Exclusive: I was sacked after being sectioned, says senior Yorkshire councillor

A senior councillor has spoken of her shock at being sacked from a cabinet role after suffering a mental breakdown.

By The Newsroom
Sunday, 11th September 2016, 7:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th September 2016, 4:17 pm
Michelle Donohue Moncrieff of Hunmanby near Scarborough , reflects on her future . pic Richard Ponter 163912a
Michelle Donohue Moncrieff of Hunmanby near Scarborough , reflects on her future . pic Richard Ponter 163912a

Coun Michelle Donohue-Moncrieff, a former cabinet member for safer communities for Scarborough Borough Council, was detained under the Mental Health Act after a “fracas” in Hunmanby this month.

But, with no memory of what happened after being hospitalised for her own safety, she has spoken of her horror at being sacked - and questioned why more is not being done to protect others like herself.

“I’m broken,” she said. “I’ve been abandoned by the very council I fought with to protect people like me.

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There are thousands of people in Yorkshire with mental health issues. Are we to say they don’t belong to society? They have humiliated me and thrashed me more than I have humiliated myself.”

Coun Donohue-Moncrieff says she has battled with mental illness for years, made worse by the loss of her husband, Henry, in 2010.

Police confirm that a woman was detained under the Mental Health Act after an assault outside a pub in Hunmanby, and she admits she had been drinking that night on September 2.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to have done,” she said. “I’ve been told that I hit someone. I’ve no recollection of it. Apparently I broke down.”

Michelle Donohue Moncrieff at her home in Hunmanby near Scarborough , reflects on her future . pic Richard Ponter 163912e

The council, confirming that she has been replaced, said it is providing ongoing support.

But Coun Donohue-Moncrieff, speaking of her regret over the incident, says the support has been deeply inadequate.

“I’m a Conservative councillor who has been sacked from cabinet while suffering mental health issues,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been penalised for being ill.”

The Scarborough councillor says she has fought a a private battle with her mental health for many years.

Michelle Donohue Moncrieff at her home in Hunmanby near Scarborough , reflects on her future . pic Richard Ponter 163912e

Having fought the illness since her late teens, the loss of her husband, Henry, to cancer to 2010 sent her on a downward spiral which she has struggled to shake off.

Now, speaking publicly about her ordeal for the first time, she calls for greater compassion and understanding of mental health issues.

“I’m not a bad person,” she said. “I just need help. Now I’m pleading with my own government to look after somebody like me.

“This was a mental health issue, not a criminal one. Is this country going to prevent someone with mental health issues from sitting on cabinet? That’s a tragedy for society.”

The 41-year-old was sectioned on September 2 after an incident outside a Hunmanby pub.

She says an off-duty police officer came to her aid as she lost control, assaulting someone before breaking down and collapsing at the side of the road.

Detained under the Mental Health Act, she was taken to a place of safety overnight. Then last Thursday she was relieved of her post as the cabinet member for safer communities.

“I’ve got no hope left,” she said. “My own council has taken that away. How can they say they care for my mental health? As I walked out the building, the council issued an announcement about my replacement. An hour later, as I was trolled on Twitter, I asked for assistance. I didn’t get it. I’m heartbroken.”

Coun Donohue-Moncrieff has spoken to The Yorkshire Post as she hopes to raise the profile of individuals who are suffering from mental illness - but who she says are being treated like second-class citizens.

“This matters,” she said. “I’m a Conservative councillor who has been sacked from cabinet while suffering mental health issues and yet we have a government that says it cares. I’m speaking out as there will be thousands of people with the same problems.”

There are deep-seated issues within care, she says, as she reveals the first appointment she can get on the NHS is October 10.

“From now until then, I’m expected to cope,” she said. “If I can’t ask for help, then who can?”

Acknowledging the horror of the incident she is accused of, she said: “This is not about me walking away from this - If I’ve done something horrendous I’ve got to accept it. But we need to wake up to how we are dealing with mental health as a society.”

Statements issues by Scarborough Borough Council in response to questions about the removal of Coun Michelle Donohue-Moncrieff from its cabinet confirmed she had been replaced and thanked her for the “valuable contribution” she has made.

A spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we are providing ongoing support for Coun Donohue-Moncrieff. It saddens us to think that she doesn’t feel this is the case, but it would not be fair to comment further at this time.”

Opening up about depression

Caring for her husband in his dying months sparked a downward spiral of depression, Coun Donohue-Moncrieff has revealed.

Opening up for the first time about the battle she faced, she said she helped care for Henry Huckle-Moncrieffe in the years up to his death in 2010.

And the memories of this time and of his care in the NHS still cause deep distress to her, she said, adding that she believes talking about this may have sparked her recent breakdown.

“We went through months of hell,” she said. “Nursing anyone who is dying, is brutal. The cancer is a cancer on your life. Everything else is gone.

“I was nursing a man who had months to live - he didn’t know that but I did. I reached a stage where it was difficult for me to cope at home. I broke down overnight.

“I absolutely couldn’t cope. I couldn’t do it. I feel like it destroyed my life.”

The torture of her mental health issues impacted on every aspect of her life, Coun Donohue-Moncrieff said.

Unable to cope, she left a high-powered job with a blue-chip mulit-national company which she had built her way up to after graduating from university with a degree in mechanical engineering.

“Neither of us could deal with it,” she said. “We were in and out of hospital. It totally destroyed me.”

And after Henry’s death, she struggled to pick up the pieces.

“It’s dismantled my life,” she said. “It killed him, but it also destroyed me. I never recovered.

“I’m not the person who began that year. I had everything. At the end of that year it was gone. There was nothing left of me. I was destroyed.”