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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.

 

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On Further Reflection

November 30, 2018 25 comments

A reflection of the blogger?

Two years ago today I published a post called Reflections, in which I mused on why we blog, and what it means to us. Having been reminded of this post I re-read it and it seemed time to revisit and update it. For those who won’t have seen it before I’ll share it again now and then update at the end of this post. This is Reflections (Mark 1):

“It’s a funny old game, this blogging lark, isn’t itWe sit at home (other locations are available) in a kind of self-imposed solitude, thumping away at the keyboard while we spill out the contents of our mind. Then we hit that magic button marked ‘Publish’ and those thoughts can be seen by anyone in the world with access to the interweb. Doesn’t that strike you as a little strange? It does to me. Why do we do it? Are we all self-obsessed narcissists? Or exhibitionists?

It’s a given that we all had a reason for starting our blogs, and those can be many and varied. I won’t bore you by repeating yet again why I started – if you don’t know, but want to, just take a look at my ‘About Me’ page and all will be revealed (there’s a link to it in the top menu, just for you). Many of the blogs I follow have started for a similar reason to mine, but then again many haven’t. And therein lies the beauty and magic of it all, for me anyway: the sheer variety of the blogs I follow keeps me entertained, amused and in some cases instructed on a daily basis. I follow many of these because that blogger has also chosen to follow me and I deem it a courtesy to return that compliment – the likelihood is that we have interests in common and I will enjoy their blog too. There are two main reasons why I don’t follow back. The first of these is where I deem the following of my blog a blatant attempt – usually, but not always, by commercial concerns – to widen their own ‘fanbase’ by indiscriminate following of blogs they clearly have no interest in reading. Sorry guys, but you are very easy to spot! The second is…I’ll come back to that later (I’m such a tease!).

Something prompted me the other day to take a look at my blog’s statistics year by year since I first started this, back in late 2012. I was particularly taken by the stats for this year to date and how they differed from previous years. You’ll notice the link on the right to BlogSurfer – I added this not long after I started at the suggestion of the remarkable Cyd (see Thank You for more on her) and it resulted in some great stats in terms of page views up to 2015, when its influence waned dramatically. The total viewing figures for this year are only about a quarter of those for the peak years of 2013-4, but I don’t care in the slightest. Why? Because I can be pretty sure that the great majority of this year’s views have been from people who actually wanted to read my words, rather than by those who just dropped by in passing from another site. BlogSurfer has prompted just 18% of views this year – in 2013 it was over 90%. The other really revealing stats are that the total number of ‘likes’ this year is around 50% more than the combined total for all previous years, while the number of comments is 250% more!

Isn’t that why we do it? That apparently solo activity is actually helping us to communicate in a way that modern technology allows, and in a way that just hadn’t been imagined when I was younger. I don’t know about you, but I thrive on the interactions my blog generates, and these become a kind of addiction. The more I get, the more I crave. If you look at my blog posting habits, you’ll see that, apart from #NaBloPoMo in 2014 and 2015, my previous activity has been much less frequent than of late. This has also encouraged me to become much more active in commenting on others’ blogs – as some of you can attest! For me, 2016 has been the first year that blogging has really felt like being part of a community. I used to interact with some in the earlier days, but most of them no longer blog much, if at all. Several of you are now Facebook friends – people can deride that, but I see it as a mark of trust and friendship and I value it. If you look at my Facebook friends (my proper name is Clive Pilcher) you’ll see some familiar faces – including Cyd, whose daughter has left her page open for us to drop by and remember her. And if we aren’t already friends on Facebook, I’m open to offers….

I said I’d go back to the second reason why I wouldn’t follow a blog back. It’s a fairly simple one. I’m very fortunate to have English as my native tongue: it is probably the most widespread language worldwide, albeit with localised variations. I enjoyed learning languages at school and studied French and German to our A level standard. But that was more than 40 years ago and whilst I still recognise many of the words I can’t claim sufficient skills to read the languages now. I’m ashamed to admit it, but if your blog isn’t written in English I wouldn’t understand it. Until now, that is. WordPress has recently been promoting a widget for Google Translate, which is claimed to work in over 100 languages. I’ve added the widget – you can see it on the right. Isn’t this wonderful? If every blogger using WordPress added this to their site we could access so many more blogs than we can at present, and those of you that I haven’t followed back could open up your blogs to those, like me, who can only deal in English! Blogging is a global activity, so it seems a no-brainer to do this. My blog has been read by people in around 200 countries – I’d like to read yours too, then this community can truly become a global one! The support of the full worldwide blogging community can mean so much to so many, and I hope this little widget is widely adopted.

So, that’s why I do this and why it is a valuable part of my life. How is it for you? Do tell, I’d love the interaction ;-)”

Whilst revisiting that post I thought it only right that I should take a new look at my stats. Broadly speaking, 2016, 2017 and this year to date have been fairly similar in the numbers of total views, actual visitors, and likes. But there has been a fall in comments. Is that something others have experienced, or is it just me? Maybe it is because (like this post) I have reworked quite a few older pieces that current viewers won’t have seen, but there aren’t enough new viewers who are active commenters? Or, looking at the pattern of new followers, perhaps I’m attracting more of those who are looking for a follow back to boost their own numbers? With a few treasured exceptions, I can’t recall any comments from a fairly large percentage of those who have followed in the past year. But then again, I haven’t commented on many of theirs either: that works both ways, folks! Or, to take the obvious answer, maybe I’m not writing the sort of pieces that would encourage people to comment on as well as like a post. An interesting thought for discussion, perhaps? And it comes with an invitation to add your comment to the discussion: as I said in the previous post I, and I suspect most of us, thrive on the interaction with our readers.

I also mentioned in that previous post that I would welcome the addition of the Translate widget on blogs that don’t publish in English. I can understand your wish to use your native language but English (and the American version of it) is very much the universal blogging language and making the translation available would widen your readership. Many of the blogs I follow are posting in English even though it clearly isn’t their first language. I admire and applaud their efforts but there are still a few following me who don’t publish in English: they are better educated than I, sorry! Please, please add the Translate widget if you don’t publish in English: I’m sure it would be of benefit to others as well as me.

Another change from two years ago is that some who were regular bloggers back then seem to have dropped out. I know of some who have gone through some big life changes which have meant that blogging became far less important to them, and have every sympathy with them. But others just seem to have wandered off into the ether. I don’t know about you, but there is something comforting to me in seeing a new post from a favourite writer, and it’s always a little sad not to see them any more. But there is no shortage of new (or new to me, at least) blogs out there, and hopefully over time I’ll build the same relationship of mutual support with them that I had with those who have gone AWOL. That is, after all, the sustenance on which bloggers depend.

A new development for me is that I started a Facebook page as a companion to this blog: my reasons for doing it are explained here. This is quite possibly just a vanity project, and it currently only stands at 32 ‘likes’ anyway, but it gives me a space to post things that I wouldn’t otherwise write about. There’s a #SongOfTheDay, which from tomorrow will become a #ChristmasSongOfTheDay – I’ve done this for several years now on my Twitter account and on Facebook, and have written catch up posts here: but if you want to see the daily posts then the Facebook page is the place to go – just follow the link to the right. And I also do a kind of Advent Calendar – not the usual sort! – on my Instagram account. If I can, I link these to the Facebook page but the technology is a little erratic so do follow the link to the right for Instagram if you’d like to see my more irreverent (or just downright smutty) side.

Do you ever take time out to reflect on why you blog, on what it means for you and your readers? I can recommend it: it can be an enlightening experience. Then again, as a great philosopher (well, Johnny Nash, actually) once said: ‘There are more questions than answers,’ and it does feel a bit like that inside my head at the moment! What do you think?

 

Ch-ch-changes Revisited

February 19, 2018 18 comments

Amongst today’s emails – just the usual hundred or so – was the regular Monday one from Bernadette announcing this week’s Senior Salon. It was a little different from the norm, however: Bernadette was giving us the sad news that it was to be the last Senior Salon. Looking back, I would guess that at least half of the blogs I read most often and, in particular, comment on, are those to which I was introduced by Bernadette. I understand perfectly why she feels the need to call a halt, and wish that I had the time and commitment to take it on for her – but, as you will have long-since recognised, I’m not the most organised or regular of bloggers! But I will always cherish those bloggers who, through our Senior Salon introduction, I now regard as friends – some have even joined me on Facebook, which is great!

This got me thinking to a post I wrote a couple of years ago. I think I’ve since recycled it, but it seemed a fitting way to mark Bernadette’s final edition of the Salon by sharing it again: it does, after all, talk about how important blogging communities can be for us. So, Bernadette, thank you for all your hard work and commitment, and I’m glad that I’ll still be seeing all your new blog posts and what you share on Facebook (and thanks for the Instagram follow, too!).

For a final time, this is my post Ch-ch-changes:

Has it ever struck you how much we can become creatures of habit? Although we may live varied lives, and have many things to occupy our time, at the core of this is likely to be a foundation of what for each of us is our ‘norm.’ Wherever we may be, and whatever we may be doing on any given day, we will most likely be framing that activity in the context of a routine of some kind. At its simplest level, this can be something mundane, such as what time we get up in the morning, whether we have breakfast or not, and if so whether we have it before or after our morning ablutions, that kind of thing. However free-spirited we may believe ourselves to be, we all have our own behaviour patterns, whether or not we recognise them as such. Since I retired nearly three years ago my routine has changed – I don’t have to worry about being up and ready in time to catch the train to work, and I don’t have to compress the things I would rather be doing with my life into evenings, weekends or holiday time. But there is still a routine there, it has just adapted to the change in my circumstances.

So, what happens when something knocks that norm? How do we adjust to it? If something big happens to us – a major family event, perhaps – we tend to take it on, challenge it and manage the required change. Births, marriages, deaths and other events in the family have a massive impact, but we try our best to deal with them, to cope, and to move forward with our lives. I have recently had such a change with one of my children (who are both adults, but still children to me!), who has needed help and support, both in the practical sense and also in a more spiritual way. For me, the realisation that this has made a difference to my life has manifested in several ways, a very simple example being that I have seen and spoken to my ex-wife more often in the past few months than in the whole preceding eight years since we were divorced. I’m not presenting that as either a good or bad thing – our divorce was perfectly amicable and we are both content with our outcomes – but it brought home to me the sense of family changes and the impact they can have. But I don’t intend to say any more about that: it is too personal, particularly for my daughter, and isn’t for publication.

Let me instead give you a much less important example – less important in the great scheme of life, that is, but it has nevertheless made me think. I’ve mentioned before that I have been invited to become part of the Senior Salon, run by Bernadette of the Haddon Musings blog. Since Bernadette started this six months ago it has developed into a vibrant community of bloggers of a certain age, with a wide range of interests, and it has become a part of my routine to take part in it. I enjoy the range of interests that fellow bloggers share, and it has got me into the habit of posting at least once a week so that I have something new to offer. Yes, I still have my hiatuses but they are fewer. And if I want to think of myself as a blogger, regular posting is kind of important, right? The Salon starts each Wednesday, with an email notification that the new link up has gone live. This email usually arrives around 7am UK time and my Wednesday norm has become a morning trip to see my lovely nurses for my regular bandage change, followed by a return home, breakfast and my thoughts turning to converting the ideas that have been stumbling around in my brain into a post. Or, like today, I sit at the keyboard and pray for inspiration – you can tell, can’t you! Ah, but I can see you thinking, today isn’t Wednesday. Correct! Have a prize! I didn’t get the email yesterday, and so I spent the day watching the Euro 2016 football instead. Tough job, but someone has to do it. Nor did I get the notification today, and I began to wonder if perhaps Bernadette was ill, and unable to set up the Salon this week. But there it was on her blog, so all was clearly well with her. From our interactions on our respective posts I thought it highly unlikely that I had been banned, so I checked my WordPress settings for the blogs I follow. Have any of you ever seen this message:

“You have blocked all notifications for blogs that you follow”

I certainly hadn’t come across it before, as it seems to me to be a very strange thing to do. What is the point of following blogs if you don’t want to see what people are saying? To be honest, I didn’t even realise that the setting existed. Fortunately, WordPress also kindly told me how to change it, which required no more than one box to be unchecked, and normal service has been resumed. But it left me with a few thoughts. How could I have changed such a setting when I didn’t know it was there? Do I have a maleficent alter ego who creeps into my blog when I’m asleep and changes everything? Are WordPress operating some kind of practical joke to see how alert we are? (in my case, not very alert, apparently!). Why did this matter to me anyway?

There were two main reasons as to why it mattered. The first was that it made me realise how unobservant I am. I probably get around 30-40 emails each day announcing new blog posts, and I hadn’t realised that I saw none of these yesterday and, so far, today. I pride myself on being intelligent, aware and alert, but clearly I’m not as good as I thought! The second was the change in my routine. In six months my Wednesday has shaped up as I described it earlier, but yesterday was different. Every time I checked my emails I looked for the one telling me that this week’s Salon link was live, but to no avail. Yet still I didn’t spot that something was amiss. A change, albeit a small one, had taken place, and it was a little disconcerting. I had been taken out of my Wednesday routine and it just didn’t feel right. My regular habit had been broken. I’ve found both the problem and the solution, and will be enjoying my usual participation in the Salon, although I am coming ‘fashionably late’ to the party this week.

Am I being stupid to think this way about it? Am I building it up beyond its importance? You might think so, but I don’t. Our routines and habits are important to us, however trivial they may seem to others. The sum of all our little pleasures – like reading other people’s blogs – adds up to the whole of our enjoyment of life. Every little part has its place and its importance. A wise man once said:

So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same

But in its own little way, yesterday didn’t feel the same. Strange thing isn’t it, this life and the way we live it.

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