Alan Lee obituary

·2 min read

My friend Alan Lee, who has died aged 74 from a stroke, was a consultant psychiatrist renowned for his work in the treatment and long-term care of depression, and noted for his total commitment to the NHS.

He was born in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire (now in Greater Manchester), the only child of Kathy (nee Rolls) and Joe Lee, who worked in the chemical industry. From Manchester grammar school Alan went on a scholarship to Christ’s College, Cambridge, to study maths. After a year he switched to philosophy and psychology.

He was a member of the Christ’s hockey first XI and gained a half blue for ice hockey (playing both sports in a notably aggressive style). After graduation, he became an assistant probation officer in County Durham, where his experience at a local psychiatric hospital was a key influence on his choice of career.

He went on to study medicine at Newcastle University and became a junior houseman at the nearby Royal Victoria Infirmary and, later, in Southampton. Then he moved to the Maudsley hospital in London, where he began his psychiatric training undertaking groundbreaking research in depression. This involved following up a series of long-term depressed patients admitted 18 years previously.

Up to that time, depression was considered a relatively benign condition. People became depressed but they usually recovered, with or without an intervention. But, with Alan’s meticulous research, he was able to show that for many with depression, certainly if you were hospitalised, the outcome was not so favourable, with recurrences and relapses being common.

This implied that mental health professionals needed to be attentive to long-term patients with depression. And this fundamentally changed psychiatric practice. Moreover, it influenced Alan’s own clinical practice, which involved staying the course with some patients for their entire lifetime once he was appointed as their consultant.

On leaving the Maudsley in 1987, he moved to Nottingham as a consultant in general psychiatry for the rest of his career, retiring in 2007. He was book review editor of the Journal of Psychiatry and was instrumental in the launch of Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, serving as its editor for several years. He also acted as an unpaid adviser to Nottingham Samaritans and Nottingham Relate.

Alan enjoyed travel, Test cricket and, particularly, Glyndebourne opera. He was devoted to his wife, Helen (nee Meade), an adult psychodynamic psychotherapist whom he met when they both worked at the Maudsley, and married in 1981. He was revered by his niece and nephews, his many godchildren and honorary godchildren and, crucially, the men and women he helped over the decades.

Helen survives him.