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World Mental Health Day 2019

October 10, 2019 18 comments


Not that I needed the reminders, but my inbox has been receiving a steady flow of emails about World Mental Health Day (WMHD), which is marked each year on 10 October. This date is recognised by the World Health Organisation and the theme for the year is set by the World Federation for Mental Health. This year’s theme is suicide prevention.

Having had mental health problems myself – mostly depression and anxiety-related – I feel very lucky that I have never once had the remotest hint of a suicidal thought. Others are, sadly, far worse off than I in this respect, and I am pleased that this subject is receiving so much attention. For so long it has been one of those taboo subjects of which we dare not speak, choosing instead to brush it under the figurative carpet.

This week has seen the launch of the Every Mind Matters campaign by Public Health England and the NHS, to encourage people to be more aware of the early signs of mental health issues. Their website can be found  here and is full of loads of useful advice and resources. I strongly encourage you to take a look if you or anyone you know might benefit from getting some good help and advice. The campaign is being supported by the younger royals – the Cambridges  and Sussexes – and is generating good publicity. Many companies and organisations, such as the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have also pledged support.

Today I’ve seen a piece on breakfast tv about Ellie Soutter, a snowboarder champion who took her own life last year on her 18th birthday. It featured an interview with Ellie’s mother and was heartbreaking, really bringing home the devastation caused in the lives of loved ones, families and friends when someone commits suicide. The gaping hole that they leave, all those unanswered questions about what drove them to do it, the guilt about whether their family, friends or anyone could have seen signs of their unhappiness and done something – anything – to help. There are, sadly, no easy answers to any of those questions. None of us wants to be in poor Ellie’s mum’s situation, but we don’t have hindsight to know what we might have done in her circumstances. We shouldn’t need things like Every Mind Matters to remind us of this, but the reality is that we do. The importance of spreading this word, and of sharing awareness of what we can do to help ourselves and our loved ones, cannot be understated.


One of the organisations which supports people with mental health issues is Time To Change. I’ve spoken about them before, and have recently signed up to be a ‘Time To Change Champion,’ which means that I have committed to spreading the word about what we can do to help. This isn’t a big announcement, and isn’t anything for which qualifications are needed. Anyone can do it – the more who do, the more widespread the message becomes. If you’re interested, do visit the Time To Change website. Here you’ll also find lots of good advice, including their campaign for this year’s WMHD, ‘Ask Twice,’ as you can see from the image above. This is the simple thought that, rather than accepting the usual ‘I’m fine’ answer to the ‘how are you?’ question, we might delve a little deeper. Here is the link: you’ll find a good little video about it to encourage you to think more about this, along with more advice on how to start that conversation. I’ll be posting more as a ‘Time To Change Champion’ in the months to come, and I hope some of you will sign up too.

I’m aware that this post reflects the fact that I am in the UK, but this is World Mental Health Day. Wherever you are from, this is an important day. In the column to the right you will see a box labelled ‘Stand Up For Mental Health.’ If you click on this it takes you to the website of HealthyPlace.com, whose campaign this is. They are US-based, and I know that there are many similar initiatives around the world. Wherever you are, please take a few moments to find out what is available to you and what you can do to help. And if you think you might need some support, please do seek assistance, and don’t be afraid to ask.

’How are you?’

‘I’m fine thanks.’

‘Are you sure? You don’t seem quite like yourself…’

‘Well, actually…’

That wasn’t too hard, was it? If you know someone you think might be struggling, #AskTwice today and every day. You may be saving a life.

Migraine Awareness Week 2019

September 3, 2019 13 comments

Those of you who weren’t reading or following my blog in the early days will probably be unaware that I used to do a series of ‘Dates To Note’ posts – if you’re interested they can be found in the menu above. These ran through 2013 into 2014 but I decided that they had run their course and, apart from a few reblogs – and a spoof –  there haven’t been many more since then. I have, however, decided to do a new one-off to recognise that this week (1st to the 7th September) is Migraine Awareness Week. I first posted about this in 2013 and have followed up on that a couple of times, but felt it was about time to do something new.

I’m sure many of you have experience of migraine, either yourself or with someone close to you. I was first diagnosed when I was 15 – to save you the maths, that was around 50 years ago. Since then I’ve had several migraines a year apart from one blissful period in my 20s when I went three years without one, and foolishly hoped I was somehow ‘cured.’ Not so. And the older I got, the more migraines I had and the longer they seemed to last! Five or six a year wasn’t uncommon, and they lingered for up to three days instead of just the one when they first started.

I hope you follow the link above, which takes you to the Awareness Week page on the Migraine Trust’s website. The Migraine Trust organises this week as a means of educating people about migraine, and their website has a lot of helpful information and links. Their headline statistics are frightening: every day in the UK there are 190,000 migraine attacks. The condition affects one in seven people, and is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. In other words, it is a big issue! They have undertaken much research into the underlying causes of migraine, but their aim is ultimately to find a cure for this debilitating illness. This is especially important as only about half of those who suffer are actually diagnosed with the condition: if a cure could be found, that might encourage more people to seek help.

One of the things the Migraine Trust encourage you to do is to keep a diary of your migraines and share it with your doctor. I did this when I was first diagnosed with depression, as I seemed to be getting headaches and migraines all the time, and it was very helpful to see what pattern – if any – there was. In particular, the site might help those who say they have a migraine when it is actually a bad headache: believe me, there is a difference and you’ll know it if you’re a fellow sufferer! When I was running the Dates To Note series I always gave a link to the NHS website as this is a very good source of information, and their coverage of migraine is as good as everything else they do.

My diary showed that there was absolutely no pattern to my migraines, which often seemed to occur with no prior warning. Most of mine started the moment I woke up: there was no build up to them throughout the day, as some people experience. That made it difficult to assess, but we managed to find a tenuous link to late night tea and coffee, or eating, before some of my migraines. I cut these out on doctor’s advice, but was never convinced that this made any difference. Like most migraine sufferers I just shut myself away in a darkened room until it felt safe to open the curtains again. Medical science has yet to agree on a set of defined causes for the illness: whilst one of the causes is believed to be emotional factors, such as stress, mine have always been noticeably different from regular headaches, which tend to fall into the category of ‘tension headaches.’ Migraines are believed to be a result of chemical changes in the body affecting the genes, and the genetic effect can mean that they are passed through the generations within a family. My Mum used to suffer badly with migraine and it has always been believed in our family – and by doctors – that I inherited this from her.

So how can you explain the fact that I have had far fewer migraines since I retired? I now live a life which, as far as I can possibly make it, is free from stress and tension. And the frequency of migraines has dropped noticeably – go figure! Does this mean that what I have believed for around 50 years was wrong? Even if that is the case, I can’t really see how I could have changed my working life to remove stress factors, which were part and parcel of any job I had. But I do find it interesting that a reduction in the number and length of migraines since I retired may somehow be related to that major lifestyle change. It is nearly six years since I retired, and I can only recall seven or eight migraines in that time – when I would probably have endured something like 40 in a similar period whilst working. I can recommend retirement for a number of reasons – apart from having to be old to do it – but for me a dramatic reduction in migraine frequency is one of the biggest benefits!

If you’re a fellow sufferer you have my sympathy. If so, or you’d just like to know more, do take a few moments to look at the Migraine Trust’s website – here – as I’m sure it will be of interest and help to you.

 

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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