Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

A couple of weeks ago, when I shared Feeling Good? – For Mental Health Awareness Week I said that I was in two minds about posting again for the actual week itself, as the theme this year was Stress, and I didn’t feel that I was qualified to write about that any more, having, I thought, managed to remove most of the stress factors from my life since I retired.

The week is organised by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), who do a great deal of good in raising awareness of mental health issues and supporting those in need of help. Their website can be found here and is well worth a visit. It was they who have prompted me to post this: I’ve been on their email list for a long time, and a recent email from them invited me to take their ‘stress test.’ I thought I might as well, and did so in the expectation of a very low score. What I got was this:

This came as a bit of a surprise. These tests are, by nature, a little subjective, but I had done my best to be honest with myself – there wouldn’t have been much point if I hadn’t! But even to be as high as on the cusp between low and moderate has made me think. Maybe I’m not doing as well as I thought? What should I do to improve things. You can see from the image that the MHF offer a ‘Be Mindful’ course to help reduce stress levels and I followed the link to it. I’m not sure that it is for me, or that I’d be spending the £30 wisely, when there are so many courses, books, videos and apps available at a much lower cost. This might seem shortsighted to you, but I’m a pensioner on a budget!

What this test result has done is to get me thinking. I still don’t think I have any major stress factors in my life, though my main concern – my physical health – has potential for this. But it’s not like I’ve experienced in the past. As well as my long period off work in 2011-12 with depression, I was also away for three months in 2006-7 with what my GP called a ‘stress-related illness.’ That was at the time when I was starting to go through a divorce, and there were obvious reasons for the way I was feeling. But I don’t have those now, so why should I be scoring even low numbers on the test? I need to take a look at myself, I think, and work out if there’s anything I should be doing to prevent those numbers going up. And therein lies the lesson for us all, and the reason why organisations like the MHF exist to help us.

As part of the week, they have published a number of short videos on YouTube. I’m going to share a couple with you here. Firstly, a general one explains what stress is, and how it can lead to mental health problems:

The MHF has also undertaken a survey to find out how we think we are coping with our lives. In this brief video, they present a few of the key findings from the survey:

I find it shocking that 74% of us feel that we aren’t coping, and that this figure is even higher amongst the 18-24 age group. Last week, the Parliamentary Select Committees for Health and Education issued a joint report which called on the Government to make good on its promises to improve mental health education and treatment for young people: it appears that they need to give this the highest priority now, and not lose sight of this in the midst of everything else they are trying to deal with. Young people are the future of this country, and we shouldn’t be failing them.

I make no apology for the fact that this post is focused on the UK, because that is where I live and know most about. But mental health issues affect every country in the world, don’t they? May has been marked as Mental Health Awareness Month in the US since 1949, and is organised by Mental Health America, whose website can be found here. Their theme this year is ‘Fitness #4mind4body.’ Whilst the theme may be different, the underlying message is clear: we all need to be doing more to improve our own mental health and to help others. And that goes for governments, too.

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It’s STILL A Hard Life

Two years ago today I posted a piece which laid out my fears for the way our world was going. This specifically referenced the campaign which was then in full flow towards the UK referendum on membership of the European Union (EU), which took place on 23 June 2016, and the US presidential campaigning, which at that point looked very likely to endorse Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, as indeed happened. Thankfully, election campaigns here only last a month or so, unlike the many months the Americans have to endure – but there’s no guarantee that either of us will come out with a good result, regardless of how long it takes us to get there.

Reading this post again, I was struck by how my worst fears were now coming true. Our referendum became a mass vote of lemmings throwing the country off a cliff, and with only ten months or so until we are due to leave the EU we are nowhere near a conclusion to negotiations or to any coherent vision of the future direction our country will take. Our government has veered ever further to the right, going for what it calls a ‘Hard Brexit’ – in other words, a total split from the EU – with no apparent thought about what the outcomes of this will be. Racists have been empowered by the referendum result and xenophobia is the norm for many. And as for the election of Trump, with all that has brought about, I could go on at length! Here is the post, exactly as I wrote it at the time. I’ll return at the end for a final comment, or several:

“Some weeks ago, when I posted in response to the terrorist bombings in Brussels, I titled my piece after what I had always known, until then, as a Nanci Griffith song, although it was actually written by Julie Gold  – From A Distance. I had been listening to music as I often do, as a lot of truth is spoken in song lyrics and the words of that song resonated with me. One of her own songs also came to mind, and it was a bit of a toss up which one I used to illustrate my post. I chose that one as it made my point for me, and the other song has a wider meaning which I thought I might revisit as a companion piece. Having been kept away from here by illness it has taken me longer than I intended to do this, but this is the other song I had in mind:

Nanci Griffith was born four months before me so, although we have grown up in different countries we have to a degree shared our experience of the world and all its changes. In the song she references growing up in the 60s which, when we look back now, was a tumultuous decade, which in many ways has shaped our lives now: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War in Europe, student demonstrations, and the massive changes in popular culture. But what have we we learned from all of this? The song’s chorus goes:

‘It’s a hard life, it’s a hard life, it’s a very hard life,

It’s a hard life wherever you go,

But if we poison our children with hatred

then a hard life is all that they’ll know.’

Look around you. What does the news tell us? Have we learnt the lessons of recent history? That song was released in the late 80s, but more than 25 years later it seems to me that we continue to poison our children with hatred. The obvious example of this is Donald Trump, who now looks very likely to be the Republican candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. Despite his recent appointment of some spin doctors it is difficult to forget some of the rhetoric he has used during his campaign, and the way that it has demonstrated a position built on racism, bigotry and hatred. As I have said several times before, I fear for the world if he should become President, and hope that doesn’t happen.

But the issue I want to draw to your attention is far greater than just one man, however odious he may be. Next month, we in the UK will be voting in a referendum to decide whether we remain a member of the European Union. In recent years the main (only) political party of any note to espouse this cause has been the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which, by the actions of its members and its beer swilling, chain smoking leader, has largely come across as a bunch of racist buffoons. But here we are, in the midst of a campaign which seems to become nastier by the day, and in which much of the language used seems to be based on bigotry and hatred, of Little Englander perspectives. And we have always had our far right parties, going back to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, via the National Front and British National Party in  more recent times. Another current incarnation is Britain First, which was started by someone who was thrown out of the BNP for being too extreme (!) and which makes UKIP look like a credible political organisation.

And this isn’t confined to the UK, either. All over Europe there are similar political parties and movements. France has long had the Le Pen family leading the Front Nationale. Italy has the Northern League, which is anti-immigration. Germany has the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which began life as an economic movement but has jumped on the racist angle and is getting huge increases in public support as a result. Similar groupings exist in Spain and Austria, amongst others. Flip the coin and you have ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Then there was Al Qaeda. And in North Africa there is the Boko Haram group, amongst others. Everywhere you look you see organisations based on hatred, and the worrying thing is that they are generating huge amounts of support.

What are we doing to ourselves? Not content with destroying the planet, we appear to be trying to solve that problem by destroying ourselves from within first. In the song, Nanci Griffith references the KKK and the racial hatred for which it stands. Her song was inspired by a taxi trip around Belfast, which at that time was still a city divided by religious and political terrorism. Towards the end she mentions that she ‘can’t drive on the left side of the road.’ For the uninitiated, we in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road, although most of the world does it the other way. Her choice of metaphor is very apt: it is about time that we all started to learn to drive on the other side of the road. We have poisoned our children with hatred for far too long.”

And back to today:

Sadly, Nanci Griffiths’ words are possibly even more pertinent now. The song and video were released in 1989, and still bring a tear to my eye. The video was made in Northern Ireland, which at that time was still subject to terrorist atrocities. Those have largely ceased now, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Yet we don’t seem to be learning from history, do we: the UK government appears totally clueless about how to solve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and there is, I think, a potential danger that the peace could unravel. This hasn’t been helped by the electoral battering the Conservatives took last year, when hubris and arrogance cost them their overall majority in Parliament, leaving them dependent on a bribed fix with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Never has the word ‘democratic’ been more misused.

In the US, Trump duly won his way to the Presidency, and appears to be engaged on taking America back to the 1930s, with protectionist policies that ignore the progress that has been made, in social, cultural  and technological terms, since the end of WW2. I described Trump in my previous piece as ‘odious’ and I stand by that. Every day it seems we get yet another example of his, and his government’s ignorance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, hypocrisy and xenophobia. Today’s news contains reports of his speech yesterday at the NRA convention, in which he mocked London and Paris for their lack of guns. Seriously, Mr President? You need to take a much closer look at your own country, and not pander to the money of the organisation responsible for making the machines that kill people. I said in the original piece that I feared for the world if he became President, and I still do. It may be cynical, but I do wonder if he isn’t being played by North Korea, who recognise his naivety and egotism. I hope I’ll be proved wrong, but I’m not convinced that this apparent ‘peace process’ will end well. And as for Trump being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – the man is a coward and a bully, and would demean the honour.

It would be easy to abandon hope, and I’ll admit to being worried about the world we are bequeathing to future generations. But therein lies the real hope for the future. Nanci Griffiths’ video focuses on children: as she says, we need to stop poisoning them with hatred, and allow them to shape a future world which is based on human values like love and compassion. In the US, the National School Walkout campaign – a direct response to the Parklands atrocity, which took 17 lives – demonstrates vividly the lack of moral courage on the part of political leaders to do something which is long overdue. These young people are our future leaders, and it is to be hoped that they succeed where others have failed. If they don’t, then

‘a hard life is all that they’ll know.’

Feeling Good? – For Mental Health Awareness Week

As Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) is looming on the horizon again (14-20 May here in the UK) I thought it would be worthwhile sharing again the post I wrote to mark last year’s event. I haven’t decided whether to write something new for this year, so it seemed right to do something to draw attention to MHAW now in case I don’t get around to a new post.

As I’ve often said, I began blogging to share my experience of depression and mental illness, and whilst I’ve strayed quite a lot from that it will always be a subject that matters to me, and to which I will always return at some point. The theme for this year’s MHAW is ‘stress’ – and that’s why I’m in two minds about writing something specific for this year. Having retired nearly five years ago I’ve now managed to remove stress almost entirely from my life, and don’t feel that qualified to write about it now. Maybe I can do something from memory, as the pressures of juggling work and family life, and the stresses that brings on, are still there in the canyons of my mind (bonus points if you get that obscure musical reference!).

If you follow the link in the original piece you will find the website of the Mental Health Foundation, who organise MHAW. There are many good resources on this site, so if you are worried for yourself or someone close to you, do take a look. Don’t do what I did all those years ago, and close your mind to your situation. Take it from me and my experience: there is help to be found out there, but it won’t seek you out – it’s up to you to reach for it. I hope you don’t need it, but it’s always good to know it’s there, just in case.

Take It Easy

A post for Mental Health Awareness Week

Many of you have started following my blog in the past year or so, and may not be aware that I originally began this over four years ago to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others. From the comments I’ve received since then it appears that this has happened far more than I could ever have hoped, although I admit to having strayed off message quite a lot since then. You will probably also be unaware that I ran a series of ‘Dates To Note’ about key days in the calendar, mostly around health and social care. They can be found from the menu above, if you’re interested. Not wanting this to become stale or repetitive – I can do that without setting myself up for it – I stopped these as a regular feature two or…

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