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Health In Numbers

June 9, 2019 16 comments

A post for Men’s Health Week

I mentioned in my previous post that, here in the UK, it is Men’s Health Week from 10th to 16th June. I’m not sure if this applies elsewhere but, as the week is organised by the Men’s Health Forum (MHF) – which is a British organisation – I’m guessing maybe it is just us. But if you aren’t from the UK don’t stop reading now: the issue of men’s health is equally valid everywhere.

For this year’s event the MHF is focusing on numbers. Their website shares a number of frightening statistics, some of which I’ll be covering here. They have produced a series of posters which are intended to be displayed in health centres and workplaces, and these make sobering reading. There is a ‘summary’ poster, which is this one:

That doesn’t cover the full set of numbers the MHF are highlighting, but you can see very quickly from it that there are many things we men should be taking better care of. I’m probably typical, in that I need to pay much more attention to my physical health. I am moving home shortly, but once that has settled down I’ll be seeing the dietician at the local hospital to get some advice on improving my diet. Initial contact has been made and they are due to call me after I move to fix an appointment. That will only be the start of it, though, as I know I need to do much more.

One of the other posters tells us of the number 20:

As if I needed any further warning about that, I got it in tragic and dramatic fashion yesterday. Justin Edinburgh, the manager of one of the three football teams I support – Leyton Orient – suffered a cardiac arrest last Monday and passed away yesterday. He had just led the club to probably its most successful season ever, and was looking forward to taking us back into the English Football League. He had just returned from watching one of the clubs he used to play for – Tottenham Hotspur, another of my three – play in the Champions League final, and had been to the local gym with his wife.  He was fit, took good care of himself in a stressful job, and had everything to look forward to. Justin was 49. If you ever needed a reminder of the fragility of life, and of the validity of the MHF’s statistic, there it is.

Those life expectancy figures are a little scary for me. One in five of us men dies before reaching 65 (or even 50, in Justin’s case), and two in five before reaching 75. I’m comfortably in that range, and I know I need to take much better care of myself. Does that apply to you, too? It is never too late to do something about it!

Whilst most of the key numbers concern physical health, the MHF does include a couple of mental health statistics too. The first of these is this:

This raises the huge issue of social inequality, which is far too complex for this post. Sadly, I don’t think the current political situation in this country is conducive to removing the barriers that prevent the achievement of social equality – indeed, I believe we have a government which is doing its best to widen the gap between those who have and those who don’t. Of course, I recognise that to be a sweeping generalisation, and social inequality has existed for thousands of years, so it isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon. But it does put into context how hard we all need to be working towards improving our health – both physical and mental.

A further terrifying statistic for men lies in the other MHF poster which focuses on mental health:

Despite the depression I have often chronicled here I have never, ever, had any suicidal ideation. Again, this is a complex issue, and various reasons have been suggested as to why this might be, but if you ever have a thought like that please, please seek help before it is too late. And you don’t have to be male to do that!

If you’ve read this far and are female, and are wondering ‘what about us?’ I would contend that as the stereotypical male buries his head in the sand about health issues – except, of course, for manflu – we need a kick up the wotsit to make us take notice. Physical and mental health are important for everyone of whatever gender, and I think it is good to see a focus on those who that stereotype says might well be in denial about their need to improve their lifestyles. I know I do: I just hope I can actually do more than just talk about it. And I suspect that is equally true of many others.

Please do follow the link I gave earlier to the MHF website. They do a good deal more than run this awareness week, and there are a number (see what I did there?) of useful resources available to you on the site. They say that they have 1.4m visits each year: that doesn’t happen if people don’t think it worth their time and effort.

[I have put this post under my ‘Dates To Note’ category. This was a series I ran through 2013, with occasional returns since then. All of the posts I have placed in that category are available – in reverse chronological order – from the menu at the top of the page. Go on, click the link – you may find something of interest!]

 

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The Time Has Come…..

May 22, 2019 22 comments

Lewis Carroll: Through The Looking Glass

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.

 

Feeling Good?

May 10, 2017 33 comments

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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