Feeling Good?

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 three years ago. But this week has prompted a slight return, to borrow a phrase from Jimi Hendrix.

I’m slightly confused by this – it doesn’t take much – but I have seen various references (mostly American, I think) to May being Mental Health Awareness Month whilst here in the UK this week, from 8th to 14th May, is Mental Health Awareness Week. So, we have two ‘Dates To Note’ though as I’m British I’m concentrating on our week. This is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find their site here. The MHF do a lot of good work campaigning for better mental health, and provide a wealth of useful information on mental health matters. I commend their site to you if you want to know more. If you are in the States the equivalent organisation there is HealthyPlace, and you can find their site by clicking on the ‘Stand Up’ logo at the top of the column to the right.

For this year’s Awareness Week the MHF is turning things on their head. As they put it themselves, ‘Rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.’ To support this they commissioned a piece of research which has found that, rather disappointingly, only 13% of us feel that we are thriving in this way. The report can be found here – it is fairly short and easily read, and includes a definition of what ‘thriving with good mental health’ means, in case you were wondering.

Having been diagnosed with depression five years ago, I am acutely aware that it is something which is never ‘cured.’ I’ve been off medication for more than two years now, but always have that underlying worry that I might slip back into ways which allow the depression to take hold again. My physical health has been far from good for the past two years, and this has rendered me more housebound than I would like. If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I know that this isn’t good for my mental health, but physical health needs are winning out at present. If you look at the MHF site you’ll find a brief survey to complete, which gives you an assessment of how well, or otherwise, you are thriving. It is only seven questions and takes a couple of minutes. Anyone who has been diagnosed with depression will at some point have completed an assessment like this with a doctor, though this one is slightly different in its focus. Having had a few recent pangs of concern, I approached this with some trepidation. As always with such questionnaires, the important thing is to answer as honestly as possible – lying to yourself is pointless! I took the survey, and this was my result:

Click to enlarge

To be frank, I was pleasantly surprised at this, and found some encouragement from it. I would encourage you to take the survey – and if your score is low please consider visiting your doctor to talk it through. I know from my own experience that hiding from yourself, failing to accept that you might need help, can be very damaging. I was eventually off work for more than nine months, and have always felt that this could have been much shorter if I’d accepted the need to do something sooner than I did. So do as I say, please, not as I did!

The flip side of this coin is that you could take this test and get a similar result to mine, and think everything is alright. But there are limitations to such tests, and if you are at all worried about your mental health – if you feel that you aren’t thriving – it would be remiss to think that your result means you don’t need to do anything. As I say, I’ve had my own concerns recently, and these won’t go away simply because I’m ‘around the national average.’ Our mental health is precious, and I’ll be taking good care of mine, including signing up for the MHF’s package mentioned in the screenshot above. I hope you do whatever you can to look after yourself.

Regular readers will know how important a role music plays in my life. Indeed, it is one of many factors which contribute to our mental wellbeing, and is used in therapy. You may have recognised that the title for this piece is borrowed from a song, the most famous version of which is this, by Nina Simone:

I trust that listening to that will have raised your spirits a little! Have a good day, and be well.

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Building A Wall?

With apologies to Pink Floyd:

“We don’t need no new election,

We don’t need no thought control;

No deeper schism in our country,

Leader, leave us plebs alone!”

I really don’t think of myself as a particularly political person, far less a political blogger, but for the second time this month I feel I just have to vent my thoughts on what is going on. A few days ago, our Prime Minister, Theresa May, called a snap general election. This was despite her saying publicly on five occasions that she would not go for an election any sooner than 2020, as required by law. May became Prime Minister after the debacle of our referendum last summer, and was anointed by her party without an election, as the other candidates engaged in collective self-destruction. She faced pressure at the time to hold a general election, to ratify her credentials to lead the country, but withstood this. Since then, she has ditched her tepid support for the Remain camp and is leading a party which is moving relentlessly further to the right, and somehow seems to have redefined a narrow majority in the referendum into a mandate for what is known as a ‘hard Brexit.’ In other words, her aim is to break as many ties as possible with the European Union, seemingly on the basis of dogma rather than any practical or economic common sense. After all, why just have a simple car crash when you could drive the car at great speed off the highest cliff?

I’ve written recently, in The Ongoing Nightmare, about my concerns for the UK’s post-Brexit future, and won’t repeat myself here. Let’s just say that I don’t believe that the ‘information’ on which voters based their decision was anywhere near sufficiently detailed for a hard Brexit definition to be interpreted as what people voted for. Indeed, there has been some reporting of disquiet, along the lines of ‘that’s not what I voted for,’ but this has been fairly muted, largely because the media in this country – particularly the press – is of a right wing persuasion. I use the term ‘right wing,’ but I could actually have used words like insular, jingoistic, xenophobic or fascist. All apply, as evidenced by the Daily Mail’s front page headline:

I wonder if they realised that the original use of that phrase was by Lenin, in the context of opposition to the Russian Revolution. There is a certain irony in there, as that approach in 1917 led to widespread state control. I hope that history doesn’t repeat itself, albeit at the other end of the political spectrum. For non-British readers, that paper is the worst exponent of fascist ‘reporting’ – after all, it did declare support for Hitler during the 1930s, so it is keeping up its own tradition.

So why has the PM decided to go for an election now? Wouldn’t it have been fairer, if she was seeking some kind of ratification of her approach to Brexit, to have done this before Article 50 was enacted? Yes, of course it would, but although that is what she implied in her announcement of the election, I’m sceptical. Politicians tell lies, it’s how they seem to fulfil their role, and I think that was another. The real reason for the election now is a combination of opportunism and expediency. For expediency, there are growing signs that if she had waited until 2020 we could be suffering the economic fallout from a poor result from the negotiations to leave the EU, and her small parliamentary majority would be at risk from that. As for opportunism – the main opposition party is in a state of electoral disarray, and I suspect May believes she could win a landslide on the strength of this. The Labour Party has saddled itself with a leader who enjoys only minority support amongst his own parliamentary colleagues, and although he welcomed the chance to put his policies to the vote this cartoon from The Times rather sums that up:

© Times Newspapers

Corbyn has already ruled out a second referendum, and by doing so he appears to me to have given up the opportunity to offer a significant difference, and a home for disgruntled voters from the referendum. In the unlikely event of a Labour win, Brexit would still happen, and he might not be able to achieve a better deal than May could. The Conservatives will also expect to pick up votes from UKIP, who will be likely to lose much of their protest vote value. Our system means that you can get a landslide with around 42% of the vote if you do well in the right constituencies and they are polling better than that at present. Whilst there is still a lot of opposition to Brexit I think that is unlikely to translate into Parliamentary seats – I just don’t see how it could. I’d love to be proved wrong though, and there are already suggestions about tactical voting to achieve this. As I live in a constituency that had a 54% Conservative vote at the 2015 election, with UKIP in second place, I think it unlikely that would work here but there are better targets, so I can but hope.

Assuming that the Government does achieve a significant increase in its majority – a landslide is usually taken to mean an overall majority greater than 100, and this seems possible – what kind of country will we be? Parallels have been drawn between our referendum and the US election. One of Trump’s promises was, in effect, to become a much more insular country, becoming more self-sufficient and threatening tariffs on overseas goods. May has been cosying up to that abomination of a human being, and it is to be hoped that she isn’t thinking along the same lines. We will lose current access to EU markets and will have to rely on World Trade Organisation rules, as a small nation with a pressing need to negotiate trade deals with countries who would have no particular incentive to change their current arrangements and trade with us. This isn’t a strong position, despite the optimistic guff spouted by the three government ministers in charge of the process, and today’s news that the US will prioritise trade deals with the EU over the UK confirms our weakness. Trump is also infamous for his promise to build a wall to keep out the ‘bad hombres’ he believes are intent on rape and pillage. We have a natural boundary – the ocean – so being insular is, by definition, much easier for us. I hope that isn’t the plan, as we aren’t big enough as a country to survive, even without the likely loss of contributions from multinational companies who will probably scale back their commitments to Britain when the tariffs kick in. I just hope this election isn’t, all in all, just another brick in our own wall, as we would lose out – we would be isolating ourselves, not insulating.

In her speech announcing the election May said ‘our country is coming together.’ If she really believes that, then she must be living in La La Land! The 48% who voted against Brexit don’t feel that, and I’m pretty sure that many of the 52% who did are having second thoughts about the effect of their vote and the path the country is now following. In two years we will be outside the EU, in what I believe will be a significantly worse state than while we have been a member, and that is not a recipe for creating a united country – and there is the Scottish independence question to consider too. Joni Mitchell put it best: ‘you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.’

A further concern is that the electorate will suffer some kind of fatigue – this will, after all, be our third major election in successive years. This view was put well by ‘Brenda from Bristol’ when told by a BBC reporter that another election was coming:

I’m not sure that this should be a reason not to vote, but I can understand her frustration. Historically, low election turnouts have worked in favour of the Conservatives so I’m hoping the electorate aren’t all like Brenda, sweet though she may be. Perhaps Theresa May factored that into her decision as well? She showed herself to be a canny political opportunist in the way she became party leader last year, so I wouldn’t rule that out.

As you can tell, I’m not feeling optimistic about this country’s future. I’d love to be proved wrong, but somehow I doubt it. Try googling ‘Teresa May,’ i.e. without the ‘h.’ I know which one I’d prefer was screwing the country!