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.”
Campaigner Phil Welsh believes Dundee could be on the cusp of a mental health pandemic at the end of the coronavirus crisis – as hundreds across the city struggle to cope during the nationwide lockdown.
Mr Welsh, whose son Lee took his own life in 2017, has fears over the future and thinks the current situation the country finds itself in is likely to set people back in a battle against anxiety and depression.
The Tele has spoken to one man, who wished to remain anonymous and is currently battling depression, about his struggles and he admitted that he had contemplated taking his own life throughout the lockdown, with isolation and loneliness playing a major part in his life.
Mr Welsh believes it is one of many examples of people struggling across the area – and believes a number of factors could be seeing even those living “normal lives” struggling with mental health conditions.
He said: “When the end of this Covid-19 crisis becomes apparent, my fear is the country will be faced with another pandemic, a mental health one.
“Isolation, social distancing, people being furloughed from their place of work will be playing a part because, it’s perhaps the case that work is the only social interaction many people have.
“My fear is those who in `normal` times have had no issues with mental health, may, through this unprecedented experience, begin to develop depression or anxiety.
“Added to this pressure, third sector organisations which are normally available to offer support to people with mental health issues are not available in the usual sense.”
Mr Welsh added: “These are challenging times with no rule book available.
“When we come out of this, we are going to be faced with a broken economy, a stretched to the max NHS and a mental health crisis such like the country has never experienced before.”
Indea Ogilvie, who has recently taken over the the Let’s Talk Tayside support group, said that she was noticing many more people are asking for help help.
The Facebook page, which helps those suffering from mental health issues, supports many across the region and Ms Ogilvie believes there will be an even bigger demand for those sorts of groups in the coming months.
She said: “There is definitely an increase in messages from people facing mental health concerns.
“However there is also an an increase in people helping others out.
“I have been in touch with people personally and many others are also offering words of support and comforting each other at this difficult time.”
A Dundee filmmaker has released a short online video aimed at helping men in the city open up about their mental health battles.
“Mind Yersel” is a short, three minute film by 21-year-old, Bonnie MacRae, and explores the devastating topic of male suicide in the city – which has the highest rate in Scotland.
“I watched first hand how suicide can affect a family, I’ve dealt with depression myself and then I came across an article saying Dundee was Scotland’s suicide capital and it wasn’t something that I was willing to just accept,” Bonnie said.
“When I first had the idea to turn the piece into a short film, I knew I wanted it to be totally about Dundee.”
The film features a small cast who all hail from the City of Discovery, something which Bonnie felt was pivotal to the project.
She added: “Every person featured in the film is born and bred Dundee, and that was really important to me.
“Real boys in Dundee need to see themselves represented in the media, they need to know that they’re not alone in feeling a certain way. I have a younger brother and wanted him to watch it and see a little bit of himself in the film.”
The young filmmaker, who is from Broughty Ferry, was also full of praise for the film’s leading man, who narrated the short video and also appeared on camera throughout.
“Stephen McMillan features and I think he’s totally done both Dundee and the topic justice,” Bonnie said.
“He was on board with the film as soon as he read the script having personally experienced similar issues. He genuinely inspires me and I’m so lucky to have had him involved, Dundee should be proud of him.
“I think it’s had such a big impact already because of how close to home it hits. People watch and see someone opening up who speaks the same way they do, who walks the same streets as them – that was imperative.
Bonnie hopes that through watching the video, people of all ages and backgrounds in the city will be encouraged to seek help if they are struggling and hopefully save lives.
She added: “This film isn’t me preaching on how to cure depression, but I hope that in making the film I’ve started a long overdue conversation that needed to be had in Dundee.”
A man whose entire adult life has been plagued by mental health difficulties believes a 24-hour crisis centre for those suffering in Tayside would be a “great idea”.
Marc McLeish backed the Not in Vain for Lee campaign aimed at setting up a round-the-clock self-referral service, warning vulnerable people desperately need more support resources across the region.
The 33-year-old, from Perth, said: “If something like that existed in Tayside, it would be great.
“I have probably had about 40 emergency assessments in total but in almost 90% of these, I have been sent away with no treatment.
“If there was somewhere that was 24 hours, then it could be the case that I would not have self-harmed as much as I have.
“It would be great to have one in Perth as well but Dundee would be a good start.”
Marc, who was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder aged 23, has spent his entire adulthood battling his demons and the years since his school days have been marred by repeated incidents of self-harming and multiple hospital stints.
He said: “When I was in my teens and early 20s I attempted suicide quite a few times by taking an overdose.
“I have been a prolific self-harmer since I was in my teens and I have probably done it up to 100 times in 17 years.
“I always felt like I was a bad person because I was gay and I believed I needed to be punished, so that’s what I have done.”
Marc’s struggles with his mental health have had a profound impact on his day-to-day life and he admits he has difficulty coping. He added: “I really don’t have a very good quality of life.
“For me right now, it’s not a day at a time but rather two hours at a time and that’s what’s getting me through.”
Marc spoke about his mixed experiences with health services throughout his struggles, having been admitted to hospitals in both his hometown and Dundee.
“The first inpatient treatment I had was probably about 10 years ago in the Murray Royal Hospital and I had no issues with the treatment there,” he said.
“My GP practice has been fantastic, but there is definitely a lack of resources in Tayside.”
Marc’s most recent stint in hospital was just last month, when he spent five days in the Carseview Centre in Dundee after being admitted following an appointment with his GP.
He also raised concerns that his time at the Dundee unit was spent unsupervised – so much so he claims he was able to harm himself twice during his stay.
He said: “In Carseview, I felt people were left to their own devices.
“I asked my named nurse for a razor, saying I wanted to shave and I was told that as long as I wasn’t going to harm myself, I could have it.
“I then severely harmed my right arm with the razor and the wounds were gaping wide.
“I discussed with my family whether I should leave and we came to the joint decision that I should.”
A spokeswoman for NHS Tayside said: “Due to patient confidentiality, we are unable to comment on matters relating to individual patients.
“However, we can confirm we are in direct contact with the patient’s family.”
A mum and dad who have been campaigning for a 24-hour crisis centre after their son took his own life have revealed their plans to raise thousands for a mental health charity.
Dad Lee Welsh tragically took his own life in August 2017 leaving behind a seven-year-old daughter, Poppy.
Lee, who was just 23, had battled mental health issues for almost a decade before he committed suicide.
In the years since, Phil and Lee’s mum Lesley Nicoll have been raising money for local mental health charities while continuing to campaign for a self referral crisis centre to help people who find themselves with nowhere to turn.
In only two years they have raised more than £10,500 for city charities and this year they hope to raise thousands more, topping the total amount raised last year. All the money is raised under the banner Not In Vain for Lee.
Phil said: “Our aim is to raise more money than last year for Haven and we already have three main events lined up.
“We will once more hold our soup and pudding lunch in May, there is a charity football match in June, and we will take part in the university abseil in August.
“We will also continue to hold a number of other small fundraising events and initiatives throughout the year all in Lee’s name.”
Phil said: “The Hearing Voices Network Dundee (Haven) is a small, service user-led charity which seeks to create acceptance that hearing voices is a valid experience.
“Haven provides support to voice hearers through a variety of projects, self-help groups, activities and supported volunteering.
“Our main aim continues to be a crisis centre. We were encouraged that in his independent inquiry report into mental health services, Dr David Strang spoke in favour of such a centre.
A former health board chief has sparked fury by suggesting a landmark inquiry into mental health services should not have gone ahead because it held up work to improve care.
Crawford Reid, former chairman of the Perth and Kinross integrated joint board (IJB), believes the independent inquiry “completely screwed” plans to redesign local mental health facilities.
The inquiry, led by former prisons governor David Strang, strongly criticised what it described as a loss of “trust and respect” in local psychiatric services.
But Dr Reid believes the launch of the inquiry – at the behest of the bereaved families of suicide victims – has set progress back in Tayside by two years.
The redesign was signed off in January 2018 by Perth and Kinross IJB, which is in charge of inpatient mental health services, but was put on hold following the inquiry’s interim report in May last year.
Ahead of an NHS meeting to discuss a proposed action plan on mental health tomorrow (Thursday), Dr Reid said: “Several aspects of the inquiry report give me great concern. (Ex-chair and ex-chief executive) John Brown and Malcolm Wright came in at a time when Tayside was in a dysfunctional shape – it was a knee-jerk reaction.
“I’m not minimising how ruinous suicide is but what’s happened is the mental health transformation programme has been basically put on hold.
“If the transformation programme had started to move in, things would have improved with a full complement of consultants.
“They completely screwed it.”
Relatives of those who took their own lives after engaging with local mental health services have criticised Dr Reid’s comments as poorly considered.
“There have been ample opportunities for genuine change with regards to mental health services in Tayside over the years given the sheer volume of investigations and horror stories.
“Nothing was changing hence why I, and others campaigned for this inquiry.
“Perhaps if these fantastic changes that are being proposed had actually been implemented years ago, lives would have been saved and there would have been no need for an inquiry.”
She added: “I feel yet again that we, the bereaved families who campaigned tirelessly for change, are being used as a scapegoat for the never-ending list of failures.”
Mandy McLaren, who lost her son Dale Thomson to suicide in 2015, said: “The redesign was in the interim report, and it did say it should be halted.
“The matter with him is he doesn’t want to take any responsibility for the part they all played in allowing these failures and allowing these deaths.”
Following a near-two-year investigation, the Independent Inquiry issued 51 recommendations on February 5.
Witnesses who gave accounts to the inquiry described how the transformation programme appeared to be little more than an asset management plan to save money.
However, Dr Reid believes that, with time, the programme could have gradually reintroduced localised care at facilities such as the Mulberry Unit in Angus, which was mothballed in 2017 despite being only despite being opened in 2011.
He also believes independent case reviews should have been held for each person who dies after engaging with mental health services.
“If you look at each and every recommendation there’s not one that moves the process of improving mental health services in Tayside one inch forward,” he added.
“Not one of those 51 recommendations, without the transformation programme going on, will improve anything.
“The transformation programme had no time to bed in and move forward – if it had been allowed to develop the situation would have been fantastic compared to what it was two years ago.
“It’s not perfect but it’s far better than what we’ve been left with at this time. The sooner it gets put back on the boiler the better.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, this inquiry should not have gone ahead.”
NHS Tayside and the independent inquiry have been contacted for comment.
“We really need to work with staff to fix mental health”
Renewed calls have been made by NHS staff representatives for health bosses to work with them to improve mental health services in Tayside following the publication of the Strang report.
Jenny Alexander, employee director at NHS Tayside and a Unison rep, said the 51 recommendations were unlikely to be met unless staff were on board with the health board’s plans
She warned that actions could not be rushed through in the way the mental health transformation programme was perceived to be by some observers in 2018.
She told a meeting of Dundee’s health and social care partnership board (HSCP) yesterday: “The partnership aspect of this is very, very important.
“If we are running off and doing things like in 2018 we’re not going to do anything differently.
“We really need to start working in partnership with staff-side – if we don’t have staff on side we will never get through those 51 recommendations.
“We need to make sure we have improvements done for these people that we’re caring for.”
The independent inquiry found that staff reported feeling disrespected and undervalued by senior colleagues.
One mental health staffer described the atmosphere in mental health services as “a culture of fear”.
Arlene Mitchell, Dundee HSCP locality manager, says actions have already been taken in response to the inquiry.
These include the creation of new senior mental health posts, a new process for investigating adverse events and a plan to improve better support for those leaving mental health inpatient services.
Ms Mitchell said: “From a Dundee perspective, we’re in a good position…to ensure a strong staff partnership approach.
“We feel there’s a need to strengthen some of the staff partnership activity.”
Almost half of Dundonians who have died by suicide sought help from crisis services in the year leading up to their death, according to official figures.
The Scottish Suicide Information Database (SSID) report shows that 45.5% of the city’s 198 suicide victims between 2011 and 2018 contacted one or more unscheduled care services in the 12 months prior to taking their own lives.
NHS Scotland’s latest update to the SSID comes after it emerged tragic TV star Caroline Flack had been visited by an ambulance crew at her London home less than 24 hours before her death on Saturday.
Two-thirds of those who sought unscheduled help in Dundee did so by calling for an ambulance – and half attempted to get support from the NHS 24 telephone service.
Just over a quarter of those who sought help from Tayside’s out of hours service, which currently operates from Dundee’s Kings Cross Health and Community Centre.
Researchers who compiled the SSID noted that people who went on to take their own lives were six times more likely to have had at least one contact with the ambulance service in the year leading to their death.
The out of hours service can make referrals to NHS Tayside’s Crisis Resolution Home Treatment Team (CRHTT) for cases of mental health crisis in Dundee.
However, staff working for the CRHTT have reported feeling undersupported as NHS Tayside focuses on inpatient services such as those offered at the Carseview Centre.
NHS Tayside is reviewing the SSID report, along with the final report published by the Independent Inquiry into Mental Health Services in Tayside two weeks ago.
Mike Winter, associate medical director for mental health, said reducing suicide attempts was “a priority”.
He added: “NHS Tayside and partner organisations have been reviewing our crisis care and home treatment centres and working to develop a Psychiatric Emergency Plan.
“It should however be recognised that a key aspect of suicide prevention is the opportunity for people in despair to talk about their problems, whether this is to a work colleague, a friend or family member, or to a volunteer from Samaritans.
“The Independent Inquiry report will guide our further work on suicide prevention and other improvements we wish to progress.”
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Monica Lennon said opportunities for health and care services to refer people for mental health treatment “cannot be allowed to be missed”.
She added: “Reducing mental health stigma needs our collective efforts, proper funding for health and social services, and joined up working so that there is no wrong door.”
Responding to the report, mental health minister Claire Haughey said £3 million of funding was supporting the Scottish Government’s existing Suicide Prevention Action Plan.
Ms Haughey noted: “This report represents a significant contribution to the growing evidence base around suicide in Scotland which will inform current and future policy and activity.”
Support is available by calling Samaritans free 24 hours a day on 116 123. If you prefer to write down how you’re feeling, you can email email@example.com.
The parents of two young men who committed suicide after perceived failures of care by medical staff in Tayside have said they hope the deaths of their sons will not be in vain.
Dale Thomson took his own life in 2015 after spending time in Dundee’s heavily-criticised Carseview Centre, used to house and treat patients with mental health problems.
Dale’s heartbroken mum Mandy McLaren, a vocal critic of the health board and a campaigner for better mental health provision in Dundee, claims NHS Tayside “killed her son” and said she will “never forgive” the board and staff for the treatment Dale received.
She sat down for an interview with Tele, joined by Phil Welsh and Lesley Nicoll, who are also from Dundee.
Their son Lee Welsh took his own life in August 2017 after what the couple say were failings by his GP.
In 2016, while saying she could not comment on specific cases, the then-health minister at Holyrood, Shona Robison, apologised for any care which fell below the expected standard.
Ms Robison, who was replaced in the role by Jeane Freeman in June 2018, said: “If a service or part of the health service doesn’t meet the standards it should meet, then of course I would apologise to their family — whether that’s in mental health services or any other service.
“Obviously I can’t comment on individual cases to any great extent, because I’m not party to the full clinical information.
“Most of the time, our services are of a very good quality – sometimes services do fall short of where they should be.”
Mandy, however, said at the time the apology was “too little, too late” and should have been made to her personally.
Phil received an apology from the NHS after what was described as a “callous” response to Lee taking his own life.
Phil said he and Lesley were “disgusted” with the Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership’s statement in the wake of Lee’s death.
They later received a personal apology from then-chief executive of NHS Tayside, Lesley McLay.
The website aims to share stories relating to mental health issues which can be shared with politicians, charities, and other people, in the hope that “funding and a fresh approach to the subject of mental health will finally be discussed and implemented”.
The family say that if they can prevent one family from enduring the same heartache they are currently suffering, Lee’s death will not have been in vain.
They are also campaigning for a crisis centre for people who can access acute mental health services without referral.
In the Trust and Respect report, it states that the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) has been working with various agencies and bodies in Tayside “to support the drive to increase access to preventative and short-term interventions”.
The leader of Dundee City Council has responded to an independent inquiry into mental health services in Tayside.
John Alexander has today posted a statement on Facebook, stating that the capacity of the services “needs to increase” and that there are “too many people spread too thinly”.
An inquiry to examine the accessibility, safety, quality and standards of care provided by all mental health services in the region was commissioned after concerns were raised in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Alexander wrote: “Last week in a 136-page document, Dr David Strang set out the results and recommendations stemming from the independent inquiry into mental health services in Tayside.
“I spent the weekend pouring over the entirety of the document, considering it’s contents and thinking about what kind of service could be provided if those 51 recommendations are adopted.
“It’s vital that each word on those page is taken in. It was hard hitting, honest and to be frank, painted a deeply worrying picture of where things were.
“Mental health and it’s impact on too many people is an issue very close to my heart, even closer more recently but it’s also something that isn’t talked about enough – between family members and friends. I spent my Sunday morning with friends and one of the things we were talking about was the battles with mental health.
“I defy anyone to find someone that doesn’t have a family member, friend or someone that they work with who hasn’t suffered from issues related to mental health.
“We need to continue to remove any stigma associated with it and support those who need support. There is of course, a wide spectrum and the impacts can often be unseen, sometimes until it’s too late.
“There continues to be a significant number of people in crisis, at the end of their tether and struggling to manage daily life. What this report says very strongly and clearly is that people have been let down by services in Tayside. What it also says is that going forward, the services must change.
“The bottom line for me is that the capacity of those services needs to increase. There are too many people spread too thinly and too many silos that don’t allow for sustained collaboration.
“The Chief Executive of NHS Tayside has, to his credit, apologised for those failings and has said that his “…personal commitment to the people of Tayside is that I will work with them to address all the recommendations made by Dr Strang in his report.”
“I’ve already discussed the matter with officers and look forward to meeting with NHS colleagues to see what actions have already been taken forward and hear how they intent to address the 51 recommendations.
“This report has been long anticipated and whilst I think there was a general expectation that there were issues, the fact that it has done such a thorough analysis and 1,500 interviews during that process should provide the evidence base required to make some big and necessary changes.”