Psychiatry over 6 decades – From a personal perspective

Part 2 – The Seventies

I had been at boarding school since I was eleven and had hated every minute of it until I reached seventeen in 1970, with hindsight I realised that I had been experiencing depression at various levels from day one. At seventeen I had made friends who had “got me”, appreciated me as a person and didn’t think it was fun to physically, emotionally and psychologically abuse me on a daily basis. In the Summer we all went to the Isle of Wight Festival, partly to see Hendrix, mainly to have a really good time. That summer was amazing, I had friends, attended festivals and gigs just a great time. Then September came and I returned to school! I arrived back full of hope of a good year, was starting my final year of A levels, University beckoned and I was genuinely happy for the first time in my life. Within two weeks it all came crashing down, I couldn’t concentrate in lessons, was unable to sit for more than ten minutes in prep (homework), shut out my friends and started hiding. A month into the term I had given up one of my A levels but that didn’t help, so I went to the Doctor.

It was a relatively new doctor, the previous one had never taken me seriously, but I still wasn’t hopeful of getting any help. I sat in his office and just cried… and talked and cried, amazingly he listened and appeared to understand. I was immediately admitted to the infirmary and given tablets (no idea what though). I spent the majority of that half term in the infirmary listening to music and talking to the doctor (amazingly regularly). I was taken up to London twice during this period, the first to see a psychiatrist in Harley Street, the second to the Tavistock Centre (I think) for psychological tests.

To this day I have no idea what the outcome was of either visit! I was accompanied to the psychiatrist by my dad, I went in first, then my dad was called in, then I was sent out. I never saw the psychiatrist again, my dad told me nothing and I never saw any notes. The doctor at school never even mentioned the visit, which in retrospect was odd and so unlike him. I guess that because I was a minor I had no right to know, my parents and the school were informed and that was all that was necessary.

I seem to remember both my parents came to the Tavistock with me, we were there all day, I took test after test including Rorshach inkblots (which was fun) and returned to school exhausted. I did get feedback, sort of, the next term, I was trying to get out of a maths test and the teacher said “we know you’ve got the intelligence to do this, at least that’s what we’ve been told”. At half-term I went home and came back to school and was treated as if none of the previous six weeks or so had happened.

I often wonder how things might have been different if someone had taken the time to sit and tell me what was going on. I don’t know if I was diagnosed, if they came to any conclusions or if the whole episode was a huge waste of time and money. Just perhaps, if they had discussed what was wrong, what I should do I may just have avoided the big crash. On the other hand… who knows?

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