Cllr Jonathan McColl (left) and Nicola Sturgeon with Martin Docherty-Hughes and Brendan O’Hara, the recently re-elected MPs for West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute. Who did he tell about his illness and were his election and appointment to the Health Board appropriate in the circumstances?
By the EDITOR
Councillor Jonathan McColl, leader of the SNP ruling group on West Dunbartonshire Council, is suffering from mental illness, it was revealed this week.
Cllr McColl told Dumbarton-based journalist Jenny Foulds that he has bipolar disorder, which involves dramatic mood swings from deep depression to elation. And that he has twice tried to take his own life.
The illness was formerly known as manic depression and he is receiving ongoing treatment for it, but it is a life-long disorder for which there is no known cure and has the potential to become chronic.
It won’t go away – although it can be controlled to some extent with drugs.
In addition to his council duties, Cllr McColl is also a member of the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board.
However, he has given no indication that he will resign his membership of the Health Board or the leadership of the Council.
He has not said either whether he declared his illness to the Health Board or the Government election authorities prior to taking up these roles.
Or that he will be going through a specialist medical examination to establish whether he is fit to continue in that role.
Bipolar disorder is described by psychiatrists in the following terms:
- Bipolar disorder can cause one’s mood to swing from an extreme high to an extreme low.
- Depressive symptoms can include lack of energy, feeling worthless, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.
- Manic symptoms can include increased energy, excitement, impulsive behaviour and agitation.
- Psychotic symptoms can mean that a person sees and hears things that feel real but they don’t exist.
One medical expert says: “Sufferers can experience episodes of mania and depression. Symptoms can be severe and affect areas of a person’s life, such as work, school and relationships.”
There are different types of bipolar disorder, some of which can make it difficult to deal with day-to-day life, and it can have a bad effect on relationships and work.
Symptoms of mania can include:
- thinking you can do much more than you actually can,
- make unusual, or big decisions without thinking them through, and
- doing things, you normally wouldn’t, which can cause problems.
- Such as:
- spending a lot of money,
- using drugs or alcohol and gambling
- making unwise business decisions.
Symptoms of depression can include feeling hopeless or negative; feeling guilty, worthless or helpless; being less interested in things you normally like doing or enjoying them less.
Also a person may have difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts.
Some patients have psychotic symptoms during a severe episode of mania or depression. Symptoms of psychosis can be:
- hallucinations. This means that you may hear, see, or feel things that are not there, and
- delusions. This means you may believe things that are not true. Other people will usually find your beliefs unusual.
Stressful life events can trigger symptoms of bipolar disorder.
The seriousness of Cllr McColl’s illness has not been disclosed although he says it has been diagnosed as Bi-polar II.
In the past two years during which he has been leader, West Dunbartonshire Council has been frequently at the centre of controversy and criticism.
Since he is ill, Cllr McColl is more to be pitied than pilloried, although our coverage would indicate that much that happened at the council was unusual and remarkable.
And that it should be investigated.
The Dumbarton Democrat, has been banned and boycotted by the SNP – at local, Holyrood and Westminster level – for asking questions which is normally accepted as our legitimate role as journalists.
Who ever heard of it being “inappropriate” for reporters to ask questions of councillors during a break in a meeting?
We are now being told that Cllr McColl, who is the elected member for the Lomond Ward in Balloch, has concealed his bi-polar disorder for years.
Maybe if his SNP colleagues had told us sooner about this then we might have taken a different approach to the way we reported these matters.
Remarkable episodes include the fiasco of leaving large swathes of uncut grass in parks, cemeteries and other public spaces, which caused widespread public dismay and disbelief.
Only last week, Cllr McColl approved a suggestion that officials should inquire into the possibility of robots being brought in to cut the grass.
And then there was the U-turn he made over the planning application from Flamingo Land to create a holiday centre in on Loch Lomondside at Balloch.
He supported that plan initially but finally came out against this £35 million development.
We dubbed him Councillor U-turn.
There is also the £5 million projected overspend in the Clydebank heating contract and the £6 million “gamble” on reclamation of the Esso Bowling tank farm without any guarantees that the land will revert to the council.
Meanwhile, we are told his disorder continues to be something Cllr McColl deals with on a daily basis.
He told journalist Jenny Foulds he is also no longer afraid to talk about it, and will openly chat to colleagues and constituents about his experience.
“I still feel it all the time and I think it’s something I’ll always have,” he added.
“I’ll feel ‘normal’ for a week or so and then my mood will shift to one way or the other. The majority of the time I am in a depressed state, as I am now.
“If I feel like that when I get up, I take 20 minutes to half an hour to talk myself through it and rationalise in my head why I’m feeling that way.”
So, what is to happen now?
We would never have criticised Cllr McColl in the manner we did had we known he was unwell, but he would not speak to us or let us speak to him.
We would have spoken to others in the SNP, but they too would not comment on anything, despite the fact he says they knew he was mentally ill.
In light of Cllr McColl’s statement to the Lennox Herald/Daily Record, we think it only reasonable that there should be an independent inquiry into this matter.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should be asked if she and her Cabinet believe it is acceptable for someone with such a potentially serious illness, which has already manifested itself in such alarming ways, to hold such a responsible position in local government. We think this community deserves be told.