people out there, like me, who have complex psychiatric conditions that require regular support and Dundee is not providing this.
“If I had known it was like this, I would have perhaps decided against moving here.”
For Lynsey-Jane, the problem with the mental health provisions in the city lies with what she sees as a lack of funding and she believes those who are struggling are being let down.
The 29-year-old added: “The city seems so focused on the gentrification of itself that vulnerable people are being left behind.
“There is not enough practitioners in Dundee and you have to ask if they are doing enough to attract them to city.
“I have received care from Carseview also and the team have been brilliant but you can see they are stretched.”
A spokeswoman for Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership said: “Due to patient confidentiality we cannot discuss matters relating to individual patients.
“Community mental health services in Dundee offer a range of support to people experiencing challenges with their mental health and emotion wellbeing.
“A variety of specialist staff work within our community mental health services ranging from psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, dietitians, speech and language therapists, mental health officers, social workers, peer support workers and a range of other support workers.
“Following an initial assessment an individual may be offered ongoing support from a range of professionals to best meet their needs.
“Patients requiring specialist mental health input may be referred to their local community mental health team based at Alloway Centre or Wedderburn House.
“Anyone who requires to be seen more quickly then can get an urgent or emergency referral to the Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team (CRHTT).”
It said the key themes were patient access to mental health services, patient sense of safety, quality of care, organisational learning, leadership and governance.
Referring to risk management, the report said: “Patients report telling staff they were suicidal but the risk was not taken seriously until they made a serious attempt to take their own life.”
‘Violated and traumatised’
In relation to patient safety, the report noted: “Some patients report being frightened of certain staff on the wards who have a poor attitude to the patients in their care.
“Others mentioned that another patient had assaulted them whilst they were on the ward.”
The report said the use of restraint within inpatient facilities was of “great concern” to patients, who had experienced it or witnessed it taking place.
It said: “Patients feel violated and traumatised, particularly if they have personally suffered violent abuse in the past.”
It added that staff seemed unable to control the availability and use of illegal drugs on the wards in the inpatient facilities.
“Both patients and families report seeing drugs delivered, sold and taken within the Carseview Centre site,” the report said.
“Staff confirm this is a serious issue which is not being adequately addressed.
“There is a lack of support from management for frontline staff attempting to address this issue and it is having a detrimental effect on patient care and treatment regimes”.
‘Unexpected and concerning’
In a section on the Crisis Service, the report said that the Crisis team “struggles to respond to sudden surges in demand on the service.”
It said: “There are occasions when the length of time to wait to be seen is long and families supporting someone in crisis are advised to phone the police or NHS24, if they are worried.
“This advice is unexpected and concerning to carers coping with a crisis in a domestic situation.”
The report said the centralisation of the out-of-hours Crisis team to Carseview Centre has had a “detrimental effect on those patients in Angus and Perth & Kinross who are experiencing mental health crisis”.
It said: “There is a perception that whilst the Crisis service has expanded in recent months, the situation has worsened in terms of patients being assessed then not being offered any crisis intervention, or referred back to the GP.”
Inquiry chairman David Strang said: “The themes which have been identified will shape the next stage of the inquiry.
“Our final report will include conclusions and recommendations which will lead to the improvement of mental health services in Tayside.”
NHS Tayside chief executive Grant Archibald said: “We are taking on board all comments in the interim report, alongside the feedback we received from the Health and Social Care Alliance (the Alliance) published in their report in December 2018.
“The key themes which have been identified in both the Alliance report and in today’s interim report are recognised by the board and the mental health leadership team – and we are taking action on these.
“I also recognise and want to thank the many staff who are already working really hard to improve services and look forward to their continued support.
“It is clear that we have further work to do but since I came to Tayside, I have made mental health a top priority and I am confident we can learn lessons, strengthen our engagement with patients, service users, families and the public and make the right kinds of changes, at the right time, to transform our mental health services.”
He added: “We would like to thank everyone who has shared their experiences so far and we look forward to the independent inquiry’s final report and recommendations which will be a major influence on the future shape of mental health services in Tayside.”
A former Abertay University student has urged people struggling with mental health issues to speak out this Christmas after support given to her helped her graduate.
Laura Jackson graduated last month with a Masters in International Human Resource Management.
It was a proud achievement for the 23 year-old, who says it wouldn’t have happened without the support provided by Abertay’s Mental Health Advisor and Student Services team throughout her studies.
“A few years ago, I was at a really low point in my life. I had just started a business degree in Glasgow but, due to health and mental health issues, I felt so isolated that I dropped out after only a few weeks and had to go back to living with my mum,” she said.
“If you’d told me then that I’d soon be graduating with a Masters with Distinction, I would never have believed you.”
Throughout her three years at Abertay – two completing a BA in Business Management, and one at Masters level – Laura attended regular sessions with its mental health advisor David Cameron.
“Because I’d had a few months out after leaving Glasgow, when I started at Abertay I wanted to see what was available to help support my studies,” she said.
“The Advisory Service not only provided me with practical resources, including a study plan and a laptop with special dyslexia software that helped with my coursework but, because I’d informed them I had been diagnosed with anxiety, they also referred me to David.”
This ongoing support ended up being key to Laura’s progression through her degree as she engaged with the service when she felt overwhelmed juggling coursework deadlines, a part-time job and a spate of health issues, including an underactive thyroid and learning difficulties dyslexia, dyspraxia and dysgraphia.
“There were so many times, when things were tough and my mental health was suffering, that I was close to giving up,” she said.
“Knowing that support was there and available was what kept me going. Some of my friends have mental health issues of their own which meant they weren’t always able to help when I needed them. David was a constant.”
Following Graduation, Laura has moved back to Glasgow and is currently an intern at a women-only HR practice, while she thinks about her next move.
By sharing her story, Laura hopes she can help inspire others to keep going, even when mental health issues try to stand in their way.
Laura said: “My advice to anyone out there who feels like I did is to not put too much pressure on yourself to be perfect. Speak to someone, get a study plan and let people help you. You’re not letting anyone down by focusing on yourself now and again.”
Abertay’s Mental Health Advisor, David Cameron, said: “I am pleased I have been able to contribute a little and help Laura. She had a lot to cope with, both with her physical health and mental health, therefore her achievements deserve great credit.”
A number of organisations will be available over the festive period for those seeking support or help:
Breathing Space Scotland – provides telephone counselling. Open: Weekdays – Monday to Thursday 6pm to 2am; Weekend -Friday 6pm to Monday 6am. Their phone number is 0800 83 85 87.
Insights Counselling – a counselling services that provides confidential, non-judgemental, 1-2-1 counselling by appointment. For further details you can phone 01382-305706 or visit them online.
Samaritans – provides a 24/7, 365 day a year telephone service – Their phone number is 116 123 or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Schoolchildren from across Dundee have been given a shot of inspiration by Scots billionaire Sir Tom Hunter as part of an event to find new ways of tackling issues affecting young people.
Around 120 youngsters attended Abertay University’s Innovation Lab as part of a design initiative to tackle bullying, stress and mental health issues.
It is hoped new methods developed during the session as part of the national Year of the Young People 2018 could go on to directly influence Dundee City Council policies.
Sir Tom, who delivered a welcome to the participants before a day of design, brainstorming, workshops and presentations, hailed the importance of involving youngsters in shaping decisions.
He said: “Putting policy into the hands of those the policies will impact upon makes absolute sense.
“Our young people are Scotland’s future and we need to engage with them far more to co-design that future where opportunity prevails for all.”
Groups of youngsters in attendance were made up of S4 to S6 pupils from all Dundee schools, as well as others aged up to 26 years old from organisations such as Lift Off, Family Nurse Partnership, Dundee Carers Centre and Dundee Youth Council.
They also heard a closing address by Gavin Oattes, award-winning entrepreneur and motivational speaker for workshop provider Tree of Knowledge.
Ideas from the day will be collated and presented back to city councillors, with the aim of informing future policy, affecting change and creating a legacy of service improvement for future generations.
Dundee City Council children and families service convener Stewart Hunter said it had been a “fantastic experience for everyone who took part” and a “fitting way of celebrating the Year of Young People”.
He added: “The input of young people into a range of topics will lead to some very interesting ideas and I will be very interested to hear their opinions on these issues.”
In addition to the workshops, the young people also took part in taster sessions across a selection of Abertay’s academic departments.
Those on offer included Games and Arts, Cybersecurity, Marketing, Business Management, Accounting and Finance, Law, Food Innovation, Forensics, Science, Civil Engineering, Sociology, Psychology and Mental Health.
Abertay University principal Professor Nigel Seaton said: “Bringing young people into the decision making process for new policy on these important issues is a fantastic idea.
“I have no doubt that Innovation Lab will bring a fresh perspective to the table.
Changes to mental health services in Tayside could become the lasting legacy of those who have taken their own lives across the region, it has been claimed.
The independent inquiry into how NHS services are provided began taking submissions from members of the public last week.
Chairman David Strang said he hoped testimony – both positive and negative – would help improve treatment and support throughout the country.
The inquiry was ordered after a public campaign by families who blamed poor care at the Carseview Psychiatric Centre at Ninewells Hospital for a series of suicides.
Gillian Murray, whose uncle David Ramsay took his own life after being turned away by Carseview, has been at the forefront of the campaign for the inquiry and said it could be a chance for “real change”.
And she said it was vital that people with experiences of mental health services “stand up and be counted”.
She said: “This crisis has been on-going for over a decade and NHS Tayside have been aware of the failings but done nothing.
“If they were genuinely committed to change; it wouldn’t have taken for my uncle to lose his life and for me to campaign through to parliament, first at First Minister’s
Questions then the debate to get an inquiry.
“The same issues have been raised time and time again about NHS Tayside mental health.
No lessons have ever been learnt thus far. Lives have been lost and others shattered – this is a crisis that will have ripple effects felt down the years.”
Ms Murray said she remained angry about the lack of treatment given to her uncle.
“I will never forgive NHS Tayside, nor forget. I can only hope that real change happens as this is a living hell and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” she said.
“Each and every person needs to stand up and be counted by coming forward with testimonies and evidence to illustrate the scale of this crisis.
“Change needs to happen and those who have lost their lives should never be forgotten – this is their legacy.
“They may have been failed but their preventable deaths may prevent others suffering the same fate.”
Evidence can be submitted to the inquiry by emailing email@example.com or by writing to Independent Inquiry, 15/16 Springfield, Dundee, DD1 4JE.