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#TimeToTalk Day 2019

February 6, 2019 29 comments

Tomorrow, 7 February, is #TimeToTalk Day. The day is run by the Time To Change organisation, and is all about opening a conversation: this may be with someone who may need support; it could be to help raise general awareness of mental health issues; or it may be to help people be more sensitive and caring towards each other. I hope you join in – no special skills or resources are required, just be yourself and talk to someone. You may be pleasantly surprised at what happens.

Time To Change is led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. If you’d like to find out more their website is here, and there are loads of resources available for you. I was particularly taken with this one:

So much, in fact, that I have made it my header for my personal Facebook page, so that my friends can see my support for this day. Many of them know my story, but probably not in any detail. Last year I wrote a piece for Time To Change, but they didn’t use it – probably because I didn’t submit it in the way they prefer! But it gives a potted version of my story, and why I believe this to be so important, and is worth sharing again, I think. This is what I wrote:

I was diagnosed with depression in late 2011. After months of treatment, both with medication and counselling, I finally returned to work more than nine months later. Perhaps ironically, I worked for a large NHS Trust which provided mental health services – though I didn’t live in the Trust’s catchment area – and whilst I had had a fair amount of involvement with service users in my twenty years there, most of the people I worked with hadn’t.

When I first returned, initial reactions were mostly of the ‘I haven’t seen you for a while’ variety. It was clear to me that only a few people knew why I had been off work, and I decided early on that the best way to tackle this was to be open and honest with anyone who asked about it. Not that I shouted it from the rooftops, but I wanted people to know and understand why I had been away, what it meant for me, and what it might mean for them. Some seemed apprehensive – I think they feared I might ‘have a turn’ or do something strange! The difficulty with any mental health problem is that other people can’t see it, in the same way they can see a broken leg, for example. This adds some kind of aura, a mystique, and can instil in some a fear of the unknown and unseen. I didn’t want to start some kind of crusade, but I believed it important to share my experience with anyone who asked. After all, to all intents I was the same person they had known for years, so why should they now treat me differently? Some might have had an expectation that I had changed in some way, and I wanted to reassure them that whilst the illness was a part of me I was still that same ‘me.’ People who have suffered a mental illness deserve to be respected as themselves: the illness isn’t a badge they must wear or, worse, a stigma to be borne as some sign of weakness.

I retired a little over a year later, and having already started my own blog I was aware how important it is for fellow sufferers to know that they are not alone, that others have shared something similar. But that isn’t the same for those who have been lucky enough not to suffer. I probably had around fifty conversations with co-workers in that last year at work, and made a point of telling them a few key things:

1. There is no shame in having been diagnosed with any kind of mental illness.
2. It can happen to anyone, at any time.
3. It is far more prevalent than people imagine, and it was quite likely that other people we worked with had similar problems.
4. Whilst some may not, many will welcome an initial approach of the ‘is everything ok?’ type. It does help to talk, and an informal chat can often be all that is needed to help someone.
5. Don’t be judgemental – people need to be heard, not given well-meaning ‘diagnoses’ by friends who aren’t qualified to judge.
6. Having been diagnosed doesn’t change who you are, and shouldn’t change how others see you.

I’d like to think that, in my own little way, I did something to help understanding and awareness. The important part of this was that it was on a one to one basis: I’m a great believer in the need for efforts to be made to widen the general population’s knowledge on mental health, and this low key approach is a good way to do that. Just imagine how many could be enlightened if we all had just one chat!

So, will you talk to someone tomorrow? Please? Pass it on!

 

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Time To Worry – An Update

January 27, 2019 30 comments

Three years ago today I wrote a piece called Time To Worry, in which I shared some horrific results from recent studies into our mental health. I reblogged the piece last year with a commentary, and as we are again approaching Time To Talk Day (7 February this year) I thought it right to share the post again, both for newer readers to see for the first time and also with an update for those who may have seen this before. Even if you have already read the original post I encourage you to read this update: our mental health is vitally important to us and we all need to be aware of this, and of how we can help ourselves and others. As is my usual practice I will give you the original words and then return to round things up after. This is the initial post:

A few days ago there was a report in the paper of a study conducted by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, as part of the Health Survey for England. More than 25% of the 5,000 respondents said that they had been given a diagnosis of mental illness at some point. 33% of the females and 19% of the males reported this, and the highest rate was found amongst the 55-64 age group, where the figures rose to 41% and 25% respectively. The most common diagnosis was for depression, at 19% overall – 24% for women and 13% for men. At the extreme, one in 14 women has attempted suicide, and one in 25 men, yet the male suicide rate is more than three times higher than for females. These are scary statistics! There has been a great deal of research showing that men are much less likely to recognise that they may need help for a mental health problem and to seek assistance for it. But it appears that we are much more successful at killing ourselves! This is apparently because men choose more lethal suicide methods, and because we are more impulsive and likely to act on a suicidal impulse, particularly when alcohol is involved.

A separate report has also found that the number of unexplained or sudden deaths (i.e. not from suicides) of mental health patients in England has risen by more than 20% in the past three years, a total of 1,713 in 2014-5 up from 1,412 in 2012-3. Unsurprisingly, there are many now jumping on the bandwagon of blaming the Government and the NHS for underfunding mental health services to the point where there are insufficient resources to cope. They may well have a point: I know from my own time spent working for an NHS Trust providing mental health services just how much of a Cinderella service it was and still is, and how the large general hospitals took up a huge part of the funding.

But whilst that is clearly a major issue it is not my point today. I’ve quoted numbers which may or may not mean much to you. Does 1,713 deaths in a population of around 50 million seem all that many? Is this something we should expect and somehow accept as the norm? Should we heck as like! Every single one of those who make up those statistics is an individual tragedy. Every single one of them had family and friends who cared about them and who are affected by their loss. And I wouldn’t mind betting that most of them had at some stage been stigmatised by their diagnosis of mental illness – assuming that they had sought help, as not all of them will have done. I mentioned earlier that men are slower to seek help, if they ever do. I know this to be true, as I did it myself and subsequently found that I was far from alone in doing so. Looking back on the time when I was diagnosed with depression (described in the Story of my Illness see the menu above) it is very easy to trace a long, slow decline in my health until I reached the point at which I recognised my need for help. I eventually saw my doctor in October 2011 but can recall events from April that year which were clearly related to this, and no doubt there were others before then: I had been off work for three months some five years earlier with what was termed ‘stress’, so it was lurking in my make up. Although I worked for an organisation which provided treatment for these kinds of illness I didn’t want to accept that maybe this is what was happening to me. Part of that may be the stereotypical male lack of insight, but there is more to it than that. A major factor is that mental illness is stigmatised. From the simple, everyday “pull yourself together” type of comments, which betray a lack of understanding and empathy, to the much more malicious type which can often be found in real life bullying and in social media, people with a mental illness are somehow made to feel ashamed of their problem, that they should in some way get over it as they aren’t really ill, are they: others can’t see anything wrong with them in the same way that they could if they were on crutches, for example. If I can’t see it, you don’t have it!

This is compounded in all sorts of ways. Often these are quite innocently done, such as the everyday use of phrases like “it all went mental” or “he’s a nutter.” But if I look back to when I was a child, a common playground insult was to call someone a “spastic” if they did something clumsy. We have learned how offensive this really is and it is no longer used, to my knowledge. Political correctness may be guilty of many stupidities but one of the successes of the past forty years or so since it became a force is a better understanding of some of the derogatory language we use and how we can improve on it. But has it had any real impact in the world of mental illness?

Sadly, I think not. Although we still have much to do, e.g. in the likes of public buildings and public transport, we have come quite a way in recognising both the needs of physically disabled people and the way we talk about their illnesses. I may be biased in my outlook but I don’t see the same progress having been made in respect of mental illness. Whilst part of the answer is to provide more funding for treatment, there is a much wider issue: we need to educate ourselves better about mental illnesses and how we respond to them and deal with them in others. Unless we do, those statistics I quoted are likely to get worse before they can start getting better. To me, this is very much the time when we should worry about this and ask ourselves if we are doing enough about it, not just as a society but as individuals within it, in our own approach to people with mental illness and how we deal with them. We should have been doing this already, and we shouldn’t hold back from doing it now.

And now back to today. Unfortunately, I don’t see any real change in the situation since I wrote this piece. The UK government has recently proclaimed a new healthcare initiative which includes some much needed improvements to mental health support and treatment. My problem with it, though, is that the government has sidetracked itself in a major way with the issues surrounding the EU and our relations with other countries, particularly the US. Worryingly, with all that has been going on over there to destroy healthcare, there are signs that our government wants to move towards ever greater involvement of the private sector in the National Health Service (NHS). Funding for mental health care needs to be increased significantly, to meet the need for much better training for, and provision of, services. Everything I said in that original piece is still germane and will, I fear, continue to be. The government has been making noises about improving mental health care for several years but has yet to deliver in a major way. Yes, there have been improvements but, to an observer, these don’t yet appear to have been fully co-ordinated, thereby diminishing their potential effectiveness. Add to that the almost daily reports of the impact of Brexit uncertainty on the NHS – massive losses of staff from overseas, difficulties in persuading workers to move to this country (and who can blame them?) – and the need for large increases in staff with suitable training to support the government’s stated objective. It doesn’t look promising, does it? We can but hope that the intended service enhancements deliver on the government’s objective, and that the dire forecasts for the financial impact on the country of leaving the EU don’t manifest themselves in a retrenchment and budget cuts. We’ve had ten years of austerity, we don’t need to be further damaged by political decisions.

As I’ve often said, I started this blog to share my experience of mental ill health, and although I veer away from that as a subject it is still something which is hugely significant for me. This is the first – a trailer, if you like – of what I plan to be a series of posts on mental health, which will include more detail on the most recent government initiative and the mental health of children and young people. These are topics that should concern us all, and I hope my small voice can help in widening awareness of mental health issues.

 

2018: They Think It’s All Over…..

January 3, 2019 19 comments

Englishmen of a certain age will recognise the source of my title!

A number of bloggers have recently posted reviews of their blogging year, and how 2018 was for them. I wasn’t sure if I should do the same, as I’m far from being the most prolific blogger, and I certainly don’t have a massive following or readership. And anyway, I did a kind of ‘part way through the year review’ when I wrote On Further Reflection so there isn’t much point in repeating myself. What those posts have encouraged me to do is to look back behind the headlines of my post statistics and try to analyse what this tells me about my readers and what they prefer – and this does give me the opportunity to give another plug to some of my own favourites from my 2018 ramblings. I’ve already covered some of the ground in New Beginnings? which I posted on Sunday with a reblog of my review of 2015, so I’ll try not to repeat myself more than I already have!

I posted 51 times in 2018, but there was no regular pattern to those: they weren’t synchronised weekly offerings with a week off for good behaviour. Both April and August saw just one post each, whilst there were twelve in November and nine in December. So much for giving your readers a regular expectation of when they can see something from you! But, as I’ve often said (probably to justify this to myself) I don’t think of myself as being a significant blogger: I’m not seeking huge numbers, nor am I looking to monetise my blog. Some do, and I don’t have a problem with that. But it wouldn’t be for me – I wouldn’t expect anyone to pay me for what I produce from the deepest recesses of my mind!

I rarely reblog someone else’s post: I did that just once in 2018, and that was this one, to assist a fellow blogger in raising money for charity. Call me narrow-minded if you like, but I regard this as my space and want people to come here because they enjoy reading my words. There are plenty of blogs that exist solely to reblog others: there is nothing wrong with that, but are they clear on their motivation? Are they doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and the desire to help others? Or are they doing it so they can bask in the reflected glory of having a blog with loads of page views when they rarely, if ever, write anything themselves? And, if the latter, are they using this to make money for their site? That, to me, is dishonest and not what I regard as true blogging. For me, a blog is where we share something of ourselves, not where we push products at people – and especially not by using others’ work as the vehicle.

Having said all of that, I am much more likely to reblog my own posts, or rework older ones into newer versions. My logic in doing that is simple: many of these were written at a time when my follower numbers were smaller, and I doubt that many current followers will have seen these before. I do it because they said something I felt worth sharing again and, in all honesty, because I liked them. I make no excuses for doing this, but I do recognise that there are only so many times that you can mine through your back catalogue without putting people off!

I did produce some new stuff in 2018, though, and it is gratifying to see that five of my top ten most ‘liked’ posts of all time are from last year, with another one actually equal on ‘likes’ for 10th place but not showing in the list. I guess I must be doing something right! I realise that hitting the ‘like’ button is a facility only available to those who, as I do, use WordPress as their blogging platform, so I know that there is not necessarily a link between ‘likes’ and the actual number of times a post has been read. But it suffices as a reasonably good proxy most of the time, though not always: the post of mine which has actually been read most times – by a distance – dates back to 2017. This was written in support of a friend whose ex-wife’s ex-boyfriend (still with me?) had just received a criminal conviction for the most horrible of crimes. My friend is the focus of a group on Twitter and my post was widely shared and read as a result. If you haven’t seen He Fought The Law before by all means take a look: it is a little different from anything I’ve written before, or since.

But let’s get back to 2018! I think my favourite post of the year was that one in equal 10th place on the all time list. My 15 Nanoseconds was one I greatly enjoyed writing – it is one of my lighter pieces and I got a laugh out of it. Having said that, it only needs one person to follow that link and hit the ‘like’ button to move it into 10th place all by itself – which would be something of a pity as the post it currently shares that placing with is one that I regard as among my most important. Maybe I should make that list the top 11 – do you think anyone would notice?

What pleases me most about the popular posts from 2018 is that two of the top five are themed around Mental Health, whilst two others are very personal to me. There are links to all from the list on the right, but to save you having to work it out these posts are I Hope You Dance and For Mother’s Day (the two personal ones),  World Mental Health Day 2018  and Mental Health Awareness Week 2018, plus the outlier A Man Blogs, Aged 64 And A Half, which was written in a fit of pique when I felt that the blogging world was becoming sexist and ageist. I probably proved the blogosphere right in believing it should be for females and younger people when I wrote that!

So, what does this tell me about what people expect from my posts, and does it give me any clues for what I should be writing about this coming year? Whilst they may not have garnered the most ‘likes,’ my musically themed posts are important to me, so you can expect to see more of them. If I can get my act together there may even be some more #SaturdaySongs posts at some point! But let’s take this back to the very beginning: as I’ve often said (though newer readers may not be aware of this) I originally began blogging to share my experience of depression, in the hope that this would help others. It seems to have done that, and I still get the occasional email from people who have read those early posts: they are under ‘My Story’ in the menu at the top of the page, if you want to see them. Six years on, there is still so much that needs to be done to raise awareness of mental health issues and to help fight the stigmatisation which still, sadly, attaches itself to those of us who suffer. I am acutely aware that my own mental health is precarious and I could find myself in relapse at any time, and I think it is very important that as many people as possible are writing about these issues. Whilst that was my starting point I’ve never made this a blog solely on mental health: there are many others who do that far better than I. But it is a subject to which I have returned at intervals, and I will continue to do so. Only yesterday there was a piece in the paper about young people’s mental health and the problems involved in supporting them, so I believe there is an agenda already there for new posts. I’d like to think my small voice will help in some way, so expect more from me on this.

To end this review, I’d like to thank everyone who has read, liked or commented on any of my posts, either in 2018 or previously. Those interactions are why I and my fellow smaller bloggers do this: if we know that there is someone out there it encourages us to keep going. I don’t know how or where you found me, but I’m glad you did. If you’re a regular you have my heartfelt thanks for supporting me. If you’re new here, I hope you like what you see and will be encouraged to read, like and comment on more of my posts. And a final plug for my Facebook page: all new posts are shared there, along with a #SongOfTheDay and occasional random thoughts and funnies. It’s small, but beautifully formed, and I’d love to see you there. Who knows – you may even be encouraged to follow both this blog and the page, if you don’t already!

Thank you, as always, for reading, and here’s to a great 2019!

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