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No them and us. Only we

Some people call antidepressants “happy pills”. I’m not keen on this description. In my experience, they slice the top and bottom from my emotional range and I feel neither happy nor sad. Instead, they bring a calm which is welcome but can leave me feeling blunted, even flat. I know others describe similar effects.

Antidepressants helped me go back to work very quickly after my breakdown in November 2013. Skilled care from my psychiatrist and GP, timely psychological therapy, and the kindness of colleagues helped even more. Plus an over-developed work ethic. For those lucky enough to have decent jobs, going back to work and feeling useful can play a big part in our recovery.

I mention this because I want you to understand my state of mind on 24th February 2014, 6 weeks after I went back to my job at the time, running a mental health trust. Going back to work was probably the hardest thing I have ever done; one day, I hope to feel able to share why.

Anyway, on this particular day, I attended a round-table event arranged by Time To Change. Had I not been on my medication, I might have felt the need to challenge what we were being told. Or wept. Because I and the other NHS leaders present heard stuff at that meeting that we desperately wanted not to be true. And yet deep down we knew it to be so. It was like learning about institutional racism. Only this time, it was institutional stigma and discrimination from the services we were responsible for towards people who use our services.

We heard that, despite the measurable shifts in attitude of the general public (published in July by Time to Change for 2015 and again showing small but significant improvement), attitudes within the NHS haven’t shifted. In some cases, they have got worse. And the places where they appear most entrenched, as reported by those who know, ie patients, are within mental health services. And it rang horribly true.

From this meeting was born a desire amongst a number of us to do something to change this. Five months later, at my retirement party, I listed some of the things I planned to do with my new free time. One of them was to offer my services to Time to Change to help tackle this intrinsic issue within mental health services. And although I planned to earn a modest living writing, speaking and coaching others, I wanted to do this work as a volunteer. I felt I had something to pay back.

It has taken time to set up the project. But now it is underway. Time to Change are working with two mental health trusts, 2Gether and Northumberland, Tyne and Wear. Like me, they are volunteers. The trusts were selected because they could demonstrate their readiness at the most senior level to address stigma within their own services with integrity, hard work and, most importantly for me, compassion. On the working group, which I chair, we have reps from the two trusts, four experts by experience, our full time project manager, senior colleagues from Rethink and Mind who together are responsible for running Time to Change, and two people from a social research company who are doing the work on attitude measurement.

You can read more about the purpose  and details of the project here on the Time to Change website, including quotes from those taking part.  And Community Care have published a piece about the project today.

Stigma towards those who need mental health support is alive and kicking within the NHS. It manifests itself with lack of empathy towards those who self harm or are otherwise in crisis, as described in the recent CQC report; low expectations from clinicians about future prospects for people who experience serious mental illness; lack of investment in research into new treatments; marginalisation of mental health in the way the NHS is planned and organised; and unfair treatment of mental health services by local and national commissioners in their expectations and funding decisions.

But I have high hopes. There is an absolute acceptance amongst those involved in our project that things need to change. And that instead of simply asking people who work in mental health to be more compassionate, that the change needs to start at the most senior level. We have sign – up for this work from the very top of NHS England, Mind, Rethink, Time to Change and at the trusts. And we agree that for staff to work respectfully with patients and treat them with optimism, expertise and compassion, they need to experience the same from their colleagues, including their most senior leaders, their commissioners and their regulators.

It was a long time ago that I was told by a nurse that I was a waste of space and that looking after me after I had hurt myself took him away from patients who were truly deserving of his care. At the time, I absolutely believed him. It took me many years to unlearn what he said. And it nearly broke my heart to hear, at that meeting back in February 2014, that such attitudes are still relatively commonplace today. The difference now is that we are talking about them. And acknowledging a problem is the first and most important step towards solving it.

Please don’t just wish us luck. Please join in and help us tackle stigma towards people like me and millions of others who experience mental illness from time to time. I’ve been off my antidepressants for several months now. I feel like the whole me again, which has one or two negatives but is mostly pretty amazing. And whilst I am doing lots of things to look after my mental health in my new world, who knows if I will need treatment from mental health professionals again one day?

Because there is no them and us. Only we.

 

Let’s not rush to judgement over Kids Company

I haven’t read every article on the demise of Kids Company. But I’ve read a few. They seem to fall into two categories: how terrible that this should have been allowed to happen. Or that its founder and chief executive Camilla Batmanghelidjh had it coming.

The truth will invariably lie somewhere in between.

I saw Batmanghelidjh speak at the NHS Confederation Conference a few years ago. I was an independent director of the organisation and felt uncomfortable, not so much for the paucity of her delivery (she read her speech of mostly incomprehensible psycho-babble and didn’t connect with what should have been a supportive audience) but more because of her intemperate, unjustified attacks on the services provided by some of our members. They had no right of reply. Nor did they enjoy her freedom to act outside clinical guidelines or good governance.

The following year I met a member of her executive team at another event. Again, psychological gobbledygook was passed off as groundbreaking work. The speaker couldn’t enumerate how many young people were being helped or what this nurturing cost or even consisted of. But she urged us to meet Batmanghelidjh, and appeared to be more than somewhat in her thrall.

I also read a recent leadership article in which Batmanghelidjh spoke in her own words of her legendary poor administration skills, how she needed not one but 5 PAs to keep her organised, and that her office was an extension of her large, warm personality and had been decorated accordingly. The photographs supported this and I recall wondering who had paid for the extraordinary artwork and upholstery.

I have been a trustee of several charities. And it doesn’t matter how small or niche you are, the first rule is that you must follow the rules of the Charity Commission and work towards creating a surplus which will act as a cushion should something go wrong with your funding or some other disaster occur. Small charities should have at least 3 months operating surplus available in cash, larger ones a minimum of 6 months. Why the trustees at Kids Company thought they were exempt from such sensible precautions is hard to say. Alan Yentob and the other trustees must carry a considerable burden of responsibility for the sudden collapse of this high profile charity.

Many people are rushing to put the boot in, as well they might given the patronage Batmanghelidjh enjoyed from senior members of the government and warm-hearted celebrities. This is no doubt fuelled by jealousy because she was such a smart operator. The sight of her continuing to attack and blame dark forces for her fall from grace throws some light on how she used guilt and guile to attract money for a cause that most of us struggle with,  i.e. the mental health of children and young people.

Nevertheless, we need mavericks like her. She may have been economical with the truth about how many young people Kids Company helped. And what they did there may have been less than mainstream. But she has highlighted that there are young people that traditional services are simply not reaching, and that these services are in any case stretched beyond all limits. For that we should applaud her efforts.

I hope that the young people Kids Company helped will find support elsewhere. And that we all wake up to the fact that, if we don’t invest significantly in the mental health of our young people, we are setting the whole country up to fail.

Camilla Batmanghelidjh and others at Kids Company should be considered on their record. Let’s wait for whatever reviews that eventually come out, and not judge any of them, kindly or harshly, until then.

 

If I ruled the world…

In a previous life, I ran a mental health trust for 13 years. It was really hard, but it brought some influence to bear on something that matters very much, i.e. the experiences of 1:4 people, who, like me, are sometimes mentally ill.

In 2010, as Chair of the Mental Health Network, I shared a platform with Health Minister Paul Burstow, Paul Jenkins, then of Rethink, Sarah Brennan of Young Minds and others at the launch of the coalition government’s mental health strategy No Health Without Mental Health. In 2013, I met Norman Lamb (who took over the ministerial role in 2012) and a few other senior colleagues to discuss why it was that the strategy hadn’t completely worked, in our opinion. The shocking evidence of widespread disinvestment in mental health services was by then becoming clearer, rigorously uncovered by investigative journalists Shaun Lintern (HSJ), Andy McNicholl (Community Care) and Michael Buchanan (BBC). Who are heroes in my opinion.

In times of plenty, mental health services have received at least a small share of extra resources available. Professor Louis Appleby’s excellent National Service Framework was delivered from 1999 – 2009 through increased investment in crisis services, early intervention and assertive outreach teams. And it was strictly monitored. Commissioners and/or trusts who thought they knew better than the best evidence of what underpinned compassionate, effective care for people with serious mental illness were found out and given no option but to improve. The architecture that did this monitoring has since been dismantled. We are left with regulation, inspection, adverse incident reporting and stories in the media.

The pressure by local commissioners on providers to swallow the current disinvestment medicine is considerable. Mental health leaders who make a fuss are viewed as lacking loyalty to their local health system. Were the same cuts made to cancer or heart services,  there would be national uproar.

This tells us something, which is that stigma towards the mentally ill is alive and kicking within the NHS.

A true story: the other day, I mentioned the wonderful Alison Millar’s Kids in Crisis  programme to someone senior from NHS England. I could tell they were irritated to be reminded that very sick children are currently languishing in police cells or being shipped hundreds of miles around the country while desperate clinicians spend hours trying to find a bed. This person actually said that parents are prepared to travel all over the world looking for the best treatment for conditions such as cancer. So why should CAMHS be different? When I reminded them that this wasn’t about highly specialist care, just access to care anywhere, they blamed the failure on local services and moved on to share their insights with someone else.

So we have denial about the impact of disinvestment, as well stigma. And I realise that in my new freelance world, I have a different sort of influence.

Thanks to Paul Jenkins, now CE of the Tavistock and Portman Trust, for his blog this week on the paucity of investment in mental health research. Another example of how stigma is flourishing towards those least able to argue for resources. And to Andy McNicholl for his piece on the bed crisis in adult mental health services, mainly caused because people are being hospitalised when other services have closed, or there is nowhere safe for them to go when they are ready for discharge.

Regarding the NHS Five Year Forward View (5YFV) here’s my 6-point plan for making mental health more mainstream. With measurements. Because if you don’t measure, you can’t manage.

1. Suicide prevention

Make suicide prevention the business of every citizen of the UK. Stop blaming mental health trusts and their staff for failing to keep people alive. The responsibility is much broader than that. Locate suicide reduction planning with Health and Wellbeing Boards. Make it their number one priority, with proper support as well as sanctions for lack of progress.

2. Mental health within the NHS

Expect every provider and commissioner to make the care of people who happen to experience mental illness their explicit business. Start with primary care. Require every NHS employee, including reception staff and everyone who works in a commissioning organisation, to do a minimum 1/2 day training, with an annual update, delivered by experts by experience. Report on compliance via the annual NHS staff survey.

3. Integration

Require local systems to produce integrated commissioning plans for all primary and secondary services. Particularly crisis care; dementia; all major physical conditions such as heart disease, strokes, obesity, diabetes and cancer; neurological conditions such as MS and MND; and musculo-skeketal conditions including chronic pain. Draw on the RAID model for measurement. Allow organisational form to flower according to local need. But also require investment in integrated services through an annual reduction in organisational overheads, and increased investment in the third sector.

4. Public health

Reduce premature death rates in people with serious mental illnesses of up to 25 years by making mental health promotion core business for primary care and secondary health providers in the statutory and non-statutory sectors. Target supportive, evidence based obesity reduction, smoking cessation, substance misuse harm reduction and exercise programmes for people with diagnoses such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD and personality disorder. Set ambitious targets over the next 25 years and monitor hard against them to help turn around the life chances of some of the most marginalised people in society.

5. Making the business case

It is up to the NHS to articulate and prove the business case for a change of approach in welfare for people with long term conditions such as serious mental illnesses. Commission the best brains eg Professor Martin Knapp at LSE to put the evidence together. Which is that it is considerably more costly as well as more cruel to condemn people who experience mental illness to poor, insecure housing and limited, insecure income, and for them to appear frequently and often pointlessly within criminal justice services.

But these costs do not occur in one place. Creating exciting opportunities for engagement and volunteering such as The Dragon Cafe can help people move from being recipients to full participants. Placing employment specialists within mental health teams and incentivising pathways into work are also proven to be highly successful. The alternative, i.e. penalising those in need of help, is counter-productive. It forces people to have to make themselves appear less able, makes them reticent about coming off benefits for fear of never getting them back should they need them in the future, as well as being extremely detrimental to their long-term well-being.

6. Research and improvement

Shine a light on why so little is spent on mental health research, given the financial and life chance costs of mental illness. Do something serious ang longlasting to reverse this. And then measure the impact longditudinally. No-one says we’re spending too much on cancer research, do they? Use that as our benchmark.

AND listen to the eminent and brilliant Professor Don Berwick, who makes the point that inspection never improved any health system. We need to invest in improvement science, architecture and skills for the whole NHS, of which mental health is an intrinsic, integrated part. Calling something NHS Improvement doesn’t necessarily make it an improvement body, by the way. But it is a good start.

 

I’ve shared these thoughts with the fabulous Paul Farmer, CE of Mind, who is leading one of three national task forces set up to help deliver the NHS England 5YFV. The other two are on cancer and maternity care. I know he wants to do the best he can. But he needs your help.

If you are part of the mental health family, and I would argue that every human being should be, please join in. Let’s seriously increase our ambition for those of us who experience mental illness, and focus hard on a small number of really important things that will really change lives. And then let’s concentrate and not squabble amongst ourselves as we set about achieving them.

That’s how winning teams win, against all the odds.

I will not cease from mental fight

Dragon Cafe

Sarah and Thomas, Seth and Lisa outside Dragon Cafe

Being freelance has many joys. One is being able to follow-up interesting invitations as quickly as I please. I met Sarah and Thomas Tobias at the Design in Mental Health Conference on 19 May 2015. Her description of The Dragon Cafe was really appealing. So yesterday I found myself there. It happens between 12.00 – 20.00 every Monday in the crypt of St George The Martyr Church in Southwark, London SE1. And it is like nothing else I have ever experienced.

In two large basement rooms plus limited outside space, an average of 220 people a week drop by to take part, free, in many activities including art groups, various dance classes – yesterday was a brilliant African dance session – Tai Chi, mindfulness, chess, well-being sessions, massage, creative writing, or just chilling out. Some chat, others sit or lie quietly on beanbags. Some are clearly not as well as others, but everyone attends as an equal voluntary member. I have signed up, as have 4,500 others who have attended since the cafe first opened in October 2012.

An important part of being a cafe is the food, which fills the air with fragrant herbs and spices to tempt any appetite, served with care on china plates and eaten at comfortable tables kept clean and fresh by volunteer staff. I ate a delicate cauliflower and vegetable stew with brown rice. It cost £5. I could have had soup with artisan bread for £2, tortilla with a bowl of salad for £4 or beans on toast for £1. I also spotted brownies, flapjacks and scones, all freshly made. For many members, this is the only opportunity in the week to eat home-cooked food.

The cafe is organised by Mental Fight Club, a charity which found its roots in the work of poet Ben Okri who himself was inspired by William Blake, and by Blake himself, whose words taken from Jerusalem I have used as the title of this blog. The charity embraces difference, and seeks to work in a complementary way with statutory services. They have achieved funding from the Maudsley Charity, Guy and St Thomas’ Charity and Southwark CCG to keep going despite swingeing cuts to voluntary services elsewhere. Long may they continue, because they are enabling people to live well and stay well, and to cope with life at times when they are less than well.

Increasingly, I am drawn towards magical realism in my creative reading and writing. Something Matt Haig said the previous day on Twitter chimed with what I heard and felt yesterday:

We need to open our minds to how we help people. I believe strongly in the need for NHS mental health services to be properly commissioned, funded and supported. But the NHS cannot and should not do everything. The voluntary sector, when it is good as The Dragon Cafe, can make the difference between existence and enrichment and fulfilment.

And it can teach the NHS how to do things. I wasn’t surprised to learn that Mental Fight Club has been working with senior psychiatrists in training to provide a safe space for them to explore the dilemmas and trauma they experience in the course of their work. If you didn’t see Alison Cameron talking about what happens if you don’t support staff who experience trauma, I highly recommend her session here:

What Alison said made me think very hard about how we do, and don’t, support staff who daily deal with matters of life and death, and sometimes feel traumatised because they cannot achieve what they consider to be optimal care. Inspection, standard setting, performance management, serious incident reporting, root cause analysis, NICE guidance and all the rest are, may I say, not the whole or even the most important part of the answer. Only by recognising the needs of those doing the caring, and meeting these in ways that are meaningful to them will we truly design compassion into public services.

Do visit The Dragon Cafe. You will see what I mean.

“I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant land.”

 

 

 

Mind the gap

It is Mental Health Awareness Week 2015. The theme is Mindfulness. These thoughts occur:

  1. Mindfulness is a very helpful practice for those who can use it. But it won’t work for everyone, particularly if you are severely depressed or agitated. Seek advice from your GP or a therapist if you are unsure. And don’t believe everything you read about it on the internet – good or bad.

  2. Mindfulness grew from the Buddhist tradition of meditation. You don’t have to become a Buddhist to use it. But in my experience, embracing some of the aspects of Buddhism, particularly loving kindness, really helps.

  3. Mindfulness is like any exercise. It  requires frequent, regular, focussed practice. Practice won’t make you perfect, but it will help you improve. As with physical exercise, I find myself making excuses not to do it, but usually feeling better when I have.

  4. Becoming more mindful isn’t just about the allocated meditation period. You will gradually carry the increased serenity achieved through the meditation into your other activities and interactions. For me, this includes listening more carefully, eating more slowly, and appreciating loveliness in small things that would otherwise pass me by.

  5. You don’t have to go to a class or retreat, but a short course will undoubtedly help you develop the discipline to practice. There are Mindfulness CDs and books to get you started. Here is a good local resource in Sussex with links to other sites.

  6. Some people think Mindfulness is a panacea to make us more passive and accepting of bad things that happen to us. It isn’t. It is an exercise that helps us focus on what matters and become more effective in tackling personal and political challenges.

  7. People who teach Mindfulness do not sit in judgement of those who do not. Nor do they advocate it as an alternative to prescribed medication for mental illnesses. Far from it.

  8. Mindfulness can help people with no history of mental illness, as well as those (like me) who need help to stabilise our mood, lift depression and assist us to take control in our own recovery. It is powerful because it helps us manage our own negative thoughts. I use it in combination with what I have learned through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and other psychological insights gained through therapy.

  9. My current negative thoughts include worrying that I am too psychologically weak to manage to come off my antidepressant medication. I hasten to add that I am doing so under clinical supervision. Today is my 2nd no tablet day for 18 months. My Mindfulness practice this morning was about recognising my own strengths, and counting my blessings such as having a loving family and a sympathetic, skilled GP. Plus accepting the temporary side-effects (feeling swimmy-headed and a bit fragile) as a necessary cost to achieving my goal. And reminding myself that if/when I need meds again, it won’t be a sign of moral weakness.

  10. Mindfulness based therapy can be extremely useful for people who hear voices – voices that may or may not be symptoms of psychotic illnesses including schizophrenia. Some of my ex-colleagues wrote this lovely self-help book about using Mindfulness and CBT to manage such troubling voices.

  11. One of the inequities of our health system is that people who would  benefit from effective, life-saving and life-changing psychological therapies do not always receive them. Imagine the furore if there were cancer treatments that were known to work but were only offered to a small percentage of those who would benefit. Now that I am a free agent, I am campaigning to improve access to the right mental health treatments. And as I said last year, I can be difficult to ignore.

  12. If you are one of the 75% of the population who didn’t vote for the new government last week, you may describe how you are feeling at the moment as depressed. Some people will point out that this isn’t clinical depression. I don’t personally mind what you call it (see my last blog). I simply note that Mindfulness might help you focus on what to do now so that you don’t feel the same way in 2020.

So why not give Mindfulness a try?

Happy mental health awareness week!

Are you feeling sad about the election?

The exit polls turned out to be right. And whilst Conservative and Scottish Nationalist supporters are ebullient, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have remarked on social media that they feel really depressed.

For the majority saying this, the feeling they are experiencing isn’t depression in any clinical sense. It is disappointment, sadness and loss. It is a normal grief reaction to something shocking and unexpected, which dashes hopes for the future. And it re-introduces and even expands fears that people who were hoping for a better result for Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens and even UKIP had overcome, albeit just for a short while.

The five stages of grief model described by Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was not intended to be prescriptive. It was an extremely well-received description of how people who are terminally ill get used to the idea of their own impending death. The stages of grief described are Shock, Denial, Bargaining, Anger, and Depression, better described perhaps as deep sadness. This, in time, leads to Accommodation/Acceptance. Depending on the nature of one’s loss, grief has to run its course. It is possible to get stuck at any stage, and for stages to have to be repeated. Trying to avoid the anger or sadness phases by keeping busy and pretending to be OK can be psychologically damaging; I have form on this myself.

There will be people today who will undoubtedly be at the start of a significant grief cycle, including the 3 party leaders who have resigned, those who have lost their livelihoods, and those closest to them. For the majority of the population, though, the cycle will pass quite quickly.

Some people are already into the angry phase; this is can be when blame gets sprayed about and bad decisions made. It is a time when we are advised not to make big decisions.

It is also important not to get stuck at the anger phase. Those who have learned to attribute responsibility for bad things that happen to them to others can waste huge amounts of energy re-traumatising themselves and failing to realise their own power to effect positive change.

Some people who experience mental illness get annoyed about the misuse of the term depression to describe feelings they see as relatively trivial compared to the self-hatred and hopelessness of clinical depression. I used to be one of them, but these days I am less fussed. As long as people understand that one word can have many meanings, I am more than happy to share it.  But I do want everyone to understand that there are no such things as happy-pills. If you aren’t clinically depressed, anti-depressants won’t make things better. Only you can do that, by getting to know yourself, and being kind and compassionate to yourself and to others.

It is tough advice, but as Maya Angelou said:

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. 

The brilliant thing about our democratic system, apart of course from actually having one, is that MPs may only be elected by some of their constituents. But they are there to represent all of them. Occasionally they just need reminding.

I’m consoling myself about the the loss of the rainbow coalition I fondly imagined by thinking how to keep mental health on the agenda of the Conservative government, as they promised us during their election campaign. We have to make the business argument that investment in mental health treatment and support saves money in the long run. As well as the compassionate one about saving lives and making those lives worth living.

It is wonderful that there are millions of us who care enough to do the same.

 

 

 

Dear New Secretary of State for Health

Congratulations on helping to form a rainbow coalition government so quickly, and for your appointment. It is wonderful that a Conservative/Green/LibDem/Labour/National Health Action (delete as appropriate) MP is prepared to set aside political differences and take responsibility for the NHS in England on behalf of us all. What could be more important?

I expect you will get a few suggestions on what to do first. I thought I’d make it easy and send you my list at the earliest opportunity. It contains 5 things.

  1. Pass an Act of Parliament that makes it illegal for any politician to use the NHS as a political football. This will allow you to make plans with all the coalition partners that transcend the short – sightedness of a 5 year parliamentary term. And if it puts the Daily Mail out of business, it will be have the added benefit of improving the nation’s mental well-being.
  2. Appoint a group of well-informed independent thinkers to form your ministerial team. A few suggestions: Dr Sarah Wollaston, Norman Lamb, Dr Caroline Lucas, Liz Kendall, Dr Clive Peedell. They will help you remember the difference between the role of elected members – to set overall strategy and oversee governance – and of professional clinicians and managers, whose job it is to advise on how best to achieve your aims safely and then deliver them for you. Don’t be tempted to get  involved in professional matters such as numbers of hospitals and staff, or specific clinical policies. The most important job for you and your team is the give the experts room to work and keep politics with a big P out of it while they do.
  3. When fighting for the money needed from the Treasury to stabilise and transform the NHS and meet health needs today and for generations to come, think what Nye Bevan would have done if he had been told it couldn’t be afforded. Then do that.
  4. Do what you must to sort out the mess that means that 7 people now do the job of one civil servant who used to run the NHS, and ties the hands of politicians like yourself in bureaucratic loops. Remove the tyranny of competition for competition’s sake. But don’t do a wholesale reorganisation. It is the way we provide NHS services that needs to change, not arcane aspects of structure.
  5. Dump the phrase “parity of esteem”. It has lost all credibility. Instead, allocate funding on the basis of disease burden and the cost of not offering treatment based on the best evidence at the earliest opportunity. This way, children and young people’s mental health services will jump from the bottom of the priority pile to the top, with mental health services for adults of all ages coming a close second. If anyone complains, point out these three facts:
  • Psychosis is like cancer. The earlier it is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis and the least likely it is to recur. The same is true for all serious mental illnesses.
  • 75% of mental illnesses start before the age of 18. Like my depression
  • People with serious mental illness die on average 20 years earlier than the rest of the population. From suicide, yes, but more frequently from heart disease, strokes, cancer and the complications of Type 2 diabetes. Putting mental illness first will save money and lives, and make those lives worth living.

The results of the 2015 election show that the public are fed up with media-savvy politicians who speak in sound-bites and put their own interests and those of their well-connected friends before the needs of ordinary people. But it will take us a while to relearn that honourable politicians sometimes make mistakes, that most mistakes only come to light with the benefit of hindsight, and that even the best decisions don’t invariably deliver the expected results. Being a public servant has never been harder. Please take care of yourself; we need you to remain compassionate, committed and to keep telling it to us like it is.

With loving kindness,

Lisa