Joseph Doherty – failed by the mental health system

On 19 October 1991, Joseph Doherty was admitted into Gartnavel Royal Hospital in Glasgow. The following is the true story of what happened while he was in the care of the mental health system.

A talented musician, Joseph had been unwell on the morning of 19 October 1991 when his brother Alex visited him at his home. It was agreed he should go to hospital, and the documentation was signed.

Alex describes the admission to hospital that was to see Joseph’s gradual decline. “I’ll never forget that day for as long as I live. Joseph, myself, several male nurses and two policemen all walking into the elevator with Joe leading the way playing his guitar and just like the Pied Piper, all of us following behind.”

During his time in hospital, Joseph’s condition steadily worsened. He became suicidal, talking about throwing himself from the nearby Erskine Bridge. During seven months of treatment at the hospital, Joseph tried to kill himself three times, once setting fire to himself in the hospital toilets.

It was following this incident in February 1992 that his consultant advised a course of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The family were told that if Joseph didn’t agree to ECT, the consultant would prescribe a new drug being trialled at that time called Clozapine. They were also told of the side effects of the drug and that it could cause a life-threatening illness.

After a week of constant pressure, Joseph reluctantly signed a consent form. In the subsequent weeks, his behaviour changed. He kept telling staff and family that he didn’t want any more shock treatment. He absconded on several occasions in March and April, returning either of his own volition, or under police escort.

On 7 April 1992, the day before receiving his 12th dose of shock treatment, Joseph left the ward for the last time, telling staff he was going out for a walk. He walked nine miles from the hospital to the Erskine Bridge, a famous suicide spot, where he jumped to his death.

In a fatal accident enquiry, it was found that Joseph had received shock treatment against his will but the psychiatrists were not held accountable.

Determined that the mistakes made in Joseph’s care should never be repeated, Alex embarked on his own investigation into the use and abuse of ECT, consistently raising concerns about consent to treatment. On one occasion it was found that Joseph had ran from the treatment room but was brought back to receive the shocks. This was deemed to be a breach of the Scottish Mental Health Act as treatment should have stopped and a second opinion should sought.

Joseph was 30-years-old when he died. Alex acknowledges that his brother was not well, but considers him one of the kindest human beings one could meet.

He says, “Joseph had a dream, the dream that one day he would become famous. Little did he know at that time his wish would come true, for all the wrong reasons.”

CCHR UK would like to thank Alex for giving his permission to share Joseph’s story.


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One Comment

  1. Mental health care has got worse instead of better SSRI drugs almost cost me my life as others unfortunately were succesful. I’ve suffered from depression sInce I was 17 I’m now 60 and pain Meds causing depression are being prescribed to me.

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