I was going to post for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) anyway, but this post from last year popped up in my Timehop feed, so I thought I’d share it again as many of you are new readers and probably won’t have seen it before. At least I’m posting this year while MHAW is still live!
A quick personal update, to get that out of the way. I did move flats and am now coming up to 11 months in the new place. It took me a while to feel settled, but I do now, and my mental health has definitely improved. I haven’t felt the need to seek out the services I mentioned in last year’s post, but somehow I doubt that the general situation regarding provision in this area will have changed much. Physically I have now been moved on to the next stage of treatment, which can largely be managed by me, rather than my having to go for weekly hospital visits. This is a huge step forward for me: if only I were allowed out to celebrate, or there was anywhere to go!
If you have a moment, please click on the link in last year’s piece to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), as the link takes you to this year’s MHAW materials. As I said in Tuesday Tunes 9 this year’s theme is ‘kindness,’ which I think is especially appropriate. In these pandemic days we need to be more kind towards each other. My Facebook news feed has contained many instances of kindness to others, and I expect yours will have been the same. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to do something which will brighten someone’s day, and this can be beneficial for the mental health of both parties. The MHF have many useful tips and resources, so I hope you take a look. If you have longer, there is a very well-written piece about why kindness should be a driving factor in public policy – governments would do well to read this and heed the advice!
I hope you have a chance to reflect on the theme of kindness, and that it will help you and someone else that you know: friends, relatives, other loved ones….
Take care, stay safe, be well and be kind – to yourself and others 😊👍
Funnily enough, I won’t be talking about any of those things in this post, though there is a temptation to think about when pigs might have the wings to fly. But I’ll pass on that, for now. The ‘many things’ I have in mind are the reasons why I have been away from here for some time. I’m sharing them to show how easily what we believe to be the equilibrium of our lives can be unbalanced. Last week, when I began writing this, was Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), and that seemed as good a time as any for a post which has mental health as its underlying theme. MHAW is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find out more about it from their website. I wasn’t really following their theme for this year – how our body image…
I’m not sure if it is just a UK thing but this week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) here. I would have matched this week’s tunes to the MHAW theme but this year they have gone for ‘kindness,’ and I beat them to that, having done it for Tuesday Tunes 5. I might be posting separately for MHAW, but in the meantime I thought I’d choose something closely related as this week’s theme: so I’ve gone for ‘friendship.’
Acts of kindness aren’t restricted to things we do for friends but they are undoubtedly an essential part of a strong, long lasting friendship, so I hope you agree that my choice is appropriately sympathetic. In the current circumstances, friendships are perhaps even more important than ever: they can help us cope with being required to stay at home whenever possible, and technology has really come into its own in helping us stay in touch. Who would have thought, eight weeks ago, that the very thing which often took the blame for destroying social interaction would now be an essential for so many, and a potential lifesaver? And that is just one of the many things we have learned from lockdown. With the recent celebrations here to mark the 75th anniversary of VE Day much has been said about how our predecessors coped with the deprivations of war: think about a time without the internet, television, mobile phones, computers and tablets, and consider how you would have coped – no 24 hour instant news coverage in those days to keep us informed! So friendships were quite possibly even more important back then to help people get by.
My first tune this week is from Free, a band who have long been a favourite of mine, and one which I was lucky enough to see play live in their early days. They were only together for around five years, which makes all the more remarkable the quality and number of albums they produced in such a short time: six albums released in just under four years. This is from what I think is their best album – Fire And Water – which, along with the single All Right Now, was the one that helped them really hit the big time. This may ‘just’ be an album track, but that doesn’t in any way diminish it – it is superb:
My second song for this week is my all time favourite song about friendship. It was written by Carole King in 1971 and featured on her hugely successful album, Tapestry. Simultaneously, James Taylor was recording his Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon album, and recorded a version of the song. Joni Mitchell sang backing vocals on both versions. Carole credits James with the initial inspiration for the song, which she says was a response to a line in his Fire And Rain song: “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.’ The song was released as a single by James and was massive hit: no.1 in the US, no.2 in Canada, no.3 in Ireland and no.4 in the UK. Faced with choosing between their versions, I chickened out, so here is a live performance by them as a duo, from 2007:
As James says in the introduction to the song, he feels it was an amazing act of generosity on Carole’s part to let him release his version first. That, to me, is the heart of friendship, and you only have to watch the video to understand what it means for them both.
A personal note on that song: it was one of my Mum’s favourites, and last Friday was the twelfth anniversary of her passing. Whilst we do it in March, many countries mark Mother’s Day in May, so even though I don’t need the prompt I am always reminded of her by the barrage of coverage it receives. That makes this a particularly poignant choice of song for me, at this time of year, and emphasises for me what (and who) is really important in our lives.
I hope that you have friends, as well as family, to support you through these pandemic days. Gradually, restrictions are beginning to be lifted, and there have been a number of signs of growing frustrations on the part of some at being required not to go out and socialise (or to get their hair cut or their nails done.) The problem is that not enough is known about the virus to give us any sense of when and how the restrictions can safely be removed: there is a large element of trial and error in play. I just hope that governments can be sensible and grown up about taking the important decisions. I also hope that the impatient ones don’t allow their selfishness and stupidity to override everyone’s safety – but at least the demonstrations here last weekend weren’t full of people carrying assault rifles. Stupid comes in degrees!
Friends are important at any time. Enjoy yours now, even if that has to be at a social distance. Take care, be safe.
Funnily enough, I won’t be talking about any of those things in this post, though there is a temptation to think about when pigs might have the wings to fly. But I’ll pass on that, for now. The ‘many things’ I have in mind are the reasons why I have been away from here for some time. I’m sharing them to show how easily what we believe to be the equilibrium of our lives can be unbalanced. Last week, when I began writing this, was Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), and that seemed as good a time as any for a post which has mental health as its underlying theme. MHAW is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find out more about it from their website. I wasn’t really following their theme for this year – how our body image can affect our mental health – so it was perhaps just as well that this wasn’t intended to be an ‘official’ post in support of the week, as it is now late! But taking care of our mental health, whatever the context, is something of which we should all be mindful at all times.
So, why have I been AWOL? This goes back a while. I have a condition called lymphoedema, which can only be managed, but never completely cured. I had needed to restart the treatment for this for some time, but managed to go into denial and become reclusive about it. Whilst I was doing that – with the obvious signs of needing some support for my mental health – I received the news that my landlords wanted me to move out at the end of my rental contract, so that they could sell the flat. Whilst this is always a risk when you live in private rental accommodation, I have lived here since my divorce, eleven and a half years ago, and I felt very destabilised by this. So that was two pressures which were causing me stress and anxiety – not the best basis on which to build a successful search for a new home! Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will recognise that the foundations of my personal pyramid were on shaky ground:
I needed to do something to improve my situation: sadly, that was much easier said than done. But, to cut a long story short, I’m now receiving excellent treatment for my physical health, and am more confident about that part of my life than I have been for the past couple of years. And to cut another story short, I have had the amazing luck that the flat across the hall from mine will become vacant at the end of the month, so I can move in there. It will still be a lot of upheaval, but nothing like as much as it could have been. I like the area where I live, so this is the ideal solution, and it means that I can maintain continuity in my healthcare without having to transfer to a new service. As my needs are long term, this is important to me.
Unsurprisingly, I think my mental health has improved, and I have felt a noticeable boost since I received the news last week about my new flat. This is probably just as well, as there doesn’t appear to be any support for that here. I had an assessment a few weeks ago, which described me as suffering ‘mild geriatric depression.’ Inclusion of the word ‘geriatric’ didn’t help! The mental health professional who was working with me gave me the bad news that as I was only a mild case I didn’t meet the specialist services’ threshold to be treated. She recommended the county Well-being and Support service. But this is where Catch 22 came in: that service is for people aged 18 to 65, and as I had reached the decrepit old age of 65 seven months previously, I didn’t qualify for their support either. I spent a fair amount of time on the website of the NHS Trust which provides mental health services in this area, but could find absolutely nothing for people of my age. They claim to provide services for all age groups, but there isn’t a specific section on their site dedicated to ‘older adults,’ and the links in other sections didn’t seem to work. It isn’t good for people who may need help not to be able to find it easily, so I’d made up my mind to call them for advice, but hadn’t got round to it before the good news about a new home. I’d also asked my GP Practice for advice but they hadn’t come up with anything either. It was beginning to look as if I just had to keep my fingers crossed that the new flat would improve my mental health situation, but quite by chance the nurse looking after my bandage change told me of a voluntary service operating in this area, so if I still feel the need for some support once I’ve got moving out of the way I can give them a call.
There may well be other services that could help me, but if a specialist professional, my GP Practice and the Trust’s website can’t direct me to these, where are they? Setting aside my own situation, there is something rather worrying about the lack of mental health support for older adults in this area. I wonder if this is just a quirk of the local system, or whether this is a more widespread issue? The current system supposedly places the commissioning of services in the hands of clinicians – Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) to give them their proper name. But as I have mentioned in previous posts, even when money is clearly ring-fenced for the provision of mental health services the CCGs tend to divert it towards physical care services. Frankly, I think this is a disgrace, and the fact that it has been allowed to happen and to continue does, I believe, reveal a failing of the system of performance monitoring which is supposed to oversee the CCGs’ work.
I know there are intolerable pressures on funding but it does rather seem as though I’m now part of a twilight zone of the forgotten and unimportant. I feel strong enough to bear that, but I wouldn’t mind betting that there are a great many older people who aren’t so strong, and may not be getting the support they need. There is a danger that people will fall between the cracks between heath and social care: I was referred to our local social services but, having established that I am solvent and am perfectly capable of washing, dressing and feeding myself they have closed the referral. Others may not be so fortunate in their circumstances, and it is to our country’s shame that so much effort and resources are being wasted on the ridiculously pointless and unnecessary Brexit, that important issues are being ignored. Hopefully, the dreaded Brexit will finally be resolved soon, and we will be able to tiptoe through the wreckage to see what remains for the provision of mental health services for older people, if anything. Or maybe all we’ll see is the occasional pig flying past. I’ll let you know how Flying Pig Watch goes, and if I can find any services to support me and others like me.