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Posts Tagged ‘#awareness’

#TimeToTalk Day 2019

February 6, 2019 29 comments

Tomorrow, 7 February, is #TimeToTalk Day. The day is run by the Time To Change organisation, and is all about opening a conversation: this may be with someone who may need support; it could be to help raise general awareness of mental health issues; or it may be to help people be more sensitive and caring towards each other. I hope you join in – no special skills or resources are required, just be yourself and talk to someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at what happens.

Time To Change is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. If you’d like to find out more their website is here, and there are loads of resources available for you. I was particularly taken with this one:

So much, in fact, that I have made it my header for my personal Facebook page, so that my friends can see my support for this day. Many of them know my story, but probably not in any detail. Last year I wrote a piece for Time To Change, but they didn’t use it – probably because I didn’t submit it in the way they prefer! But it gives a potted version of my story, and why I believe this to be so important, and is worth sharing again, I think. This is what I wrote:

I was diagnosed with depression in late 2011. After months of treatment, both with medication and counselling, I finally returned to work more than nine months later. Perhaps ironically, I worked for a large NHS Trust which provided mental health services – though I didn’t live in the Trust’s catchment area – and whilst I had had a fair amount of involvement with service users in my twenty years there, most of the people I worked with hadn’t.

When I first returned, initial reactions were mostly of the ‘I haven’t seen you for a while’ variety. It was clear to me that only a few people knew why I had been off work, and I decided early on that the best way to tackle this was to be open and honest with anyone who asked about it. Not that I shouted it from the rooftops, but I wanted people to know and understand why I had been away, what it meant for me, and what it might mean for them. Some seemed apprehensive – I think they feared I might ‘have a turn’ or do something strange! The difficulty with any mental health problem is that other people can’t see it, in the same way they can see a broken leg, for example. This adds some kind of aura, a mystique, and can instil in some a fear of the unknown and unseen. I didn’t want to start some kind of crusade, but I believed it important to share my experience with anyone who asked. After all, to all intents I was the same person they had known for years, so why should they now treat me differently? Some might have had an expectation that I had changed in some way, and I wanted to reassure them that whilst the illness was a part of me I was still that same ‘me.’ People who have suffered a mental illness deserve to be respected as themselves: the illness isn’t a badge they must wear or, worse, a stigma to be borne as some sign of weakness.

I retired a little over a year later, and having already started my own blog I was aware how important it is for fellow sufferers to know that they are not alone, that others have shared something similar. But that isn’t the same for those who have been lucky enough not to suffer. I probably had around fifty conversations with co-workers in that last year at work, and made a point of telling them a few key things:

1. There is no shame in having been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.
2. It can happen to anyone, at any time.
3. It is far more prevalent than people imagine, and it was quite likely that other people we worked with had similar problems.
4. Whilst some may not, many will welcome an initial approach of the ‘is everything ok?’ type. It does help to talk, and an informal chat can often be all that is needed to help someone.
5. Don’t be judgemental – people need to be heard, not given well-meaning ‘diagnoses’ by friends who aren’t qualified to judge.
6. Having been diagnosed doesn’t change who you are, and shouldn’t change how others see you.

I’d like to think that, in my own little way, I did something to help understanding and awareness. The important part of this was that it was on a one to one basis: I’m a great believer in the need for efforts to be made to widen the general population’s knowledge on mental health, and this low key approach is a good way to do that. Just imagine how many could be enlightened if we all had just one chat!

So, will you talk to someone tomorrow? Please? Pass it on!

 

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Time To Worry – An Update

January 27, 2019 30 comments

Three years ago today I wrote a piece called Time To Worry, in which I shared some horrific results from recent studies into our mental health. I reblogged the piece last year with a commentary, and as we are again approaching Time To Talk Day (7 February this year) I thought it right to share the post again, both for newer readers to see for the first time and also with an update for those who may have seen this before. Even if you have already read the original post I encourage you to read this update: our mental health is vitally important to us and we all need to be aware of this, and of how we can help ourselves and others. As is my usual practice I will give you the original words and then return to round things up after. This is the initial post:

A few days ago there was a report in the paper of a study conducted by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, as part of the Health Survey for England. More than 25% of the 5,000 respondents said that they had been given a diagnosis of mental illness at some point. 33% of the females and 19% of the males reported this, and the highest rate was found amongst the 55-64 age group, where the figures rose to 41% and 25% respectively. The most common diagnosis was for depression, at 19% overall – 24% for women and 13% for men. At the extreme, one in 14 women has attempted suicide, and one in 25 men, yet the male suicide rate is more than three times higher than for females. These are scary statistics! There has been a great deal of research showing that men are much less likely to recognise that they may need help for a mental health problem and to seek assistance for it. But it appears that we are much more successful at killing ourselves! This is apparently because men choose more lethal suicide methods, and because we are more impulsive and likely to act on a suicidal impulse, particularly when alcohol is involved.

A separate report has also found that the number of unexplained or sudden deaths (i.e. not from suicides) of mental health patients in England has risen by more than 20% in the past three years, a total of 1,713 in 2014-5 up from 1,412 in 2012-3. Unsurprisingly, there are many now jumping on the bandwagon of blaming the Government and the NHS for underfunding mental health services to the point where there are insufficient resources to cope. They may well have a point: I know from my own time spent working for an NHS Trust providing mental health services just how much of a Cinderella service it was and still is, and how the large general hospitals took up a huge part of the funding.

But whilst that is clearly a major issue it is not my point today. I’ve quoted numbers which may or may not mean much to you. Does 1,713 deaths in a population of around 50 million seem all that many? Is this something we should expect and somehow accept as the norm? Should we heck as like! Every single one of those who make up those statistics is an individual tragedy. Every single one of them had family and friends who cared about them and who are affected by their loss. And I wouldn’t mind betting that most of them had at some stage been stigmatised by their diagnosis of mental illness – assuming that they had sought help, as not all of them will have done. I mentioned earlier that men are slower to seek help, if they ever do. I know this to be true, as I did it myself and subsequently found that I was far from alone in doing so. Looking back on the time when I was diagnosed with depression (described in the Story of my Illness see the menu above) it is very easy to trace a long, slow decline in my health until I reached the point at which I recognised my need for help. I eventually saw my doctor in October 2011 but can recall events from April that year which were clearly related to this, and no doubt there were others before then: I had been off work for three months some five years earlier with what was termed ‘stress’, so it was lurking in my make up. Although I worked for an organisation which provided treatment for these kinds of illness I didn’t want to accept that maybe this is what was happening to me. Part of that may be the stereotypical male lack of insight, but there is more to it than that. A major factor is that mental illness is stigmatised. From the simple, everyday “pull yourself together” type of comments, which betray a lack of understanding and empathy, to the much more malicious type which can often be found in real life bullying and in social media, people with a mental illness are somehow made to feel ashamed of their problem, that they should in some way get over it as they aren’t really ill, are they: others can’t see anything wrong with them in the same way that they could if they were on crutches, for example. If I can’t see it, you don’t have it!

This is compounded in all sorts of ways. Often these are quite innocently done, such as the everyday use of phrases like “it all went mental” or “he’s a nutter.” But if I look back to when I was a child, a common playground insult was to call someone a “spastic” if they did something clumsy. We have learned how offensive this really is and it is no longer used, to my knowledge. Political correctness may be guilty of many stupidities but one of the successes of the past forty years or so since it became a force is a better understanding of some of the derogatory language we use and how we can improve on it. But has it had any real impact in the world of mental illness?

Sadly, I think not. Although we still have much to do, e.g. in the likes of public buildings and public transport, we have come quite a way in recognising both the needs of physically disabled people and the way we talk about their illnesses. I may be biased in my outlook but I don’t see the same progress having been made in respect of mental illness. Whilst part of the answer is to provide more funding for treatment, there is a much wider issue: we need to educate ourselves better about mental illnesses and how we respond to them and deal with them in others. Unless we do, those statistics I quoted are likely to get worse before they can start getting better. To me, this is very much the time when we should worry about this and ask ourselves if we are doing enough about it, not just as a society but as individuals within it, in our own approach to people with mental illness and how we deal with them. We should have been doing this already, and we shouldn’t hold back from doing it now.

And now back to today. Unfortunately, I don’t see any real change in the situation since I wrote this piece. The UK government has recently proclaimed a new healthcare initiative which includes some much needed improvements to mental health support and treatment. My problem with it, though, is that the government has sidetracked itself in a major way with the issues surrounding the EU and our relations with other countries, particularly the US. Worryingly, with all that has been going on over there to destroy healthcare, there are signs that our government wants to move towards ever greater involvement of the private sector in the National Health Service (NHS). Funding for mental health care needs to be increased significantly, to meet the need for much better training for, and provision of, services. Everything I said in that original piece is still germane and will, I fear, continue to be. The government has been making noises about improving mental health care for several years but has yet to deliver in a major way. Yes, there have been improvements but, to an observer, these don’t yet appear to have been fully co-ordinated, thereby diminishing their potential effectiveness. Add to that the almost daily reports of the impact of Brexit uncertainty on the NHS – massive losses of staff from overseas, difficulties in persuading workers to move to this country (and who can blame them?) – and the need for large increases in staff with suitable training to support the government’s stated objective. It doesn’t look promising, does it? We can but hope that the intended service enhancements deliver on the government’s objective, and that the dire forecasts for the financial impact on the country of leaving the EU don’t manifest themselves in a retrenchment and budget cuts. We’ve had ten years of austerity, we don’t need to be further damaged by political decisions.

As I’ve often said, I started this blog to share my experience of mental ill health, and although I veer away from that as a subject it is still something which is hugely significant for me. This is the first – a trailer, if you like – of what I plan to be a series of posts on mental health, which will include more detail on the most recent government initiative and the mental health of children and young people. These are topics that should concern us all, and I hope my small voice can help in widening awareness of mental health issues.

 

Halloween – Again

October 29, 2018 18 comments

I’ve written several times over the years about how stigmatisation of mental illness can be very damaging, and in particular have focused on it at this time of year, as Halloween approaches.

When I was a kid Halloween wasn’t an event we marked in any way. Here in the UK we were busy making our guys for the forthcoming Guy Fawkes/Bonfire Night celebrations on 5th November, and hadn’t yet imported the commercialisation of Halloween from the US. So I’m sorry to say, American friends, that your celebration for this rather passes me by! That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognise its importance to you, but it does seem to me to be a little artificial for it to be ‘celebrated’ here. This is, perhaps, a little ironic as the origins of Halloween can be traced back to this side of the Atlantic, in a pagan festival mostly known (in Ireland and Scotland, anyway) as Samhain, though there are different names for similar festivals in other Celtic regions. The name ‘Halloween’ has been in existence since around the mid-18th century, and is a derivation of All Hallows’ Eve, i.e. the day before All Hallows’ Day, on which remembrance of the dead takes place. In the past, celebrations have included mummers and costumes, which I guess has been handed down to us through the generations in the way that people dress up: witches are an obvious outfit, but there are many others available, most of which leave me wondering what relevance they have!

But, as I said earlier, this was a tradition that hadn’t travelled to the part of England in which I spent my childhood. Not until modern day marketing and commercialism took over, that is. At some point over the past 25 years or so this has become a bigger event in this country, probably as a result of the way in which American popular culture has been transferred over here by TV programmes. Never one to miss an opportunity to make money, retailers have been falling over themselves to profit from Halloween. But in their doing so, the boundaries of taste have often been forgotten. I wrote five years ago about Asda – and to a lesser extent, Tesco – selling costumes that mocked mental illness. The message that these were giving children, that it was somehow acceptable to make fun of people with mental health problems, was appalling, and the retailers had to give in to the outcry and withdraw the products from sale. But even after that outcry you can still find such costumes for sale this year among the specialist online fancy dress retailers. Here are a couple of examples I found without too much effort. Firstly, from partybritain.com:

And secondly, from escapade.co.uk:

No doubt there are others deserving to be named and shamed but I was too disheartened to look any further. How can anyone believe this to be acceptable? This is a shameful way to make money, but I guess that as these companies are much smaller than the likes of Asda and Tesco they have managed to slip under the radar. That doesn’t make them any less guilty in my eyes, though.

Another depiction of mental health issues which I find objectionable is to be found in horror movies. To be honest, I have a very low gore threshold and don’t watch a great many horror movies, and don’t really understand the fascination they hold for so many. Each to their own, of course, but where I really draw the line is where someone who is mentally ill is the main character in a movie and their illness is used in a stigmatising way. You’ll know which movies I mean, I’m sure: how anyone can see these as entertainment is beyond me, though I do like Jamie Lee Curtis!

I have no problem with anyone wanting to celebrate Halloween, though I imagine most, either in the US or elsewhere, would be hard pressed to explain exactly what it is they are celebrating. But as these little posters from the admirable Time To Change organisation remind us, these celebrations should have absolutely nothing to do with mocking mental illness. These were actually created a couple of years ago but their message is still very valid and, sadly, remains relevant. There is nothing remotely funny about costumes and behaviour that mock those with mental health issues as ‘nutters,’ ‘mad’ or just ‘mental,’ when the word is used pejoratively.

 

Remember, Halloween is supposed to be the modern day version of an old pagan custom, which had nothing to do with mental illness. It is also significant in a religious sense – the day before All Hallows’ Day, which has been a Catholic day of note for centuries – and that also isn’t about mental ill health! The Time To Change website has eight helpful tips on how to enjoy Halloween without perpetuating the stigmatisation of mental health. They even include a little bit of historical knowledge in there so that you can impress your friends by knowing the meaning of the Halloween tradition. If you’re interested these tips can be found here and are well worth a look.

So please, by all means enjoy any celebrations you may be having, but don’t mock those who are unable to defend themselves against unfair stigmatisation.

Happy Halloween!

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