“And in addition to that it has these terrible side effects. Our son now is 33 and he’s been grappling with this for 18 years. He’s now grossly overweight because one of the side effects is, of course, diabetes. But I used to count him vomiting up to 30 times as a result of the medication. And he would go for days and days without sleeping because the medication would impact on his ability to sleep. The illness would get sort of worse at night. And the other two kids were non-events, as far as the family were concerned. They were totally being neglected.
“In the first two years of the illness I was involved in something in excess of 100 crisis situations, like suicide attempts, absconded from hospital and, up to about a year ago, he had spent about probably two-thirds of his time since age 15 in institutions. That’s in hospital, in jails, remand centres, police cells, etc. And it’s only over the recent 12 months or so that things are improved and we are keeping our fingers crossed.
“I’d put the improvement down to a few things. First of all, after many years of rejection and of lack of insight, he’s got older and developed more maturity. He has come to accept that fact that he’s got an illness and he’s come to accept the fact that he needs medication. Despite the fact that medication has many side effects, he’s come to that point. In addition to that, I think he’s realised that he can’t beat the system. He’s in and out of hospital, he’s in and out of jail. Somewhere or other he’s realised that he’s got to comply.”
McDonald, a former trade union official, said that the only reason his son was still alive was because he was able to use political connections within the labour movement to “force” hospitals to admit him when they didn’t want to. Otherwise he would be out on the street or in jail. “What’s happening, really, is that the mentally ill are just bring put in different institutions,” McDonald said. “Instead of being in mental health hospitals they are now in boarding houses and in jails. And they’re still institutionalised but they’re institutionalised in facilities that are far less caring for them, with less ability to treat them.”
McDonald said that he came to the conclusion that the only answer to the problem was an investment in science. If 78 per cent of the burden of the illness could not be addressed with the best services based on current knowledge, then the answer had to be an investment in research.