thanks

How are you doing today?

I love talking about mental health. What could matter more? This blog is drawn from ideas I have developed (and squirreled) while thinking about well-being at work for a slot I did at the Health at Work Conference in Birmingham last week, and in advance of an NHS Employers webinar on staff well-being yesterday. I used an earlier version of this blog to give my talk, and I warmly thank everyone who contributed. Your questions and comments were wonderful and you will be able to see that i have made some changes because of them.

And what an exciting day yesterday was. Because the Girl Guides Association announced their first mental health badge. It has been developed with the excellent charity Young Minds. It uses theories about emotional literacy and resilience to help young people take care of themselves and help others. If only they had done this 48 years ago was I was a Girl Guide. And wouldn’t it be great if such an approach could be rolled out across all schools and colleges and youth groups? What a brilliant start this would give young people facing the world.

At the conference last week, we heard from companies large and small who are putting employee wellbeing front and centre of their investment strategies. And this isn’t because of any sense of duty or even kindness. They know that it pays. They want to know the best ways to help staff achieve optimum health and how best to work with employees who have physical or mental illnesses to manage their conditions and get back to work quickly and well.

If we consider the NHS as one employer, it is the largest in Europe, many times bigger than even the largest multinationals at that conference. And yet we seem slow to follow suit. I say we…I don’t work for the NHS any more. But having done so over a period of 41 years, I feel deeply concerned for its staff. So I was very grateful to take part in the NHS Employers webinar.

Well-being and resilience are the new buzzwords. They are being used everywhere. I like them. But I also have a few issues with them. If we aren’t careful, well-being strategies can feel as if they place responsibility on the individual. And I see well-being as a partnership between the individual, their employer, their co-workers and anyone else they choose to invite to help them achieve their optimum health.

I like the Maudsley Learning model of mental health very much. It shows a series of steps and explains that we are all on a spectrum of mental wellness. I like the way it removes a sense of us and them.

But there are nonetheless inherent dangers in such models. Unless you have felt the terrifying symptoms of psychosis, clinical depression, an eating disorder or any of the other hundreds of mental illnesses, you might think that mental ill-health is merely an extreme version of the distress that anyone might feel when something bad happens. Using well-intentioned euphemisms like mental distress, intended to reduce stigma, can add to the isolation felt by people who experience mental illness. It’s important to say that most people won’t ever experience mental illness, just as most people won’t ever experience cancer or diabetes.

But 1:4 of us will. And we need skilled help from our employers if we are to go back to work at the right time and give of our best. The last time I was ill, I was lucky that I got the right help. Not everyone does. And that is why I do the work I do now, campaigning to improve things in the NHS and beyond for patients and staff.

I shared two specific insights at NHS Employers webinar. The first is that we separate mental and physical health for laudable reasons but at our peril. Obesity might get more sympathy if it were treated as an eating disorder; the most effective treatments combine diet with psychological support, including CBT techniques. Exercise is known to increase endorphins and improve mental wellbeing as well as physical health. People with serious mental illnesses die on average at least 20 years too soon, mainly because of associated poor physical health. And there is an increasing evidence base that people with chronic physical conditions such as cancer, heart disease and strokes have a greater tendency to experience clinical depression. Which comes first doesn’t really matter.

Employers should, in my view, use this knowledge of the inherent links between mind and body to devise their wellbeing strategies and make this explicit. Bringing the mind and the body back together needs to become the next Big Thing.

And secondly, I am increasingly of the view that people who experience mental illness, who are open about it and learn to live well with it despite the massive challenges it poses, can become even better employees than those who don’t have these experiences. I’m talking about people like many of the friends I have met since I came out about my own depression. Such people show extraordinary resilience, compassion for themselves and others, patience, creativity and highly developed social skills that would be valuable in any workplace. They are truly amazing. I try not to have regrets. But one of mine is that it took me far too long to realise that my experience of mental illness could become an asset, if I let it. So now I’m trying to make up for lost time!

I want to share links to my other blogs that I think might be helpful to anyone thinking about wellbeing at work.

This one is about taking the plunge and talking about your own mental health, perhaps for the first time.

This is my plea to be kinder about obesity, because what we are doing now simply isn’t working.

This is about the things you can say and do to help a friend or colleague who is experiencing mental illness. And the things that really don’t help.

These are my ten commandments for working in mental health

This is a blog in which I thank people who have helped me in my journey of self discovery – still very much a work in progress.

And this is my Letter to You. Which you might want to suggest to someone who you think may be struggling.

Life is hard for most employees these days. Working in the NHS holds particular challenges. Stress at work doesn’t have to make people ill. But it can. Employers can make a difference. And so can co-workers.

Please take a moment to think about your colleagues, especially the ones who are having a tough time, seem a bit quieter than usual or not quite their usual selves. Ask them how they are. And really listen carefully to what they reply.

And if you are one of the 1:4 of us who experience mental illness from time to time, I say this: go us. Because we rock. 😎😎😎

Wishing and Hoping and Blogging and Tweeting

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Bad selfie with 2 lovely Twitter chums @AgencyNurse and @AnnieCoops

Last Thursday, 3 March 2016, I facilitated a couple of seminars at the East Midlands Leadership Academy social media conference. Two days before the seminars, I invited anyone who felt so inclined to help me prepare via Twitter and a blog. I then used an updated version of the blog I had initially written as my audio-visual aid for the seminars. It was my very own small action research social media project.

Thank you to the 450 people who read the original blog, commented on it and/or joined the two seminars. I called the seminars Wishing and Hoping and Blogging and Tweeting, which hopefully gave attendees a hint that I’m no expert and that I take a don’t-wait-for-permission-but-ask-for-forgiveness approach to my own use of social media.

You can see the first blog and the comments on my blogsite directly below this one. Thank you very much indeed to Zoe Bojelian, Liz O’Riordan, Chris Richmond, John Walsh, Phil Jewitt, Annie Cooper, EM, Natasha Usher, Sian Spencer-Little, Lloyd Davies, Linda, Vicki W and Laura Hailes for taking the time to comment on the blog.

I apologise to Fenella Lemonsky, Gill Phillips and anyone else who tried to comment but were stymied by WordPress and/or their own social media platforms. I don’t know how these things work, but I know how annoying it is when they don’t.

I also warmly thank everyone who helped share my requests to get involved or commented themselves via Twitter, including @bipolarblogger @hpiandycowper @davidgilbert45 @AgencyNurse @whoseshoes @jbmccrea @kirsti79 @andrew_davis @noshinakiani @carolinewild @LindsayHobbs51 @HubTube @OrganicLemon @LisaMillerVC @NHSE_PaulT @AlysColeKing @PeterMEnglish @HollowDave @MargoJMilne @endless_psych @JYoolz @QueerAndConcise @ethicConsult @allyC375 @HealthWKTD @ pgtips42 @LearnHospice @alisonleary1 @Lindawr45160138 @Lucy EMLA @LucyMorley1 @JennyTheM @PatientOpinion  @DaniG34 @JOMWLever @emetalic @DanileOyayoyi @MConroy09  @GeorgeTruSATCGirl @AMKane87 @ImtiazGiriach @ElizabethJSays @DebElSayedd @GeorgeJulian @LyndsayShort1 @NickiH @bigronstevenson @wendynicholson @andrewbeee @rosgodson @wendyJNicholson @gremlin2C @mynameisAndyJ @sara_J_Brown @penny_thompson @jackiecassell @claudemmx2 @roz_davies @sweeternigel @nonnazoo74 @garethpresch @anyadei @beckyOT @claudia_writes @spencer_sian  Sincere apologies to anyone I have misspelt or missed out.

Most of all, I want to thank the two sets of participants at the seminars. When I asked them where they were on a scale of 1 = social media virgin – 10 = social media warrior/maven, the lowest score anyone gave was a 4, and I think that person was being overly modest. There were lots of 7s and 8s and quite a few 9s. Given I would put myself at 6.5, it felt rather like a master-class in reverse. Which is the story of my life.

I’ve drawn my personal learning points from all of this into a list below, and included some references for you.

  1. It is possible, and great fun, to crowd-source a seminar, even a podium address in the way I’ve just done. Yes, it takes more time than the usual approach. And it doesn’t finish on the day. It is important to thank people properly who have made the effort to help you. I hope I have paid enough attention to this. The benefits are the potential to engage many times more not only with your direct audience but also with others via social media. And to widen your own learning in ways you could not have imagined.
  2. My personal approach to using social media is how I tend to approach most new things – I jump in and have a go, and work out the rules as I go along. This isn’t the wrong way, but nor is it the right way. It’s just my way. However you choose to get started, putting yourself out there is undoubtedly scary. It is important to take care. If you are in a high profile role and/or a health care practitioner, this very well constructed article by Annie Cooper and Alison Inglehearn is just great. It will help you stay safe.
  3. My session last week was about using social media as an individual who may (or may not) happen to work for an organisation. NHS social media guru Joe McCrea (@jbmccrea on Twitter) gave a fascinating presentation at the same conference about the use of social media by NHS organisations. He is about to publish a seriously interesting report – please do keep an eye out for it on his wesbite.
  4. The mental well-being side of social media can be either overlooked or understated, in my experience. I thank several folk for reminding me to remind others to be aware that social media is only a very small part of the world. It can be a source of solace and support, as I have often found.  But it can also be vicious, mean, self-righteous and damaging. And because people can hide behind anonymity, bad behaviour is invariably worse, goes more unchecked and can be more intrusive than in face-to-face interactions. I wrote this blog about Twitter  last year. I think what I said then still holds true.
  5. Lots of people want to share their ideas by blogging but have yet to get started, and are keen to choose a good blog-site. I can’t recommend any specific sites because I’ve only used WordPress. I do like it, but like all software, it has downsides. I would just remind you that, however much you like the site you have chosen, unless you are paying for it, you and your readers ARE the product. If we want independent writing to thrive, we MUST somehow pay for books, journals, newspapers and maybe even blog-sites. Otherwise it won’t be long before the only things available to read are the ones that carry adverts or are sponsored from a commercial or otherwise partisan perspective.
  6. Quite a few people have pointed out the difference between posting comments on social media sites like Twitter, and blogging. Which is that the former is for swift repartee, and the latter is for more considered thoughts.  I agree. But I would also argue that blogging helps us to work out what we think. And we can use Twitter and other chat sites for this too. After all, there is no point getting involved in conversations if we have already made up our minds about something. Here is a bit more about why I blog.
  7. This slide deck on the role of social media in health is from my extraordinary friend Dr Helen Bevan (@HelenBevan on Twitter – if you don’t know who to follow, follow Helen). Helen is a genius in new ways of thinking, including social media. She presented this at a social media get-together event at the beginning of last week. I’m sad I couldn’t go, because it looked highly informative and fun.

Finally, I thank Annie Cooper for sharing this lovely video poem about the social media imprint we leave behind us. Like all good things on social media, I promise it will make you think really hard. Which is the best sort of thinking.

Hello, my name is Lisa

We all have days that are hard. When what we need to do seems insurmountable, when we wonder whether anyone knows or cares about our efforts, and when we question our own plans, motivations and abilities.

As a writer and mental health campaigner who experiences depression from time to time, such days come along not infrequently. They also go away again, but only if I find ways to work through the negative feelings that beset me. To keep on keeping on, as Bob Dylan called it.

To do this, I deploy various methods. One of my favourites is to summon someone I admire, and imagine them watching me. Or I ask myself what they might do if they were in my position. It doesn’t make depression go away, of course, but it helps me face up to the difficult stuff.

It is a great honour to have met one of the people who, without knowing it, helps me on occasions to get over myself. And to have done so back in June 2014 when she spoke at the NHS Confederation Conference about the campaign she started which snowballed into the social movement Hello My Name Is.

I am of course talking about the indomitable, courageous and wise Dr Kate Granger, who has terminal cancer and yet as well as Hello My Name Is has managed to complete her medical training to become a consultant physician, get an MBE, bake amazing cakes, play the flute and tick off more things from her bucket list than most of us manage in many years longer than she knows she probably has.

In a tweet earlier this week to Kate’s husband Chris Pointon, who I haven’t met but I know must be a wonderful man because Kate wouldn’t have married anyone who wasn’t, I said I would write about why Hello My Name Is immediately struck a chord with me. This is it.

In my old life as an NHS mental health trust chief executive, I grew to learn that values mattered many times more than strategy. And that these needed to be simply stated, oft repeated and regularly practised by me and all our staff. We had five.

  • We welcome you – because first impressions really matter
  • We hear you – listening really carefully
  • We are helpful – being pro-active, flexible, creative
  • We work with you – sticking with people through the difficult times
  • We are hopeful – being optimistic for people – staff and patients – and our services

I love these values. You can find out how we developed them when eventually you read the book I have almost finished (hint). For now, I’d just ask that you notice the first one, We welcome you. It links closely with Hello My Name Is. And with name badges.

Name badges really matter in mental health and related services. Because patients can be confused or experience hallucinations. Because services can be scary, for real or imagined reasons. And because no-one wears a uniform so you really can’t tell who is who. And you need to know.

So when I first became CE, the executive team agreed that we would always wear badges and that all our staff would always wear badges, as these would help us to introduce ourselves to each other and to patients. And then however stressed or forgetful someone was and however many people they met, they would always know who the other person was.

During my time as a CE, for the most part, people wore their badges with pride. But not always. You’ll have to wait for my book to hear some of the excuses I came across during 13 years on why staff, including extremely senior ones, were not wearing a name badge. And why I take ultimate responsibility for this.

But what I will tell you is how, back in early 2014 when Hello My Name Is was beginning to gain traction,  I wrote about it in my weekly blog, and asked our people to think about incorporating it as part of We Welcome You. And I got some really nice responses. But also one or two dusty ones. Including from one senior person who said that they were deeply insulted that I was suggesting such a thing, because of course they always introduced themselves to their patients and didn’t I have something more important to write about. This wasn’t the same person who had previously told me that they didn’t need a name badge because everyone knew who they were and anyway they didn’t work in Tesco. But it could have been.

I believe that people like this are, at heart, good and caring and that they are not untypical in any part of the NHS. But they have some way to go to understand that the Hello My Name Is campaign is about seeing the patient and not just their disease, and about bringing your whole compassionate self to work, rather than just your intellectual self.

Kate, your inspirational campaign is still very much needed. It will remain topical and relevant for many years to come. You have set a standard for how we work together to which we can all aspire. You are a shining beacon whose work will live on long after we are all gone.

Hullo, my name is Lisa. Thank you for inspiring me on my difficult days to keep on keeping on.

Blessings

books

Books that have inspired me this year by @Suzypuss @jamestitcombe and @molly_speaks

 

 

 

 

 

 

To keep depression at bay, it helps to count one’s blessings. My Twitter friends are a very big blessing. Here are some thank you messages for 2015:

  • To campaigning journalists @andymcnicoll and @shaunlintern for supporting underdogs including mental health care and people with learning disabilities. Please never stop.
  • To Adam and Zoe Bojelian who lost their dear son @Adsthepoet in March 2015 but keep his legacy alive via Twitter. You are in our thoughts as you face a first Christmas without your wise, beautiful boy. We will never forget him and what he taught us.
  • To @JamesTitcombe who lost his baby son and has courageously campaigned for greater openness over mistakes in the NHS, despite some vile online abuse. I treasure my copy of Joshua’s Story. And I thank James for all he continues to do to make the NHS safer for patients and their families.
  • To all who bravely act as patient representatives, such as the indomitable @allyc375, and remind regulators, commissioners, managers and clinicians what the NHS is actually for. Only they know the cost of speaking up. Go Ally, @anyadei @ianmcallaghan @DavidGilbert43 and others who’ve earned the right to call themselves patient leaders.
  • And to @HSJEditor for taking a risk and running the first HSJ list of patient leaders. Thank you Alastair. I think it was a game-changer.
  • To those who’ve grasped one of the most feared conditions and are making life better for those living with it. I mean you, @dementiaboy and @dr_shibley. To you and others like you, thank you for refusing to leave dementia in the too-difficult box.
  • To @Liz_ORiordan who is generously sharing her experiences of breast cancer care, which for a breast surgeon is a pretty massive deal. And for some other stuff.
  • To @EastLondonGroup, who introduced many of us to a group of previously little known landscape artists from the early 20th Century. Sunday Morning, Farringdon Road has become a landmark of my week.
  • And to @penny_thompson, for pointing me to ELG and for always being true to her values.
  • To poet @Molly_speaks for painting pictures with words in her lovely new book Underneath the Roses Where I Remembered Everything
  • To @HPIAndyCowper, for his excoriating, original analysis of the NHS, and for his support to me in my scribblings.
  • To @clare_horton for running the excellent @GuardianHealthCare and even including some of my pieces. This meant so much.
  • To @seacolestatue @EAnionwu @trevorsterl @thebestjoan @pauljebb1 @joan_myers and many others for plugging away in the face of seemingly impossible odds. The Mary Seacole Statue will rise in 2016 as a permanent memorial to someone who showed how, if something matters enough, we should never give up.
  • To @nhschangeday @PollyannaJones @helenbevan dani_ellie @jez_tong @LydiaBenedetta @cjohnson1903 @WhoseShoes @fwmaternitykhft @DaniG4 @damian_roland and so many others for including me in NHS Change Day 2015. I was meant to be helping you but I gained many times more than I gave.
  • To @TimetoChange @suebakerTTC @paulfarmermind @carolinewild @danbeale1 @2gethertrust @NTWNHS @rethink @mindcharity and a whole raft more for being a major part of my life this year, working together to tackle the stigma that still exists within the NHS towards folk who, like me, experience mental illness from time to time but are so much more than our diagnoses. Here’s to you.
  • To @nurse_w_glasses @anniecoops @drkimholt @gourmetpenguin @AlysColeKing @DrUmeshPrabhu who show by words AND actions that compassion is alive and kicking amongst health professionals
  • To wonderful women leaders such as @SamanthaJNHS @BCHBoss @JackieDanielNHS @ClaireCNWL @CharlotteAugst @KMiddletonCSP @Crouchendtiger7 @DrG_NHS @VictoriBleazard @JaneMCummings @CarolineLucas @juliamanning @TriciaHart26 @clarercgp who stick their heads above the parapet and make the world a better place
  • And folk like @NHSConfed_RobW @ChrisCEOHopson @cmo @profchrisham @ProfLAppleby @WesselyS @nhs_dean @NHSE_Paul @ScottDurairaj  @stephen_thornton @jhazan @rogerkline  who prove that leaders on Twitter don’t have to be women to be fabulous
  • To bright, bubbly new leaders like @anna_babic and all those I’ve met via @NHSLeadership, who fill me with hope for the future. And to @Alannobbs @kirsti79 @NoshinaKiani and all the other great folk at the NHS Leadership Academy. You do stunning work.
  • To @GrassrootsSP and everyone who works to prevent the long shadow cast by suicide. Thank you.
  • To everyone who supported me in my bike ride for @samaritans in the summer. Especially @NurseEiri and @JackieSmith_nmc. They know why.
  • To @Suzypuss whose book The Other Side of Silence has inspired me to get on and finish mine.
  • To wise owls @johnwalsh88 @TelfordCC @KathEvans2 @gracenglorydan @timmkeogh @RecoveryLetters @profsarahcowley for being beacons when the world feels a bit too hard
  • To friends who also experience mental illness from time to time and who share their thoughts and feelings so generously. Thank you @BipolarBlogger @Sectioned @BATKAT88 @annedraya @clareallen @corstejo @schizoaffected @rabbitsoup_zola and many, many others. On a not-so-good day, yours are the tweets I look out for. You bring me hope.
  • If I could, I would add everyone else I’ve chatted with on Twitter this year. To everyone I follow and who follows me: Twitter is 97.5% good for my mental health, and that’s because of all of you. Thank you all so much. I wish you all much love for 2016. You rock :mrgreen: :😎💃❤

 

Nine lessons and three carols

Cuddles and William declare an uneasy Christmas truce

Cuddles and William: an uneasy Christmas truce

December 2015 will be a lean month for this blog of mine. At last my book has passed the 3/4 mark; writing it feels less like the psychological equivalent of self-flagellation than it did earlier in 2015. I must keep at it before the muse goes again. I’ve also had a piece accepted for Guardian Healthcare, plus a few talks and a couple of other projects on the go. The blog has slipped down the priority order.

But as I contemplate my 61st Christmas, I’m thinking of lessons learned from the previous 60. Painful and salutory, to me anyway. I’ve jotted them down. I’d welcome hearing yours.

1. Presents

We all know this, but Christmas is about retail. Shops and online sellers expect to do more business in one month than in the other 11 added together. Don’t be a mug. You don’t have to fall prey to them. I have, so many times, and it has never made me happy. Instead, make stuff. If you don’t have time, or your efforts really wouldn’t be appreciated, give to charity in someone’s name. Choose a second-hand book. Put a photo album together. Give away something of yours that you know the other person likes. Or give a promise – a plan for coffee with a friend on a miserable January day gives you both something nice to look forward to and lasts longer than at item bought at vast expense from a retail giant.

2. Cards

Getting all your Christmas cards written and sent is not a competition. If you like doing them, that’s lovely. But telling people yours are all posted can sound boastful, especially if they are having a hard time. Also, try to not to be annoyed at what you perceive as one-upmanship when you get the email from x who is donating money to something for Syria instead of cards this year. Be grateful for their kindness instead.

3. Getting drunk

A bad idea on any day, especially as we get older and alcohol seems only to have negative effects. But on a day so loaded with emotion, it can be disastrous. I once spent Christmas afternoon and evening asleep after overindulging at a neighbour’s Christmas morning do. Steve took the children for a walk on the beach and we had pasta for dinner because I couldn’t face turkey. Eventually I gave up alcohol altogether. You don’t have to be so drastic. But sparkling elderflower or a nice cup of tea will give you a merrier Christmas.

4. Fresh air

Houses got steamy at Christmas with all that cooking and hot air. Plan a walk. It will blow away feelings of resentment or sadness if you have them and lift your mood even if you don’t.

5. Worship

When Tanya Gold  told her rabbi she didn’t believe in God, he replied “You think he cares?” I’m unsure about God myself. My mother believes, so when she stays with us at Christmas, I go to church with her. We try a different one each time. We are like Michelin Guide visitors for the Church of England. (Nice sermon, shame about the vicar’s surplice.) This year, she’s with my brother. I will go down to the beach instead and give thanks for nature and human kindness. Worship anything you like. Except money.

6. Food

In the past I’ve fallen prey to Good Housekeeping Christmas cookery guides and spent many stressful hours producing a groaning table of rich food which no-one really wanted. You don’t have to buy into anyone else’s plans of what to eat at Christmas. Cheese on toast can be nice.

7. Hopes for the day

Spending too much on presents and listening to Alyd Jones on the radio won’t change anything. Only you can do that, by thinking about things that are important to you. As Maya Angelou said, if you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. I’m working on mine.

8. Hopes for the future

As for the day

9. Everyone else is happy

No they aren’t. And the ones who tell you how happy they are, are probably the unhappiest of all. If you must read articles in Hello about how celebrities spend their Christmases, do it with a massive pinch of salt. The way to happiness is not via designer houses or even another person. It is only when you have learned to love and accept yourself that you can truly be happy and then be in a position, should this arise, to love someone else unselfishly.

Away in a manger

People tend to go on about children at Christmas, and for those yearning for parenthood, this is an added unkindness. All I can say is, if you have babies, yes, they are amazing. But they also bring havoc, anxiety and fear. Imagine being a refugee parent? If you are lucky, they will grow up safely and turn into friends.  Being a wise auntie or uncle to real or pretend nieces and nephews brings parental joys without quite so much of the heartache. The real heroes for me are the people who help other people’s children through charities. And by fostering and adoption. Thank you to all such people everywhere; you rock.

Little donkey, or puppy or kitten

Lovely but messy. Unlike a child, you can take them back but you will break their furry little hearts and risk permanent guilt yourself. Offer to help out at an animal shelter. You will then make a better decision about animals in your house.

We got Cuddles, one of our rescue cats, just before Christmas 1999, and almost immediately I went down with flu. She spent her first week with us sleeping on my bed thinking she had come to live with a bedridden elderly lady, which is a pussy-cat ideal billet. When I arose, she was indignant. She died aged 17 in 2012. We still have William to keep us company. Unlike us, he doesn’t miss her at all.

In the bleak midwinter

If you get depression, winter can be peak time. Two years ago, I was coming out of my most sudden, worst ever bout. Christmas was the most casual we have ever had. There were no expectations and so we just had a nice time. I never again want to feel like I did during November and December 2013, but I’m trying to replicate the low-key Christmas that resulted. It was a gift I had not anticipated, all the more precious for it.

If I don’t have a chance to say it again, happy Christmas. May yours be filled with what really matters to those you care about. And to you.

 

Let’s keep on keeping on

We’ve had a mini mega-burst of mental health media already this week.

Surely a self-confessed mental health campaigner like me ought to be pleased about all this increased profile? Actually I feel three things:

Frustration

I feel frustrated and very angry for my fellow patients and erstwhile colleagues because of the cuts in care, both statutory and voluntary, that have led to the only “safe” place for people who are very unwell being in hospital, and to every acute mental hospital bed being full. It is not only cruel for the patients, it is deeply counter-productive. The young woman with a personality disorder languishing in an acute ward in North London (whilst funders slowly cogitate whether she should get a more appropriate service) is deteriorating daily and her problems are becoming ever more intractable and corrosive. If she had cancer, people would be doing marathons and having cake sales to support her. As it is, millions of people like her are seen by society only for their deficits rather than the assets that may lie buried deeply but are undoubtedly there. Parity of esteem? We’re having a laugh.

Love and gratitude

I feel huge love and gratitude to brave people like Professor Green for dragging mental illness and the stigma of suicide kicking and screaming out of the shadows and into the sunshine. I was moved by so much in Suicide and Me , including the rawness and vulnerability of the rugby coach as he bared his psychological all about feelings of worthlessness and what he is learning to do to protect himself from suicidal thoughts.

Today, the day after the programme was shown, I have a regular Board meeting with Grassroots, the small but highly effective suicide prevention charity of which I am a trustee. I love my fellow trustees and the amazing people who work and volunteer for Grassroots. We know what Professor Green has discovered for himself: suicide thrives where there is secrecy and shame. One of my shameful secrets used to be all those times in my life when I faked physical illness because I couldn’t get out of bed for feeling so hopeless, helpless and full of self-hatred that I wanted to stop living. It’s still very hard to ask for help, but many times easier now that I’ve outed myself. Bringing these shameful secrets into the sunlight and talking about them is our greatest tool to keep ourselves safe and to live a full and beautiful life in recovery.

Responsibility

I listened to All in the Mind this morning on iPlayer as it clashed with Suicide and Me. I salute the wonderful Claudia Hammond for dedicating her first programme of this series to young people’s mental health. I’ve written before about my concern that there is a lalala-I’m-not-listening response to the considerable increase in demand for children and young people’s mental health services. The programme takes a forensic interest in trying to find the reasons for this rise. There are various theories, mainly societal and social, but no conclusive explanation that could be used to stem the demand.

For staff working in these services, there is great anxiety – that they will miss someone extremely vulnerable, that the treatment they are giving is not sufficient, that they are spreading care and themselves too thinly. The pressure can feel close to unbearable.

We should be indebted to those who speak up about the challenge of working in mental health these days, like those on All in the Mind and the staff and leaders at Barnet Enfield and Haringey Trust on Panorama. Their courage and compassion shine.

These programmes stir up triggering thoughts and feelings in those who are susceptible. Social media can be a great source of support,  but only if you are open, which also increases vulnerability. Twitter and Facebook have been very active this week.

I’ve had many thoughts myself. And I’ve come to a decision. I have more to give. I’m going to look for new ways to continue to tackle the stigma that affects not only those of us who experience mental illness, but also the availability and capacity of services to be able to tackle problems early with effectiveness and kindness. Watch this space.

And in the meantime, here’s to everyone who does what they need to do to keep on keeping on.

Go us xxx

 

Here’s to kindness

My friend Sara said yesterday that I seem to mention kindness a lot in my blogs. She’s right. I’ll explain what kindness means to me.

  1. Kindness is a gift we can each share with other humans, however rich or poor we are. It is remarkable that those with the least material wealth, such as people I know in Pakistan, are often the most generous to strangers as well as family and friends.
  2. Kindness means listening to another person as they seek meaning, understanding and eventually accommodation in bad things that have happened to them.
  3. I used to think kindness was about other people. Recently, I’ve learned that to be truly kind to others, one has to start by being kind to oneself. This is harder than it sounds. And it takes a lot of practice.
  4. Kindness includes going to an event, a leaving do, even a funeral, not because you necessarily want to, but because it would mean a great deal to someone else to have you there.
  5. Kindness is about reaching out to someone who is lonely, low or appears to be in need of help, and not minding if you are rebuffed.
  6. Kindness helps you to offer genuine congratulations to someone who has worked hard to achieve something admirable, even if you aren’t feeling great yourself. You may notice that their positive reaction will make you feel warmer and more contented.
  7. We saw great kindness in Sussex on Saturday, as thousands came to pay their respects to the 11 who died in the Shoreham air crash. By laying flowers on the footbridge, observing a minute’s silence, lighting a little candle or wearing a black armband, people showed love to the bereaved and to one another. Their kindness has made a terrible time feel slightly less terrible.
  8. I’d like to think that in the UK, we might extend our kindness to the desperate people currently queuing at Calais, being smuggled in containers or risking their lives in tiny boats to cross the Mediterranean. The so-called “migrant” crisis is actually a humanitarian crisis. The people fleeing torture, war and starvation from troubled parts of the world are not “benefit – cheats”. They come from all walks of life. They are doing what any of us would do in similar circumstances. And Great Britain is not really “full-up.” Compared with them, we have great riches, including plenty of room and resources. And if helping makes things a little bit less comfortable for some of us for a while, then so what? If we were in a lifeboat, would we prevent another person from climbing in, just because we liked our own space, and leave them to drown? I hope we wouldn’t.
  9. In Buddhism, kindness is named explicitly. But as a matter of fact, kindness is the fundamental feature of all world religions, including humanism. The parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible, after which Samaritans are named, is about kindness. People who volunteer to help others enrich our world with their kindness.
  10. There are many people who write about kindness. The blog I’d most recommend is by @johnwalsh88. Here is a link to his latest. And here is the philosophy of the author.

In the 35 years that Sara and I have been friends, she has led by example and taught me a great deal about kindness. Everyone who knows her will understand what I mean. I will be forever grateful to her for this.

This will be my last blog for a while.  I’ve a book to finish and blogging, while good practice, is too easy a distraction.

I’ll be back. Meanwhile, let’s put pressure on our government. Let’s no longer feel ashamed of images of drowned people on the shores of seas close to our green and pleasant land.

Here’s to kindness. In the end, it is all that we have to give.