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Ordeal of manic depressive left to fend alone

Neil Woods's first manic attack came out of the blue. One minute he was working, the next he was tearing round his office, on the floor and, he says, barking like a dog.

His colleagues dialled 999. When he refused to go with the ambulance, he was put in a police cell. 'I am not violent but I am a big man, 16 stone. I terrified the people I was working with. Fortunately one of them had mental health nurse training and she realised what was happening.'

For six hours the police strove to find a hospital bed for him and he was eventually admitted eight hours later. In the meantime he had punched a hole through the Perspex window of the cell, breaking two knuckles. He took off all his clothes and sang hymns.

That was five years ago. He has been in hospital a dozen times since. Mr Woods maintains that if he had received co-ordinated community care, many of the admissions could have been avoided. For two and a half years after the policy was introduced and at great risk of suicide, he had no 'care programme'. Since he was assigned a community psychiatric nurse nine months ago, his mental health has stabilised.

On the first admission he was heavily sedated and slept for three days.

'There was no history of psychiatric illness in my family. There was no real diagnosis,' he said.

Mr Woods was living in Mayfair and had a successful business. 'When I was discharged I had two or three out- patient appointments and that was that.

There was great stigma about mental illness and I just wanted to bury it.'

Six months later he had another 'huge breakdown', triggered by a house move.

He arrived in his pyjamas and an overcoat at the casualty department of a different hospital. 'A young doctor thought I was on drugs.' Apparently Mr Woods said something offensive to a nurse. 'It was something like 'I want to make love to you and make lots and lots of baby computers together'.' He was escorted from the premises.

He wandered all night and was spotted by two security guards standing on a parapet of Tower Bridge. 'I was waiting for the tide to come in as I had decided to swim to Southend,' Mr Woods recalls. Again he was taken away by police, this time to yet another hospital where he says he had excellent care. His diagnosis was: brief reactive psychosis, 'the sort of thing soldiers get after a bad experience'. He was again discharged and left to his own devices.

Following another attack he was admitted to hospital but treated as a cocaine addict, he says. He was produced as an example of addiction for trainee doctors. 'I told them I was a committed Christian and totally against drugs and started for the consultant with my hands outstretched for his throat. Three of them rugby-tackled me to the floor.' At least this incident led to a barrage of brain scans and tests; 18 months after his first attack manic depression was diagnosed.

He was without a home or a job, so the local authority found him bed and breakfast accommodation. He was maintained on drugs as an outpatient. A succession of attacks followed. Since his community psychiatric nurse, his 'key worker', was assigned to him, he has had one bad attack. 'I was supposed to see her once or twice a month but that is really no good for me.

I have some insight and I knew I needed more regular contact.

'I had to work very hard on changing it, but she sees me for half an hour a week. I really believe that she keeps me out of hospital.'

Neil Woods is not his real name