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Interview: Frank Bruno warns about the mental health system

IN CONVERSATION: Frank Bruno is aiming to spread a positive message about mental health

FORMER WORLD boxing champion Frank Bruno has warned that the UK’s mental health system is causing too many patients to suffer by forcing them to take drugs they don’t want and is urging reform.

In an interview with The Voice, Bruno criticised the practice of over prescribing strong medication to treat mental issues, especially where black people are concerned, and said more needs to be done to understand the reasons behind such problems.
Bruno said he was motivated to speak about the issue after his own experiences in the mental health system.

According to Bruno, over reliance on strong medication often leads to people’s mental health issues becoming worse. He said:

“I've been sectioned three times. The first time it happened, yes I had problems, yes I was going through whatever I was going through, but when I came out [of the mental health hospital], the dosage of medication they gave me numbed me out. They often give black people a higher dosage than other people. But it just monged me out, left me feeling like a cabbage.

SUCCESS: Britain's world heavyweight champion Frank Bruno parades his WBC belt he won after an epic battle with Oliver McCall a week ago at Wembley

“When you go into the system they don't want to listen to you at all, they treat you as if you're nothing. They make out they care for you, but all they're not really getting to the root of the problem - why you're feeling down, what you're feeling from the medication. After taking it, you can be left staring at a wall like a crazy person.”

The former boxing champ continued:

“Sometimes it would be about 60 different tablets, with doctors saying – ‘take this one, that one, and take that one to counteract the side effects’ or whatever. I told them ‘this messes up my head; you don't know how I feel; I can't sleep at night; I'm having dreams. What you give me is very highly dangerous and it's hurting me and I can't focus. I asked them, ‘Have you ever taken these medications? Do you know how it feels?’

"You've got to know what you're giving somebody. If all you're worried about is getting paid, then all you're all doing is just making out that you really care for me.”

The former boxing champ stressed that he wasn’t telling people with mental health issues to stop taking medication entirely.


However he strongly feels that the system needs to change so that patients who want to try more holistic treatments that don’t involve high dosages of strong medication should be listened to.

“I'm not saying that everybody don't need some form of medication and what may be good for me may not be good for you. But it's the higher doses that mong you out and leave you with side effects. I don't know how people stick up for themselves. The system states that you have to take this, you have to take that and the dosage they give you is so high and it is very addictive. You miss one, you get the shakes. If you don’t have somebody you can talk to or explain things what have you got?"

He added:

“The Government is looking at numbers and making the ching ching with pharmaceutical companies. I don't think they are too worried about what's happening.

“A lot of people are going to stay in the system for the rest of their lives, because it's a money spinning thing and it's very cruel man. I don't know how many more people's got to die for them to understand. There's a lot of people taking this medication going into the system and they ain't coming back out. A lot of people are suffering after taking high dosages and their doctors or support teams not listening to them. There must be a different way they can approach things.”


Bruno has outlined his concerns about the UK’s mental health system in a new book.

Let Me Be Frank highlights his battle with mental illness, his time inside a mental facility, the impact his illness has had on his family and his career - and his road back to health.

He traces the start of his mental health problems to his divorce in 2001.

“There were a lot different people I thought I could trust, and when I got divorced these so-called friends did a lot of strange things to me” he recalled.

“I drove myself here and there. I wanted to try and make up the money I lost from the divorce and I was rushing around doing this job, doing that job and not looking after myself, so I trusted a lot of people and they just robbed me. I had a £38,000 watch nicked out of my house. I just lost it, I had a breakdown and it just started from there, you know.”

However the boxing hero is on the way to recovery. Despite being diagnosed with bipolar disorder he feels and looks in great shape and through the Frank Bruno Foundation he is trying to spread a positive message about mental health through structured non-contact boxing sessions.

“I don't want people to go out and beat up each other. It’s about them getting fit and setting themselves a goal, looking after themselves and feeling strong in body and mind. What you eat, how you look, how you feel is a very big part of mental health and people don't really understand that.”

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