World Mental Health Day 2018

October 10, 2018 14 comments

It has been a few months since my last post on mental health and it seems right to post today, to mark World Mental Health Day (WMHD). This day has been celebrated – if that is the correct word – since 1992, and is co-ordinated by the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH). This year’s theme is ‘Young People and Mental Health in a Changing World’ – you may have seen the logo:

On their website, the WFMH explain the reasons for this choice of theme:

“Imagine growing up in our world today. Constantly battling the effects of human rights violations, wars and violence in the home, schools and businesses. Young people are spending most of their day on the internet – experiencing cyber crimes, cyber bullying, and playing violent video games. Suicide and substance abuse numbers have been steadily rising, LGBTQ youth are feeling alone and persecuted for being true to themselves and young adults are at the age when serious mental illnesses can occur and yet they are taught little to nothing about mental illness and wellbeing…..We want to bring attention to the issues our youth and young adults are facing in our world today and begin the conversation around what they need in order to grow up healthy, happy and resilient.”

Here in the UK the Education Policy Institute (EPI) published the results of its recent survey at the weekend, and although news coverage didn’t mention its relevance to the WMHD theme I don’t think the timing was a coincidence. The EPI undertook Freedom of Information requests from 60 providers of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and from local authorities, and received 54 provider responses, so I think it safe to describe the study as comprehensive. Their headline finding is that referrals to CAMHS have increased by 26% over the past five years. Based on data from 50 of the respondents there were more than 264,000 referrals of under-18s in 2017/18. Having worked a lot with our CAMH services during my years in the NHS I find this figure horrifying: the service was already overrun with referrals, and is now under even more pressure. And we should never lose sight of the fact that every single one of these referrals represents a child (or children) and family which is being torn apart by their problems. It’s heartbreaking.

There is a good report on the study here on the BBC’s website: it makes for interesting reading. Interesting, but very scary and worrying. Some 27 local authorities (out of 111) reported that they had ceased to provide services for the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in the past eight years. Over and above the loss of those related services, far too many – more than 20% – of provider referrals were refused treatment as not meeting required criteria. In effect, the children and young people weren’t considered sufficiently unwell!

The BBC report quotes the official Department of Health position: “We are transforming mental health services for children and young people with an additional £1.4bn and are on track to ensure that 70,000 more children a year have specialist mental health care by 2020-21.

“We are improving access to mental health services through schools with a brand new dedicated workforce, as well as piloting a four-week waiting time standard in some areas, so we can better understand how to reduce waiting times.

“We are completely committed to achieving parity between physical and mental health as part of our long-term plan for the NHS, backed by an additional £20.5bn of funding per year by 2023-24.”

This is being followed up by a speech today by the Prime Minister, in which she is fleshing out some of these commitments. For the first time we are to have a minister with specific responsibility for suicide prevention, and £1.8m is to be provided to the Samaritans to enable them to continue their helpline for four years. For children and young people, the government is promising more support in schools, bringing in new mental health support teams and offering help in measuring students’ health, including their mental wellbeing. There will also be a new annual progress report each year on WMHD. This is all being announced at a global summit on mental health being held in London, attended by representatives from around fifty countries. I wonder what, if anything apart from the usual platitudes, will come out of this, and what the composition of that attendance is – does it, for example, include large countries who are really in a position to make a difference? We can but hope so.

Of course, any government initiatives on mental health are welcome, but please forgive me for being a little cynical about this: the government has been making noises about improving mental health services – both for children and adults – for quite a while now. But, as I covered in my piece Mental Health Matters in September 2016, there doesn’t seem to be any certainty of service commissioners making this additional funding available to the providers for whom it is intended. To date, there has been a lack of joined up thinking about mental health treatment, and drastic changes are needed. And then there is the question of whether this funding exists at all. Remember that Vote Leave promise of making an extra £350m per week available for the NHS if we left the EU? Well, the latest official figures suggest that, rather than making that saving, Brexit is actually losing us more than £500m per week, and that is before we even jump off the cliff! And we also need to consider the haemorrhage of staff the NHS is already suffering pre-Brexit, a position which doesn’t seem likely to improve if the government continues to bury its head in the sand over the disastrous effects of losing freedom of movement across the EU. Even if that funding were somehow to materialise from some magic money tree – which I very much doubt – where are all these new specialist staff going to come from? Even if the money was already being provided – which it isn’t – there is no way that all of the specialist staff required could be recruited and trained in time to meet the government’s stated aim. In short: it’s as valid as a promise to give us all a pet unicorn.

Sadly, I fear that this is all a very long way short of what the WFMH describes in its objectives for this year’s WMHD. The figures I have quoted relate to the more serious cases which require specialist treatment, but there are far greater numbers of young people who are affected by the issues set out in the WMHF statement: how are they going to get the help they need in current circumstances? So much needs to be done, but do we have the resources and the desire to make this happen? I’d love to be proved wrong, but I’m not sure that we do. Of course, I know there are no easy answers to this, but I hope today will be a starting point for us to review our priorities as a society. If we don’t give our children and young people the best possible start in life we are failing them. I hope the Government has the will, money and resources to deliver on today’s announcement. It will be interesting to see how much they will have achieved by the time their first annual report comes round next 10 October, and whether they will have done enough to confound my doubts.

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Facebook

September 25, 2018 14 comments

I don’t know if it’s the same for those of you WordPress users who pay a premium for your site, but we cheapskates who just use the free version recently received an email notifying us of an ‘improvement’ being made by Facebook. This email came from WordPress – I don’t recall hearing anything from Facebook about it directly. I could be wrong on that, but I don’t think so. This so-called improvement was the withdrawal of the facility to link our blogs to our personal Facebook pages, which meant that we would no longer be able to share our posts with our friends. No doubt most of mine were hugely relieved at this, but it was an option I know at least a few of them used to read my posts, though they don’t actually follow my blog. We could, of course, still copy a link to each post into Facebook, but somehow that extra little step didn’t seem quite the same.

I read elsewhere that this change was part of Facebook’s efforts to reduce the amount of ‘fake news’ their site was playing host to. The words ‘sledgehammer’ and ‘nut’ spring to mind – this seems to me to be an incredibly extreme reaction by the company as part of the long overdue need to get its act together. Whilst there would, no doubt, have been some who were using their blogs to promote fake news, this ability to link a personal blog to a personal Facebook page could hardly be thought to be a major cause of the proliferation of such crap. I really don’t believe that I could be accused of spreading as much fake news in my sporadic posts to my small group of Facebook friends as Fox News peddles every day to millions of gullible morons in the US and other countries in which they broadcast! A small aside here: Fox News is no longer available in the UK on the biggest satellite network – Sky – as the viewing figures were so pathetically low that they decided it wasn’t worth paying any longer for the access. I now have to get my laughs elsewhere.

As if that change wasn’t enough, Facebook compounded its stupidity by allowing us to share our posts directly to a separate page from our personal one. Yep, if we wanted to spread fake news via our blog direct to a small, private group of friends, we couldn’t – but if we were prepared to set up a public page, which could be seen by anyone, that would be alright. Is it just me, or is that breathtakingly idiotic? In effect they were saying that fake news on a small scale was wrong but it was perfectly alright on a large scale: they had taken the sledgehammer to the nut but had hit the tree instead.

I follow quite a few blogs for which there are discrete Facebook pages, and I’ve hit the ‘like’ button on several of these. More often than not, they are the ones with much larger followings than mine – sometimes, but not always, commercially oriented – and I hadn’t really considered doing this before, as I felt I wasn’t in the same league as them. I gave it a fair amount of thought and eventually decided to set up such a page a month or so ago. I haven’t promoted it at all since then apart from a passing reference in my post 300 Not Out – A Retrospective  and this probably explains why, to date, only one good and loyal friend has ‘liked’ the page! It is called – rather imaginatively I thought – Take It Easy . You can click on that link to find it, or on the site name in the image to the right of this post. Or if neither of those suit you, here is the full web address: https://www.facebook.com/takeiteasyblog/

Why would anyone bother, I hear you asking? Well, apart from the ability to read my posts there, I intend it to be a place where I expand on what I do in the blog itself. As regular readers will know, I love music, and often put on the headphones for a late night YouTube session, in the course of which I share the occasional song with my Facebook friends. I am now going to put up a regular ‘Song of the Day’ on the new Take It Easy page, starting from today – go take a look! These will be separate from the irregular series of #SaturdaySongs that I will still be doing occasionally: those are songs which have some special, personal meaning or memory for me, whereas the Song of the Day will be more of dip into my musical taste, with a little explanation.

In addition to music, I’m intending to make the page a place where followers can go to find other things which interest me, but which I don’t want to devote a full post to. So you will, over time, find things which amuse and entertain me, as we can all do with some of that in our lives, can’t we? There will also be links to news stories that interest me on topics including, but not limited to, mental health, social issues and a little bit of politics. Don’t worry, I’ll try to keep it light, but some things are too important not to be raised and shared.  Basically, I’m intending it will become a magazine style page, with the blog as its core. I will of course cross-reference between the page and this blog, but I hope to make them complementary: I see no point in just setting up the page and only sharing posts, which regular followers will probably have seen already. I’d ‘love it, absolutely love it’ (©️Kevin Keegan 😂) if you’d visit the page and show your love and support by hitting the ‘like’ button, and I hope you’ll feel that to be a worthwhile investment of your valuable time, and will dip in regularly. Thank you in advance, and I hope to see you there – drop me a message if you do visit and let me know what you think.

And finally, to give you a taste of what you’ll find there, here’s a recent post that you won’t have seen on the blog:

(Very) late night music time. I’ve been listening to a lot of Celtic punk/folk recently, most of which doesn’t come from anywhere near Eire! There are the brilliant Dropkick Murphys, from Boston, USA. Then there’s the O’Reillys and Paddyhats who, as I’m sure you guessed from their name, are German 😂 Or you could try Selfish Murphy from, wait for it, Transylvania. Yes, really! But I’m giving you this, because I think it’s fantastic and contains a good allegory for today’s times about people fighting over nothing. This is the Rumjacks who, of course, are Australian 😉

See you soon on the Take It Easy page? 😊

Reliving The Celebration

September 17, 2018 16 comments

To complete my resharing of some of my favourite posts (which I featured in 300 Not Out – A Retrospective) this is A Celebration, originally posted on 16 September 2016. As you will see, this date is my birthday, and having reached the grand old age of 65 yesterday, I am now officially a UK State Pensioner – I’ve applied for my pension but, despite their saying that I would be sent the details in the 14 days before the due date, I’ve yet to hear what untold riches will be coming my way. I guess the government has been too busy screwing the country over Brexit to worry about me!

As before with these posts, I’ll give you the original and then rejoin you at the end for an update. So, here’s the 2016 version:

“Today I awoke – or, more precisely, was awoken by a thunderstorm and torrential rain – to the thought that I am now 63. I’ve never been this old before! But we are told that ‘age is just a number’ so who’s counting? Three years ago today, I retired from a lifetime of work, on my 60th birthday, and to celebrate my milestone my two wonderful daughters arranged a special day out for me in London. I had commuted into the capital to work for more than 35 years, and this marked the beginning of my re-acquaintance with London as a place to enjoy, rather than somewhere I was happy to escape on a daily basis. During a comments ‘chat’ with a fellow blogger a few weeks ago I realised that I had never written about that day out. I would have laid odds that I had but when I checked I found several photographs in my Facebook and Instagram feeds, but no blog posts. I decided that I would write something as part of my celebration of three years’ retirement – so here it is.

Due to their work commitments the girls arranged the day out for the weekend, Saturday 14th to be precise. This had the bonus of there being lighter usage of public transport than on a weekday,img_2695  which made it easier to get into London and get around while we were there. They knew that I had a longstanding desire to take a ride – or ‘flight’, as it is officially known – on the London Eye, so to be honest I wasn’t surprised to be taken to the Southbank Centre, adjacent to the Eye. And yes, that was where my grand day out was beginning, with a flight in one of these:

img_2696And in case you haven’t seen it before, this pod is part of a much bigger structure. This, in fact. I don’t have a head for heights, but didn’t at any time have a problem. The Eye moves very slowly, and the only real sense of movement that you have is the changing scenery around you, as the ground disappears further into the distance!

London has centuries of history and many famous landmarks, most of which are visible from the Eye. Here as an example is the Shard, one of the more modern buildings

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And this is Elizabeth Tower, previously known as St Stephen’s Tower, until it was renamed in 2012 to mark QE2’s Diamond Jubileeimg_2691

Before anyone corrects me, Big Ben is the name by which the clock goes, not the tower itself. A common misconception, which the pedant in me (I am, after all, a Virgo) takes delight in correcting! The ‘guide book’ to your flight is an iPad, suitably encased in a stand to prevent theft, which is programmed to show you where all the landmarks are as the flight progresses. A nice touch.

Having had a wonderful time, we then went into a nearby bar for a light lunch, before the next part of my treat. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting any more but shortly afterwards we were climbing img_2690onto one of these

Spot the operative word: ‘amphibious.’ Believe it or not, this little bus worked both on land and water. Apparently they were originally designed and built in the Second World War for troop movements, and the actual bus that we travelled in was 70 years old. After a trip around some of the landmarks by road, which covered quite a lot of London’s history, we were driven to the side of the headquarters of MI6 – appropriate, I thought – and down a ramp. Moments later, we were in the Thames

We've fallen in the water!

We’ve fallen in the water!

We then went for a ‘boat trip’ along part of the Thames, which was quite an experience. To prove it, here’s a shot of the Parliament buildings – the Palace of Westminster – as seen from the river. As it was a weekend nothing was happening inside, but I’m reliably informed that on a working day you can see the hot air rising from here

We all bowed in reverence, of course :-)

We all bowed in reverence, of course 🙂

Until that day I’d not been aware of this service, and it really was an unusual experience, which I felt very lucky to have enjoyed. Doubly so a few weeks later when one of the vehicles caught fire while on the river, causing a suspension of the rides until thorough safety checks had been undertaken on the entire fleet! There but for the Grace of God…..

After all of that excitement, we ended the day in a lovely restaurant tucked out of the way in Camden, where to my further surprise I was treated to a cake, and a candlelit rendition of Happy Birthday To You from staff and customers. Truly, a lovely day and a perfect celebration I’ll always remember, made special for me by these two beautiful young women

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As you may have noticed, I have for some reason I don’t understand been looking back to three years ago quite a lot this week – my Facebook friends have been treated to reminders of my week of songs for the day which I posted in the lead up to my retirement, so count yourselves lucky to have been spared that! I don’t think this means that I have been wallowing in the past, as some might say, and I feel it important that we don’t lose touch with our past. It is, after all, a part of who we are now. I’m intending to do a post or two on linking the past with the future, when I’ve worked out what that means for me. For now, cake is beckoning, so I bid you adieu until the next time.”

And here I am again, back in the now. I hope you’ve enjoyed this trawl through some of my earlier posts. This last one is particularly special for me, as it reflects a wonderful day out given to me by two wonderful people, who are the focal point of my world. As you may have noticed from some of my recent posts, they have been joined in my affections by the most recent arrival to our family. Looking back on the good things in your life is great, but the future is there to be enjoyed too. Yesterday my older daughter sent me this to mark my birthday:


Our new focus of special memories will, I’m sure, feature here again at some point. It’s good to have the future, looking forward.

 

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