Artist praises glory years

Douglas Brierley. (s)
Douglas Brierley. (s)

A Burnley woman whose brother had schizophrenia for 19 years and nearly died three times is applauding the NHS for its former glory years.

Artist Linda Smith claimed the NHS “had it right” approximately 10 years ago when her brother Douglas Brierley was last sectioned.

When their mother died, his health took a nosedive and a social worker encouraged him to speak to someone at a daycare centre.

“While he was in hospital I was supported by wonderful people: police, doctors and social workers,” said Linda.

“It was an era which realised mental health needed addressing and that you can get better. If the psychiatric ward was full, they’d pull a bed from somewhere.”

After Douglas’ death, Linda was also offered counselling.

“Today, mental health services have taken a step back. They’re just helping the poorly person but the loved ones are also suffering. Families need to know they have a safe place to go.”

The support helped Douglas to turn his life around, empowering him to make friends at Burnley’s Thornton Arms pub and take up fell-walking. He also attended a daycare centre in Rosegrove, which was always open.

“A wonderful social worker called David Hart talked regularly to Douglas and within three weeks of being sectioned he rang me up to thank me.”

His troubles began as a baby when he developed measles in his eyes. At school he was badly bullied and at university he lost his sense of taste and smell in a laboratory accident.

“He was always different. People would beat him up for it but he would stick up for himself, and others.”

During crisis, communication with him broke down: he heard voices; was kicked out of his flat; and found on the floor eating grass. Three times he attempted to starve himself to death, police breaking down his doors to rescue him.

“Caring for Douglas taught me so much,” Linda said. “It was a long road but I thank him for it - he was a pleasure to know.

“He had an amazing mind: he liked theatre; read physics books; and was big on nature. He out-learnt the teachers and went to university when few did. He was polite, a brilliant artist and we could chat about anything when he was well.”

Now, six years after his death from cancer, Linda wants to donate his artwork to a health trust to inspire others with hope.

“You can’t cut back too much on mental health services,” she said. “They offer that final connection to loved ones in crisis. Once communication between you and the ill person is lost, they need to go into hospital or you’ll lose them forever.”

Fortunately, the help Douglas received brought the siblings closer together.

“When my husband died, my brother looked after me. He was my rock.

“In the end, he did find quality of life, so if you’re struggling you should never lose hope.

“I cannot thank the NHS enough for what it did because if it hadn’t, I’d have lost my brother to schizophrenia.”

If you can provide a good home for Douglas’ artwork, please send an email to Laura.longworth@jpress.co.uk