World Mental Health Day 2019

October 10, 2019 16 comments


Not that I needed the reminders, but my inbox has been receiving a steady flow of emails about World Mental Health Day (WMHD), which is marked each year on 10 October. This date is recognised by the World Health Organisation and the theme for the year is set by the World Federation for Mental Health. This year’s theme is suicide prevention.

Having had mental health problems myself – mostly depression and anxiety-related – I feel very lucky that I have never once had the remotest hint of a suicidal thought. Others are, sadly, far worse off than I in this respect, and I am pleased that this subject is receiving so much attention. For so long it has been one of those taboo subjects of which we dare not speak, choosing instead to brush it under the figurative carpet.

This week has seen the launch of the Every Mind Matters campaign by Public Health England and the NHS, to encourage people to be more aware of the early signs of mental health issues. Their website can be found  here and is full of loads of useful advice and resources. I strongly encourage you to take a look if you or anyone you know might benefit from getting some good help and advice. The campaign is being supported by the younger royals – the Cambridges  and Sussexes – and is generating good publicity. Many companies and organisations, such as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have also pledged support.

Today I’ve seen a piece on breakfast tv about Ellie Soutter, a snowboarder champion who took her own life last year on her 18th birthday. It featured an interview with Ellie’s mother and was heartbreaking, really bringing home the devastation caused in the lives of loved ones, families and friends when someone commits suicide. The gaping hole that they leave, all those unanswered questions about what drove them to do it, the guilt about whether their family, friends or anyone could have seen signs of their unhappiness and done something – anything – to help. There are, sadly, no easy answers to any of those questions. None of us wants to be in poor Ellie’s mum’s situation, but we don’t have hindsight to know what we might have done in her circumstances. We shouldn’t need things like Every Mind Matters to remind us of this, but the reality is that we do. The importance of spreading this word, and of sharing awareness of what we can do to help ourselves and our loved ones, cannot be understated.


One of the organisations which supports people with mental health issues is Time To Change. I’ve spoken about them before, and have recently signed up to be a ‘Time To Change Champion,’ which means that I have committed to spreading the word about what we can do to help. This isn’t a big announcement, and isn’t anything for which qualifications are needed. Anyone can do it – the more who do, the more widespread the message becomes. If you’re interested, do visit the Time To Change website. Here you’ll also find lots of good advice, including their campaign for this year’s WMHD, ‘Ask Twice,’ as you can see from the image above. This is the simple thought that, rather than accepting the usual ‘I’m fine’ answer to the ‘how are you?’ question, we might delve a little deeper. Here is the link: you’ll find a good little video about it to encourage you to think more about this, along with more advice on how to start that conversation. I’ll be posting more as a ‘Time To Change Champion’ in the months to come, and I hope some of you will sign up too.

I’m aware that this post reflects the fact that I am in the UK, but this is World Mental Health Day. Wherever you are from, this is an important day. In the column to the right you will see a box labelled ‘Stand Up For Mental Health.’ If you click on this it takes you to the website of HealthyPlace.com, whose campaign this is. They are US-based, and I know that there are many similar initiatives around the world. Wherever you are, please take a few moments to find out what is available to you and what you can do to help. And if you think you might need some support, please do seek assistance, and don’t be afraid to ask.

’How are you?’

‘I’m fine thanks.’

‘Are you sure? You don’t seem quite like yourself…’

‘Well, actually…’

That wasn’t too hard, was it? If you know someone you think might be struggling, #AskTwice today and every day. You may be saving a life.

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A Higher Place – Remembering Tom

October 2, 2019 16 comments

Two years ago today we lost one of the great rock musicians – Tom Petty. He was 66, the same age I now am, and his death was sudden and surprising. I wrote about this at the time, in a #SaturdaySongs post, and as Tom’s music meant so much to me – and still does – I thought I’d share those words again, with a little updating. Those of you who follow my Facebook page will see a few videos there today – I’ll be doing more than one #SongOfTheDay!

Tom Petty started his band, the Heartbreakers, in 1976, and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to his music from the beginning – their first album was released at the end of that year. Since then, I’ve got every album he has made and play them often. In the mid-1990s I spent a lot of time driving to and from work around the dreaded North Circular Road in London, and Tom’s music was the ideal accompaniment for this. He carried on making albums throughout his career, and these add up to an amazing body of work. His style is described as ‘heartland rock,’ and is representative of the quintessential American rock style: consummate songwriting, brilliantly played with guitars that twang just like the Byrds (another favourite of mine). All being done in his own unique style: when a Tom Petty record comes on the radio you know instantly that it’s him. In style and subject matter he is often bracketed with Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp: I’m not a great believer in labelling music and musicians but I can see the justification for the comparison. It’s no coincidence that I have every album by both of those two gentlemen as well!

As I said, Tom was only 66 when he died, taken by a cardiac arrest exactly a week after the end of his 40th Anniversary tour. He had described this as his final tour, and said that he wanted to spend time with his family and grandchildren. He deserved more than a week of doing that, but it wasn’t to be. I guess it’s because my musical tastes were formed when I was in my teens, so the artists are now many years older, like me, but a number of my musical heroes have been taken in the past few years. I can’t explain why, but none of them seemed to affect me quite as much as Tom. I usually find myself revisiting the artists’ music when they pass, as part of the process of mourning their loss, and I tried to do this for him too. But at first I couldn’t: it was too painful. That, to me, is the measure of how much his music means to me. It seems that I wasn’t alone in this, either: there were many tributes by fellow musicians, both in words and by playing his songs at their own shows, and the front page of Tom’s website was turned into a huge tribute wall from fans.

I did manage to listen to his music again and, as I did two years ago, I’m posting a few of his songs in his memory and as my own small tribute. The difficulty was where to begin. He has so many well known songs to choose from, and a great many hits. But I’ve chosen as the title piece a track from his Wildflowers album. It is, to me, a typical Tom Petty song, and the title feels very appropriate. This is where he is now:

Possibly my favourite Tom Petty song, even after all these years, is the opening track from the band’s fourth album, Hard Promises, which was released in 1981:

That Mike Campbell guitar solo still gets me every time, and I just think that is one of the all-time great rock songs – by anyone.

My next choice isn’t actually a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song, or even a Tom Petty song. For a couple of years Tom was a member of the most stellar supergroup ever when, with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne he formed the Travelling Wilburys, and this is one of George Harrison’s songs. Sadly, Tom became the third member of that band to have reached the End of the Line:

If you look closely you’ll see their tribute to Roy Orbison, who died before this video was made. The photograph on the side, and the gently rocking chair and his guitar, are a poignant salute to their friend. I hope that Roy and George were waiting to get the beers in with Tom when they were reunited.

I was never fortunate enough to see Tom play live, but anyone who is a fan will know that he closed his shows with the song that was the closing track of their first album, all the way back in 1976. This footage, shot by a fan in the audience, is the final song from the band’s show at the Hollywood Bowl on 25th September 2017, which turned out to be their last show ever:

The sheer enjoyment and exuberance of the band is wonderful to see, and is how I will remember him. Those fans who got autographs at the end really do now have an especially poignant memento.

Shortly after Tom’s passing, his local college football team had a game, and the fans paid their own tribute to him. This is incredible, and still moves me:

Thank you Tom: we’re still heartbroken, but we have your music to treasure for always. I hope that you’ve found your Higher Place.

Stigma – A Reminder

September 28, 2019 6 comments

This one came up in my Timehop this morning, and as it was from three years ago – when most of you weren’t following my blog – I thought it worth sharing again. There are several reasons for doing so. Firstly, and most importantly, mental health issues are why I started to blog in the first place, although more recent followers could be forgiven for not noticing that – I do tend to wander off piste a lot! Secondly, this post was about the stigma that many attach to mental health problems: that was true then and, despite a growing awareness of the issues, I think that stigmatisation is still there and will take a long time before – or even if – it is eradicated. Thirdly, the timing of the post. As I said back then, I was running a series of posts on mental health in the lead up to World Mental Health Day. This happens on 10 October and I’m intending to post for it nearer the time: this is kind of a trailer for that. And fourthly, there is a link in the original piece to the previous day’s post, Mental Health Matters, which has become my most ‘liked’ post ever, and is a very important one for me.

Two personal updates to round off this commentary. Firstly, I’m happy to say that my friend and I have reconnected – although the others who deserted me in her wake haven’t. That’s life, I guess! If she sees this, I hope she can forgive me for using our story – as I said in the original, I was doing that to illustrate the point about stigmatisation of mental illness, not out of any wish for some kind of petty revenge. I didn’t want that at the time, and certainly don’t now! Secondly, the family member for whom the occasion I attended was arranged is, sadly, no longer with us. I’m reposting, in part, as a mark of respect.

Take It Easy

Continuing my theme for this week of posts on mental health, I’m turning my attention to the stigma that society attaches to mental illnesses and those who suffer from them. To illustrate this point, I suffered this in a relatively modest way last year and am sharing this story with you.

I lost a friend. Nothing major in the great scheme of life, it happens all the time. But not as a result of someone’s ignorance. Briefly, I had been due to attend this friend’s annual house party weekend, but a family event was arranged for the same weekend and, given the distances involved, it wasn’t possible to do both. I decided, as I think most of us would do, to put family first and gave my apologies. Things were strained for a month or two until the weekend of the event itself, when I was treated to the worst…

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