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Glass Still Half Full?

November 20, 2018 8 comments

Having taken part in #NaBloPoMo in 2014 and 2015 I get two reminders in Timehop every day for the posts I wrote back then. In 2015 I re-shared a post originally written on May 5 2103, in response to one of WordPress’ daily prompts. It was titled ‘Glass Half Full?’

The link to WordPress still works, so I’ve left it in for you to see what others thought of their prompt, should you wish. Looking back at what I wrote several years ago, I wouldn’t have said this differently now, although the events of the past two years – in particular the UK referendum and US Presidential election, and their aftermath – do put a slightly more sinister context around my remarks about being bullied into agreeing with people. This is the original post:

 

Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da Life Goes On

Today’s Daily Prompt is the old question “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?” There is of course a third possibility, that it is neither of these:

Blinded by science!

Blinded by science!

but only a pedant such as I would even consider such a thought! Actually, the science of that is beyond me anyway: given that I am blessed with the typical Virgo’s mind – logical, structured, boring – it’s a wonder I was always so bad at science when I was at school. But I was!

I’m rather hoping that the question is intended to be taken philosophically, rather than scientifically. At least that gives me a chance of answering it! The usual interpretation of the two approaches is:

Glass half-full = optimistic, positive

Glass half-empty = pessimistic, negative.

So what? Who’s to say if either of those is right or wrong? Actually, I think there’s a lot to be said for being a pessimist – that way, your expectations are likely at least to be met, if not exceeded, and that should be a cause for happiness  shouldn’t it? So, following that logic (I told you I was like that) I believe this means that pessimists are generally happy people. Now, what was the question again?

Oh yes, whether the glass is half-full or empty. My answer is: it doesn’t matter. Whatever best suits you and your outlook on life is the right answer for you: no one has the right to judge you and tell you which way to think. Look at Twitter, as I do fairly frequently. How often do you see people there telling you that your attitude, approach or beliefs are wrong if you differ from them? That’s a matter of choice, not a reason to be judged. Unfortunately, those who are like that tend to be lacking in self-awareness and unable to debate sensibly – they just want to bully everyone into agreeing with them. So if they tell you what’s in the glass they must be right? Total crap! You have a right to believe what you want, however ‘wrong’ it may be when judged by societal norms. Other people can then choose to agree or disagree with you, to like or dislike you and your beliefs and attitude. The world isn’t about to be knocked off its axis because you have the temerity to disagree with someone or see things differently from them. Anything extreme is likely to be filtered out by the majority view anyway – whatever that is.

So, believe what you want to. Look at the glass whichever way you prefer. It’s your choice, and it’s what helps define you as a person. The answer to the question

Is the glass half-full or half-empty?

has to be:

YES!!

………..

Back to 2018 again, and I expect you can see what I meant about the context that has built up over recent years. The UK referendum result was a surprise to many, including those on the winning side, but I don’t think anyone at that time foresaw how divisive it would prove to be. Voters on both sides are still being offensive towards those who disagree with them, and this is being led from the highest echelons of government down, as the whole thing becomes a farcical mess. Likewise the ‘election’ of Trump, via the crazy and unfair Electoral College system and despite his losing the overall vote by 2.8m. This was also a surprise to many, including the winner, and has also proved to be extremely divisive in what has followed.

One thing both of these events have in common is how we are bullied by those with whom we disagree. As I said in that original post, we have a right to our beliefs, even if they are extreme, and societal norms could be expected to counterbalance any extremism. But it seems that things are changing, and not just in the UK and US. Those two elections somehow gave extremists the belief that they had been legitimised, and there have been many further examples since then: the growth of support for the politically extreme in many European countries, and the recent Brazilian election spring to mind. My comment about the world not being knocked off its axis seems especially optimistic now!

I still believe that we all have the right to view that glass however we wish. I just wish there weren’t so many instances every day of – in particular – politicians telling us what we should believe. The obvious danger in that is that our leaders become authoritarian like Trump and, in her own beleaguered way, Theresa May are. I kind of hedged my bets in the 2013 post: that is becoming ever less possible to do nowadays. I don’t think I’m overstating it in saying that I’m frightened by the way the political world has moved in five years, or that I’m fearful for the future. But the last thing I would want to do is to bully someone into seeing the glass the same way I do: politicians – and quite a lot of others – could do with learning not to do that, too.

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Bonfire Of The Insanities

November 5, 2018 8 comments

On Saturday I reblogged last year’s ##SaturdaySongs post of Bonfire Night songs

As this little rhyme that we all learned in primary school reminds us, this is actually tonight:

Remember, remember

The fifth of November:

Gunpowder, treason and plot.

I see no reason

Why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

I won’t repeat the potted history lesson here but do take a look if you need to know more: there is also a link in that post to a very detailed Wikipedia article on the Gunpowder Plot. These events took place 413 years ago but there are, sadly, echoes in modern day life: religion as the basis for differences and even violence; a threat to democracy from those who want another form of government and are prepared to go to illegal and destructive ends to attain it. Sound familiar? We don’t learn as much from history as we might like to think, do we?

Democracy cannot be underestimated: there still exist too many tyrannies in the world: well, actually, one is too many. But the majority of those of you who read my ramblings are based in countries which are long used to enjoying democratic freedoms. The US, for example, fought to achieve its independence from a British king and government which treated them abominably, and created the free country that has since thrived. And, after a troubled first thousand years or so of the current calendar, during which it seemed to be open season for anyone wanting to invade us, we in the UK haven’t had any such invasion since 1066, despite the best efforts of the Spanish Armada and Hitler. We have gradually built our democracy since then.

The US midterm elections are tomorrow, and it is the great hope for the rest of the world that they might come to their senses and look back to what their founding fathers fought for and established. They might then realise their mistake in electing as President a man completely inexperienced in politics, who has spent the past two years pushing his agenda of lies, hypocrisy and hatred. But at least he was elected by public ballot, rather than by blowing up the seat of democracy. Well, almost, as he actually lost the public vote by nearly 3m votes, but that is apparently ‘fake news.’ In what is largely a two party system, how is it possible that the loser can actually win the election? That Electoral College system needs to be revisited, as it is way past its ‘best by’ date!

We get a lot of news coverage of Trump’s government here in the UK. Allowing for the filters for bias which may need to be applied, one inescapable fact emerges: Trump and his cowardly Republican Party have lost sight of the true meaning of democracy, and are governing in an autocratic manner. Democracy was worth fighting for, and it is to be hoped that enough people recognise this and exercise their democratic right at the ballot box tomorrow before it is too late. Am I scaremongering? I don’t think so: take a look at both Trump’s and John Bolton’s statements about the recent election in Brazil. They have both spoken in glowing terms of the new Brazilian President: how long before they take the US down the same path he is treading, a very undemocratic path indeed. If they hold onto control of the House and Senate tomorrow, having cheated their way to controlling the Supreme Court, autocracy may be closer than you might think. Add in the copious evidence of corruption and it ceases to be a true democracy, as a dubiously elected President exercises his powers to ignore the Constitution.

And we here in the UK know how well the public ballot can result in a terribly bad decision. It is becoming clearer every day that the Leave campaign broke a lot of rules in their campaign funding, which could well end up with prison sentences for some if the legal process is allowed to take its proper course without further political interference – and that’s even without the lies on which the vote was won. What is also abundantly clear is that there is no actual plan for how an organised withdrawal from the EU might be managed, amid growing public disquiet. A few weekends ago an estimated 750k marched in support of a ‘People’s Vote’ on the final terms of whatever deal is eventually cooked up. This is much more democratic than blowing up the Parliament buildings, though we could be forgiven for thinking that our government needs explosive help to shake them out of their collective torpor, indecision and ineptitude.

I wouldn’t mind betting that there will be quite a few ‘Guys’ tonight who will be wearing images of present day politicians. The Gunpowder Plot was far from being a democratic process, but after all this time it retains its place in our history as a reminder of how we as a country are able to celebrate our freedoms. Generally, we live in less violent times than Fawkes and his co-conspirators, and we have adapted our expressions of democracy since then. Tonight is a timely reminder that governments can be unpopular. The problem comes when the people become complicit in taking away their own democratic freedoms, by believing the lies and false promises of the self-interested. Do we really deserve our democracy if we misuse it? I wish I had an answer to that!

World Mental Health Day 2018

October 10, 2018 17 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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