Fit for the job?
Jonathan McColl, Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay.
By The Editor
Mental health. It is said that one in four of us has a problem with it. And not all of the symptoms are fatigue; episodes of short temper; irascibility or feeling tearful for no apparent reason.
The leader of West Dunbartonshire Council is suffering from ongoing mental health problems while it is about to embark on its biggest challenge for a century and more – coronavirus.
So, is Cllr Jonathan McColl up to the challenge? McColl has bi-polar disorder; which experts say is a serious illness, for which there is no cure.
However, Cllr McColl has indicated that so far as he is concerned this disease does not have an adverse effect on his ability to carry out his duties on the Council.
Whether or not medical experts or psychiatrists agree with him, has never been disclosed.
Nor, astonishingly, has he ever been officially asked that question.
He appears not to have any confirmation that he has gone through any examination to prove that he is mentally fit for work.
So, is Jonathan McColl fit for work, or is he not?
Less serious mental health problems, such as alcoholism, would be considered grounds for exclusion from occupying the post of council leader, but bi-polar disorder?
With respect, this is a really important question in light of the fact that the leader of West Dunbartonshire Council is in charge of an annual budget amounting to many £ millions.
And the public who pay their council tax and depend on local authority services deserve to know not just how it will be spent, but who is making the decisions.
Are the right and proper persons in place to carry out this highly responsible public duty?
And are they fit and able to do it? Is it right to take their word alone on this?
Cllr McColl decided to go public with his problems during a recent Mental Health Week interview with a newspaper in Dumbarton in November.
We are told bi-polar disorder involves dramatic mood swings from deep depression to elation. And that the councillor in question has twice tried to take his own life, so it’s that serious.
This illness was formerly known as manic depression and Cllr McColl is receiving ongoing treatment for it.
It is, however, a life-long disorder for which experts say 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, another organisation which has not had its troubles to seek in the past year.
And which is considered not to be up to the job and placed in special measures by the Health Secretary.
However, he has given no indication that he will reconsider retaining his membership of the Health Board or the leadership of the Council.
And he says there is no question of him following the generally felt public wish to keep the Vale of Leven Hospital open, which has astonished many people who have been campaigning for just that.
Neither has he said whether he declared this illness to the Health Board.
Bi-polar 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,
making unusual, or big decisions without thinking them through properly or at all, and
doing things, you normally wouldn’t, which can cause problems.
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.
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 media 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.
These questions were as simple as asking for a proper press bench where reporters could see and hear what was going on.
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.
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.
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 happens now then?
In the SNP, even at the highest level, members appear not to know each other well enough to be each other’s confidantes in relation to their health.
The Derek Mackay case proves this. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon may have known her Finance Minister was too fond of the drink and warned him about it.
But she says she knew nothing of the other problems which caused her to sack him the day before he was due to deliver the National Budget for Scotland.
The SNP have expressed concern about this and urged people with mental health problems to come out and talk about their experiences.
Any reasonable person would expect that that the First Minister has a duty to establish officially if politicians in high places are mentally fit for the job
The SNP have expressed regret that they were not on top of the situation in the case of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay, who resigned in disgrace the night before he was due to present the Budget.
There is a meeting of the Holyrood Education Committee on Wednesday of this week when the fitness of such as Derek Mackay should be properly examined before they are appointed will be discussed.
Why doesn’t parliament extend this inquiry beyond Holyrood to elected representatives on Health Boards, councils and all public bodies?
The electorate would feel much safer since for the foreseeable future it’s going to be a case of Your Life in Their Hands.