There Is Still Time To Change

I was reminded by Timehop of a post I originally wrote on 12 November 2014, in which I explained what the Time To Change (TTC) organisation does and why I had added myself to their pledge wall. This was a particularly poignant reminder because, as I have mentioned a couple of times recently, TTC’s funding will cease from the end of March, so I thought I’d share that post again – I imagine most of you won’t have seen it before:

TIME TO CHANGE: MY PLEDGE

Time To Talk

You may not have heard of the Time To Change initiative, which is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, two of the leading mental health organisations in the UK, and is funded by the Department of Health, Comic Relief and the National Lottery.

Time to Change began seven years ago and is England’s biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. It aims to start a conversation – or thousands of conversations – about aspects of mental health, to help people become more comfortable talking about it. They have a range of activities in progress, which you can read about here on their website. There is also plenty of useful information there, so it is well worth a visit. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter, and if you use the hashtag for their campaign – #TimeToTalk – you should see what people are saying and doing.

Estimates usually suggest that around one in four people will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime, and that 90% of these are likely to experience discrimination. It is commonplace in our culture: witness the large furore last year when Asda and Tesco sold ‘mental patient’ costumes for Halloween. They may not have done this again this year but plenty of others did. I don’t recall seeing any ‘cancer patient’ or ‘irritable bowel patient’ costumes though. Use of words like ‘mental’ and ‘nutter’ is also frequent, and whilst most of us have the ability to bypass this there are some to whom it is acutely hurtful.

In Time To Change’s words: You don’t need to be an expert to talk about mental health or to be there for someone experiencing a mental health problem. Small actions, like sending a text, chatting over a cuppa, or giving them a call to find out how they are can really make a big difference and show someone that you care.

I know from my own experience that when I was off sick for nine months with depression calls from friends were always very welcome. I hope I’ve been able to help others too, either directly or, via this blog, indirectly. Time To Change have a Pledge Wall, to which over 70,000 people have pinned their own pledge to help fight against stigmatisation and discrimination against Pledgedmental illness. I have made my pledge, and if there isn’t anyone in my life who needs my support I can always blog about it, can’t I? So, please take a moment to think about this. Do you know someone who would appreciate a chat with you, however brief, and would welcome someone who asks ‘how are you?’ and wants to know the answer? Even if you can’t do that right now, you can still make your pledge on the Wall. There are plenty of ways of having that conversation and who knows, it might one day be you who needs the chat.

PS I know this is very much aimed at readers on this side of the Atlantic, but the issues addressed by Time To Change are universal. So please check what is available where you live. In the USA, for example, there is the Stand Up For Mental Health campaign. Their logo is to the right side of this site: you should be able to click on it to be taken to healthyplace.com but if it doesn’t work click here.

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TTC’s work cannot be allowed to be forgotten. We need to keep doing all we can to reduce the stigma attached to mental health issues.

 

Let’s Work Together – Again

Five years ago today I posted a piece reflecting on a survey of employers’ attitudes towards mental health. Given yesterday’s news that many employers are starting to make staff redundant rather than bear their share of the costs of the extended furlough scheme, this seemed a timely reminder of what I said back then. I’ve edited the original post, to reflect changes to the plans I had at the time: here’s most of what I said back then:

LET’S WORK TOGETHER

A couple of months ago there was a piece in the newspaper, reporting on a survey which had been carried out into the attitudes of company owners and employees towards mental health issues. Specifically, the survey asked about whether stress, anxiety and depression were regarded as valid reasons to take time off work. It also addressed employees’ views of how their employer dealt with such issues. The results weren’t at all surprising to me, but they made for depressing reading.

Around 70% of employers did not think these issues were sufficient cause to be absent from work, despite the fact that around a quarter of them admitted to having problems themselves. 40% of employees said that they would hide the real reason for their absence, fearing that they wouldn’t be believed or that their employer would treat them badly. To those of us who have at some point had mental health issues, and who have been affected by the stigma which they attract, this is a terrifying result. I was incredibly lucky, in that I worked for an NHS Trust which provided mental health services and had a boss and colleagues who were very supportive. Others don’t have these advantages when it comes to dealing with mental health. Too many times we hear of people who are regarded as malingerers, largely due to the ignorance of their employers. It is, I think, natural that physical illness can be more easily dealt with: after all, you can see the effects, whereas mental illnesses are in the brain and only become apparent if there are extreme behaviours as a result. For the great majority, however, the coping mechanism is to attempt to hide it. From personal experience I know how damaging this can be: the longer you try to hide the illness from others, the more you end up hiding it from yourself. The longer you do this, the harder it becomes to recognise that you need help and to do something about finding that help.

I have written before about my own issues – indeed, they were the reason I started this blog in the first place. If you want to know more about me the ‘My Story’ tab in the menu is the place for this, and you will also find many other posts about mental health here. But this post isn’t intended to be about me, although I’m happy to report that by the end of this month there is a very real possibility that I will be completely free of medication, just over four years since I was first prescribed it. I am very aware of the stigma of mental health, and hope that in my small way I can do something with this blog to help break down the walls around mental health. The UK Government has promised to provide better funding for mental health treatments – but they have been saying that for years without anything really happening, so I’m not holding my breath! Where time, money and resources really do need to be spent is in education: I would love to see mental health as a formal part of the school curriculum, rather than it being left to individual schools to do what they can, if they feel so inclined. And we really need to educate employers about the impact of mental health issues on people – after all, in many cases it is those very same employers whose work practices have contributed to people’s mental health issues!

The title for this piece is deliberately chosen. As the song says, ‘every boy, girl, woman and man’ should work together. We are a long way from being a society where mental health is treated fairly, and we should all learn what we can do to help us move towards that.

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And now back to today. Five years on, and I haven’t seen any improvement in government funding and support for mental health. They occasionally repeat the good words, but action doesn’t seem to follow. At present, efforts are – quite rightly – being directed mostly at bringing Covid under control, but if and when that happens I fear there will be a deluge of demand for healthcare for other issues. There have been stories in the press of delays to cancer and other important treatments, and these will need to be prioritised. Will mental health be at the back of the queue? I suspect it will, as that is usually where it is. That would, to my mind, be a tragic mistake. Look back at those survey results: how will the isolation of working from home – or being ‘let go’ – during lockdowns have impacted them? Somehow, I doubt there will be an improvement. And with all the other issues which will have arisen during lockdown I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there was a huge increase in the number of people needing mental health treatments. Services have been under great pressure for years, and I don’t think they will be able to cope. This will cause a knock-on effect, a kind of vicious circle, storing up further needs for the future.

I said in my previous piece that a widespread programme of education was needed, and I think that is even more relevant now. The recent news that the government was no longer going to provide funding for the Time To Change (TTC) organisation is a retrograde step: TTC has provided much-needed programmes of education about combatting the stigma attached to mental health, and I doubt that other organisations, such as Mind, will be able to fill the gap, on top of everything else they already do. The future isn’t looking good, in my view.

October Road

Another month in this very strange year has flown by, and it’s time for my recap of that month’s posts, my fourth of these. Thank you for your support: you keep reading them and I’ll keep posting them! First things first, though, as there is a little piece of finishing up to do. Last month’s round-up had a title I had borrowed, and I invited you to tell me whence it came. No one tried, so I’m going to tell you now! The post was my first in October and, as before, it contained links to all the previous month’s offerings, in case you’d missed one (how very dare you!). It was called:

September, Now It’s Gone

I adapted the title from one of the most beautiful songs I know, a song about love, family, and mortality:

I hope Roseanne won’t mind – I love the song and that video, and borrowing the title is my little homage to her and her father. If you don’t already know, I’ll tell you where this month’s title comes from at the end of the piece.

As usual, music featured in a lot of my posts last month. There were, of course, the usual Tuesday Tunes – four of them, starting with

Tuesday Tunes 29: More Sixties

which included music from The Equals, The Hollies, Simon Dupree And The Big Sound, Cream and The Easybeats.

Next in the series was

Tuesday Tunes 30: Sixties USA

in which we heard from The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, The Monkees and Crosby, Stills & Nash. I had promised to include some music from the USA in the series, and devoting a whole post to that seemed a good way to do it.

I then turned my attention to albums, for the final post from the Sixties:

Tuesday Tunes 31: Sixties Albums

which included music from The Moody Blues, Bob Dylan, The Who, The Byrds (again!), The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. I think that selection in itself is ample proof of what a great decade that was in which to grow up and get interested in music.

The final Tuesday Tunes post of the month saw me move into the next decade with

Tuesday Tunes 32: Into The Seventies

which was the first of two posts I’m planning for singles, before moving onto albums – as I was doing myself in buying records at that time. This post featured Status Quo, Deep Purple, Elton John, David Bowie and Jethro Tull. Again – not a bad time for music!

Not wanting to lose sight of why I began blogging in the first place, I produced my usual piece to mark World Mental Health Day on 10th October:

World Mental Health Day 2020

and followed that up with a post showing how music can affect our hopes and emotions, in

Stairway To…Hope – A Return

which was an update and edit of a post I originally wrote in 2015, about one of my all-time favourite songs, and how it demonstrates that music can be so powerful for us.

I returned to the mental health theme again in the first of two posts marking Halloween. This was the serious one:

Halloween – My Regular Reminder

This is, as its title suggests, a recurring theme for me: Halloween shouldn’t be a time for stigmatising those who are suffering from mental health issues but, sadly, some still need to be reminded of that.

The fun Halloween post came yesterday to round off my month:

Halloween Tunes 2020

This was a bumper post, including music from Michael Jackson, Bobby Boris Pickett, Ray Parker Jr, Sheb Wooley, The Automatic, Black Widow, Redbone and Warren Zevon – just the eight songs, plus an extended version of one of them! It was also my 450th post, though somehow I doubt that (m)any of you will remember the first!

To save you having to wait till next month, I did say earlier that I’d tell you where I got this month’s round-up title from. It’s going to have to be a static video, I’m afraid, as I could only find two live versions of this, and they suffered from poor sound quality and over-enthusiastic (and loud) American audiences. It’s a typically great song from a great artist, and it deserves to be heard properly, I think:

See you again next month, I trust 😊