I thought I Understood Mental Health, Until January.

The whole thing is so ironic, I can’t help but laugh about it now. The professed key to me gaining back control of my life sent me down a vicious spiral, which if not reversed, could have ended it. To unravel that riddle for you: in early December I was put on new anti-convulsant medication for my epilepsy, the high dosage of which sent me into a deep depression and left me suicidal. I feel rather ridiculous and over-dramatic even typing that – my nickname is Perky for goodness sake…

I am not here to relay to you my every thought and feeling during this time – it is the weekend after all – but this dramatic shift in my behaviour and mentality taught me some valuable lessons. I, like so many of us, have had my fair share of second hand experience with depression and suicide. I have seen loved ones suffer and/or lose their battle. I have endured my own periods of sadness as a form of inevitable collateral damage. But I, like so many relatives and friends, am not a depressive. At least, not usually. If there has been any silver lining to my most recent debacle, it’s that I now get it. I thought I did before, but I didn’t.

Firstly, it is only with hindsight that I can write this. At the time I was too tired to take to the keyboard; that’s presuming I had anything to say. I was also far too immersed in a thick fog of nothingness to have anything to say. So consumed by my paranoid delusions and sense of nothing that I could’t comprehend for a long while that there was anything worthy of discussion. Nothing was wrong, other than with me, of course. Everything was wrong with me.

Many of you who know me will also probably be reading this thinking “really? I never noticed anything was up!” (or maybe you did, but I’m guessing you didn’t jump to this extreme). But it was. I also learnt this year then that it’s really quite easy to pretend nothing’s wrong. To show up just enough to make people think that you’re just “really busy at the moment”, when really you’re avoiding 8/10 plans only to find yourself in bed for the fourth day in a row, feeling lonely. As I’ve seen with people close to me who are on that downward spiral, this method works until the day it doesn’t. People then tend to wonder, I used to wonder, where the burn-out came from. What changed? Why, suddenly, can’t they get their sh*t together and stick to a plan? Selfish, lazy, self-indulgent. That’s what comes to mind all too easily. Turns out, they’d had a whole load of sh*t to get together every time they got out of bed for quite a bit longer than any of us realised. And if we’re honest, we didn’t really want to be made aware of the situation while they could still pretend everything was OK.

Upon reflection therefore, the most important insight I gained was rather oxymoronic: that the behaviour displayed during a time of mental illness is 100% out of the sufferer’s control (no, they can’t just ‘snap out of it’), but also: it’s not permanent, and in some cases it’s even avoidable. Things can be done to prevent affliction, and help those who do suffer conquer their battle. The problem is, the grand narrative still dictates that it is the sufferer’s fault, and little seems to be being done to help manage this quite probably manageable problem (easier said than done, I’m aware).

I’m no doctor but I’m also not oblivious to the fact that mental illness, just like obesity for example, is clearly on the rise. And just like obesity, mental-health problems may be (partly at least) a symptom of modern life. I am not talking about a complacency society in our times of relatively high standards of living. I am talking about: the added pressures that come with social media, and the 24/7 connection provided by technology; our obsession with material goods as an indicator of success; the chemicals that we pump into our bodies with the food we eat, and/or indeed the medication we take. The list goes on.

If you look at the status-quo, however, it appears we have no clue what we’re doing. While we’re definitely talking about our ‘feelings’ more, and that cannot be underestimated, we’re certainly not making any discernible effort to modernise the infrastructure of our society to match its changes. For instance, food stores (supermarkets, take-aways, restaurants) have pledged no commitment to make the customer aware of the hormones and chemicals that many of their products contain; nor are they under any pressure to do so. Furthermore, advertising companies know exactly how to make us want more, and are relentless in their campaign to move the goal-posts of success and fulfilment. And Instead of preserving the carefree innocence of childhood – an increasingly precious phase of life – primary schools spend their time preparing for exams, starting with KS1 tests, which children sit aged 7. To put that into perspective, in Germany children have only just started school at 7. These are examples of the many facets of modern life that are largely out of the individual’s control, yet have a colossal impact on our well-being. Logically then, altering sectors such as: food production, advertising, pharmaceuticals and education to act consciously, in a way that is supportive of our mental well-being, is a necessary tool of prevention. Sadly it appears that money-making and league tables still matter more.

Of course not all mental illness is preventable, and for those who suffer it is rarely due to their lifestyle choices. However, astonishingly, while mental health problems account for around 23% of disease in the UK, it only takes up 11% of the NHS budget.*  If we all agree that the situation is much like being hit by a car or having cancer, which the NHS deals with so effectively and admirably, surely the treatment of those who fall mentally ill should be covered proportionately by the budget.

Am I wrong? If not, then where is the evidence of any such alterations? So much for the commitment by politicians to concentrate on solving Britain’s mental health crisis, the policy which shaped many of the campaigns in the 2015 general election.

My experience seems so alien now, so distant and long ago that I am able to discuss it openly, even joke about it. But I’m excruciatingly aware that for many others those thoughts and feelings are a daily battle – and that’s no laughing matter. While I don’t begin to suggest that everyone should chemically induce their own mental instability, I do make a plea for a shift in attitude. A more active approach. One that is enlightened to the genuine suffering of those with a mental illness and one that provokes change. Just like obesity and other pervading social problems, such change must be top-down if it’s to prove effective. Hence as well as educating and looking after ourselves, we must put adequate pressure on the government and big companies to invoke the necessary changes to their methods of employment.

This is a problem far bigger and more systemic than someone’s inability to ‘pull themselves together’, and it sadly cannot be solved simply by ‘talking about it’. I’ll put my hands up and say that, until this year, I myself didn’t fully understand that.

*Figures as of 2015; sourced: https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/projects/verdict/has-government-put-mental-health-equal-footing-physical-health

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I thought I Understood Mental Health, Until January.

Why We All Deserve Two Months Of Advent Festivities

Last night I went to my first carol concert of the year. And I can tell you now, I left feeling the most genuinely joyful that I have in 2016 so far.

It’s safe to say that when my fellow caroller and I arrived at Saint Stevens we were both pretty, ok thoroughly, depressed. Deadlines, cold to the bone from student-flat heating (or lack of…), tired, bored of  the semester, missing family, missing home, missing dogs, missing summer, missing warmth, missing freedom. The list that fed our wallowing self-pity was never ending. Yet when we left the church, we couldn’t stop laughing, we couldn’t care less about our imminent deadlines, and we no longer needed central heating to keep ourselves warm.

On my walk home, such a turn-around of emotion got me thinking: why are we so much more stressed this year than last? We aren’t in an honours’ year, and we’re no longer living in the prison of student halls. Then I remembered: 2016 has been a true car-crash. As if I could forget… Our petty stresses were a reflection of the more general events of attrition that has led to the global population’s general sense-of-humour failure.

Every day we are reminded of the utter insanity that this year has consisted of. Let’s remind ourselves of a few examples, just for fun:

Today BBC breaking informed me that Thomas Mair is indeed guilty of -what I proudly previously thought of as being absurdly un-British- the killing Jo Cox MP. This cruel act occurred just a week before the unprecedentedly revolutionary *cough* outrageous *cough* Brexit vote. On top of these, for the whole year we’ve had running commentary of a head-to-head, evil-meets-evil, lose-lose situation, presidential election campaign. Such narcissistic displays of power play has sapped our limited positivity despite it not even being our own elections. We are now totally, and utterly, exhausted as a body-politic.

Syria meanwhile has been shaking things up more than ever, both through their ongoing, terrible suffering on the front lines, and through the refugee crisis. Not only are we exhausted but we are now knotted in an attempted mixture of genuine empathetic grief and charity.

Then we have the multitude of European terror attacks. France has been the focus of several attacks: Paris and Nice to name the biggest. This brings all the terror so much closer to home; we are now not only exhausted and trying desperately to be empathetic, but (often conflictingly so) we are also truly fearful of our own safety.

There have been fatal earthquakes in places such as Italy, and another massive hurricane in Haiti. And on top of all these political and natural disasters we have lost so many of our national treasures, our idols. We’ve genuinely grieved the loss of many of those figures who usually we rely on to comfort and entertain us when everything goes a bit tits-up, gets a bit serious and stressful (see above 3 paragraphs…). No more inspiration from Prince, no more dry wit from Wogan, the last of the Ronnies gone. We can’t even get angry at Alan Rickman for almost cheating on Emma Thompson anymore, without forgiving him and begging him to come back to us to say “Potter” one more time.

And as it’s the era of a social media orientated, globalised world our reactions are forever scrutinised. We care too much, but if we don’t express our care whole heartedly in public we are ignorant to our surroundings. We are cruel if we don’t “pray for Paris”, but when we do we are accused to not caring about civilians in Libya or Israel or Palestine. We are so tense and stressed and “concerned” that every move we make at this point seems to make everything worse.

Normally I am a true advocate for not starting the Christmas fun until December 1st. It just makes sense right? Starting in October like that one crazy aunt, or in August like the money-grabbing retailers, is simply madness that must be protested against. Why? In case we get *bored* of Christmas before actual Christmas, or as positive action against consumerism. But this year, I say screw convention, I have had enough of protesting. There is no way that singing jingle bells whilst dancing around a Christmas market in my ridiculous chunky knit is going to get boring this year.

We’ve been through enough. My pre-carol woes were a microcosm for social anxieties concerning the global economy, global diplomacy and quite frankly, at this rate, the fate of the human race. Yet forgetting all of my problems, the petty and the slightly more serious, did more good for me than being “concerned”, or “involved” or “trying to make a difference”. I may have spent most of today in bed, watching iPlayer and eating, but I’m happy and I’m calm and I’m ready to face my to-do list whilst retaining some sanity. Turning on radio 4 this morning I laughed at the sound of Trump’s voice, rather than shiver with disgust and fear. Wouldn’t 2016 look so much better if we could laugh at the absurdity of it all and celebrate the fact that it’s going to belong to the history books oh so soon? Wouldn’t we all make better, more rational decisions if May and Corbyn wore santa outfits, and their cabinets dressed as elves for a while? Ok, maybe that’s one fantasy to many, but the idea is still valid, no?

Christmas is about uniting. It’s about celebrating. We may no longer all give it the religious focus that it once had. And yes, most of us have a pretty grim 25th with dry turkey and wet relatives. But the festive season is there to lift the spirits. It’s the one time of the year where we can really, truly, take some time to sit back and appreciate the good, have a belly giggle, and have fun without worrying about having summer bods or tickets to the best festivals. All we need is family and some Christmas lights. How refreshingly simple.

So screw the December 1st rule. We’ve tried caring and being serious, it’s quite frankly not working. This year we need a double dose of “festive”, two layers of Christmas jumpers and two rounds of We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Now excuse me while I go to my local German Market and freeze my bum off on a merry-go-round, with some mulled wine in-tow.

Why We All Deserve Two Months Of Advent Festivities

“If Only Millennials Voted The Result Would Have Been Different”…So What?

 

Dear British and US media,

Please kindly stop isolating demographics and blaming results of democratic elections on certain groups of people. I get it. I too am here to defend the liberal assets of Western society and to celebrate the diversity that it ensues. And yes some people are attacking our increasingly lovely liberal world. And yes a lot of these people are older, stuck in their ol’ racist ways that are kind of ok at Sunday lunch, but not ok on the bus or when it comes to the ballot box. But since when does that give any of us the right to dismiss their opinion? Doesn’t that entirely contradict the liberal mind-set we spend our lives lording over everyone else? And how are we doing anything for our democracy if we think results shouldn’t count unless we agree? I think you can probably answer those questions yourself…

Let’s start with the elderly. Yes, I was indeed one of the thouands of millenials  who took to my facebook wall, to the safety of my opinion echo-chamber, to declare my outcry. If only 18-24 years olds’ votes were counted, it would have been a 74% vote for Remain! How dare the older generation ruin our future! They won’t even live to see the consequences!

Woops…This is why I refrained from further voicing of my opinions at the time.

First of all, 56% of the 45-54y/o category voted to leave actually. Akward. It would be barmy to suggest that a 45 year old would be unlikely to live through the consequences. These days someone of 45 years old has barely left their parent’s home…but that’s a whole other article. The people who had the most idea (who let’s face it had really very little idea)- the fact machines, or economists as some people call them – told us that it was in the short-mid term that we would experience most economic problems. Well then, I’d say that a 45 year old, hey even a 54 year old, was voting for their future then. In economic terms they have as great a vested interest in our country not going tits-up as we do. After all they have their dreaded pensions to save for. At this rate they won’t get one until they’re 80, so I can imagine they want our economy to be in a state that allows for them to receive one before they die. Moreover if we aren’t earning enough to provide for a family, how will we help our ironically pensionless OAPs? You get the gist. It was pure, selfish naivety to suggest that it was only our poor young souls who would be affected for better or for worse by the outcome of the referendum.

Other virile, bitter remarks were spat at our elders saying that they harked back to a ‘rose-tinted’ past; one which was no longer symbolised Britain as we know it today. I agree. But. Democracy. Just because we don’t all long for a Britain with Churchill (the PM, not the dog, kids) sings us rhetoric and butters us up with notions of imperial power and independence. Our different perspective doesn’t mean that their visions are less firm-footed or valid than ours. More importantly it doesn’t make ours more. For example: I wanted to stay so that I didn’t need a visa to see my boyfriend, who lives in the Netherlands. I’m sure I was not the only young person with personal reason that affected my vote at the cost of someone else’s preference. And just like I’m sure ol’ grandpa Joe didn’t just vote based on drunk Churchill circa 1940, I didn’t just vote based on my ability to hop over for a weekend in Amsterdam. Just as Brexiteers were fed lies about NHS funding and the like, I’m sure if Remain had won we wouldn’t have reaped many of the benefits promised, or.lol..World War 3 would still probably on the cards…

Basically, the EU referendum shouldn’t have happened in my opinion. As I’ve made perfectly clear above, none of us really had a clue what was going on, what was best. We still don’t apparently. I’m not sure that the courts, who ruled against the Government last week really have it sussed either… But the American election is a pretty crucial element of the US’s democracy. Preferably not to be missed, one could say. Similar problems have popped up with the American Presidential election this week, and henceforth my silence ends.

Although official stats aren’t out yet, it seems that, like with Brexit, young people wanted Hilary to win. Whilst I, like many others, had a little cry to myself on Wednesday morning, and thanked my lucky stars that my mum’s house in London has a basement, I do not think that Trump voters belonged to one demographic, who’s voice should have been silenced. In a way it’s kind of (not really, but urgh! I suppose it must be) magical to think that despite all attempts to degrade, shame and shut-down those who were rooting for him, their voice was still heard. Yet still on my facebook wall, after everyone went out to vote and play along with the system, I see cries of the election being unfair. Such voices included articles calling for the elderly to not be allowed to vote as young people were supposedly robbed of their futures. All I can think is how hypocritical, less that 24 hours after proudly posted you “I voted” sticker on instagram, you’re now slamming the system and other proud voters because you didn’t get your way? Almost as childish as Trump, really.

Disclaimer alert: I understand the horrific nature of the ‘Whitelash’ associated with the outcome of this US presidential election. I think that some of the opinions and acts that the result seems to have supported and sparked are disgusting. And I think it is truly sad that many minorities sad suffer greatly. As a white Brit I am aware that I am complacently writing about sulking and media coverage that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t matter all that much. I also understand the ideological stand-point behind the isolating the young’s vote in the media. We are in, general. more liberal; we have grown up in a much more diverse society than most in older generations. However in America, plenty of Trump’s racist, misogynistic, intolerant supporters were young. During the Brexit referendum (regardless of whether it should have happened) it was more than an issue of age which split public opinion.

Ultimately then it comes down to an issue of democracy. We can campaign and we can express express express our own opinions, and we can argue with the other side(s) until the cows come home. But it is in this way that we must change results, rather than refusing to accept the end result and asserting superiority of opinion. As liberals, we have sort of shot ourselves in the foot by being liberals, really. To be liberal, to believe in democracy (and I believe the two do go hand in hand), you’ve got to accept other sides’ opinions. In fact you’ve got to cherish them, absorb them, let them be expressed too. You can think something different, by all means, but you can’t silence them. You can think the opposition is full of abhorrence: passionately believe that the other person could not be more wrong, more vile, or more hateful. But it’s the isolationist, protectionist, conservative has chosen the easy side because they’re the ones who can live in ignorance. They can shut off any opposition, not us liberals.

So, fellow freedom loving, self-expressing millennials and media junkies. Stop excluding other demographics. Stop thinking that your problems, your priorities and your fears for the future are superior, and others are superfluous. Stop sulking. stop being hypocritical. Instead, why don’t we concentrate on moaning about our pathetic turnout. Maybe if we spread our positivepolitical expression more we will see progress that pleases us. We need to encourage the non voters to take an interest, and this cannot be done by sounding vulgar, deafening noises. Campaign is as important as elections, and the nature of a campaign is crucial. If we want less extremism, why don’t we appeal to greater human sensitivities such as compassion, instead of feeding off the poison of political point scoring.  Maybe then we’d make ours the hegemonic voice of the people. Or maybe we wouldn’t. But it’s not just the young, liberal person’s world. And that’s what sucks about democracy…

Thanks for listening. I hope you heard me.

From a loving millennial.

“If Only Millennials Voted The Result Would Have Been Different”…So What?

A Defence of the (Not So Dark) Arts

There is this continual debate over whether arts should be given equal merit as the sciences. Recently in the UK it seems to have arrived at the stage where those in power are questioning whether the arts and “soft subjects” should be scrapped all together within the education system. Lunacy, I hear you yell? I couldn’t agree more. I think that this notion is not just idiotic, but dangerous. My reasoning includes the fact that: there is no fixed definition of an “Arts subject” therefore making it practically impossible for politicians to set an unchanging limit to what is scrapped; the arts are intrinsically linked to culture; and it is not actually beneficial to London’s economy, let alone for the UK as a whole. Those in power should strive to not only keep our country at the top, but our people happy and for that we must look to the 3 main responses to normative ethics – the virtue theory, deontology and consequentialism: what is good, what is right and the consequences of our actions. We admittedly have a lot of room for improvement in our efforts to achieve this prosperous state, but I don’t think these recent propositions seek any attempt to fill that room, nor would they deliver in doing so. The idea is a fad diet they follow because their friends mum’s cousin tried it once and it really helped them lose that extra 5 pounds.

Firstly I think we have to pose the question: what actually is a science or an art? Where is the line and is there a line? I don’t think there is. Furthermore I think that seeing things in black and white to this degree rarely leads to a particularly satisfactory, let alone comprehensive answer. More importantly I think that putting any sort of cap on what subjects are available to study leaves the poll greasy and ready to be slipped down faster than anyone would think now. To me, all this arts vs science (or sometimes termed “vocational”) chat is a slap-dash, confused way of our Cady-esque politicians expressing their concern over keeping up with the Regina Georges of the financial world, like China.

I think subjects are split more into disciplines – for example a physicist and medic are both considered scientists, but during their degree a physicist wouldn’t have a module which tests their people skills. Even within a degree– let’s use medicine again: some may specialise in brain surgery and some may train to be a GP. If the real issue is that a subject is too “soft” or too “arty” – are they planning on eliminating said elements that naturally creep into their blessed science degrees? A doctor has to be able to handle the person, not just their cells.

N.B. For the sake of ease I will from now on refer to these subjects that are apparently the spawn of Satan, as “the arts” as that is the term many journalists and MPs have been using during the debate.

I shouldn’t have to say it, but I will – on the most basic level of democracy this idea of shunning “the arts” is wrong. Delving into the theoretical world the state choosing which subjects we can study would break the Social Contract and the power balance between state and people would be shifted disproportionately. It certainly defies aspects of Freedom of Expression. Also Locke terms our rights in terms of property, which he defines as “life, liberty, and estate”. Locke says that in life “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness”, thus individual happiness is a human right. Furthermore this is theoretical backing for the idea that happiness is intrinsic to success. Seeing as most of our politicians did PPE they really should know this stuff.

Wait a minute, that’s right the majority of our leaders did do PPE… how very hypocritical of them.

We also have to look at the consequences. Just to start with, it leaves plenty of room for censorship if they can control what we learn from the beginning of our subject specific education. Additionally it would lead to a loss of culture, further sterilising the environment in which we live. We are historically a nation of inventors, storytellers, and war fighters. We have a rich and long history and with this history has come traditions and mannerisms that are knitted into our very being – from drinking tea dating back to our time in India to many of our idioms coming from Tyndale’s first translation of the Bible into English, to wearing a white wedding dress thanks to Queen Victoria etc. These elements of our culture would not be possible in such refined form if study of “the arts” were to be scrapped. Who would have made Kate Middleton’s exquisite dress that was talked about for months (not to mention Pippa’s…)? Creating artistic icons like these is vital. Looking outwardly as a small island we need these as a platform for our scientific merit. Introspectively we need them to ensure a sense of belonging. At a time when so many Brits are so worried that we as a nation are losing any sort of identity, it seems bizarre that we would be in favour of loosening our grip on it further. That in mind I was shocked when I saw Farage has said he would scrap tuition fees for the sciences, but not the arts seeing as he is so concerned with that it is to be British…obviously his focus is skin deep…but let’s not waste words on him.

If you ask a tourist what they think makes a person British, it’s either centuries out of date, rather unpalatable or a bit non-distinct. We have the potential to evolve our culture, as the several different cults of inhabitants on this wee little island have always done. However we don’t and I think our refusal to embrace and express our multitude of characters that make up this nation proudly is a sad effect of viewing success in terms of global financial power.

Focusing in on this idea that politicians are thinking of treating GDP as the great JC of all policy – after all a booming economy get them votes – maybe they should take a second look at their POA. Firstly “the arts” provide the government with a great financial turnout, contrary to popular idea of arty farty faffing about. In 2013 0.1% of state funds went into “the arts” and yet 0.4% of our GDP was as a product of “the arts”. Not so useless now are they? In terms of the City I don’t agree that a more rigorous, scientific approach to education will lead to London’s greater global success. If all accountants did accounting at university, for example, there would be a very narrow array of perceptions. There would be little originality of thought and ultimately innovation and creative thought (granted, alongside precision and intellect) is what brings about progress. Some countries focus solely or mainly on science and technology, Britain does not need to be added to the list. Returning to culture briefly – some cultures are based around the rigid nature of science, like Eindhoven (being the home of Phillips) and some have a stain of communism, but Britain has never been touched by 5 Year Plans and our artists have brought us as much notoriety as our scientists – the Beatles arguably did as much for our country as Isaac Newton. I can see that professional politicians may find this a tricky concept, as they were themselves trained for the job, rather than training their minds and then learning on the job.

Besides, people are being pushed enough at school to do well in core subjects, we no longer have time to breathe or grow into ourselves, and more people are experiencing mental health problems as a result of stress. It’s not good enough to tell them they can take up artistic disciplines as “extra curriculum activities”, they won’t have the time to fit it into their day, let alone the energy to enjoy it. The Dalai Lama was quoted to say “The world doesn’t need more ‘successful people.’ The world desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.” This is where the biggest danger lies. Not in the effect it would have on our economy, not even on our culture. If you take away a key element of a well-rounded being from a whole generation you breed ignorance and intolerance. The average Brit accepts so much these days and yet those at the top we are willing to suppress so many. It doesn’t match up.

And it doesn’t fit in with Aristotle’s virtue ethics, which states that to be virtuous you must be act between two opposing vices. Science needs “the arts” in reality, just like the arts needs science. “The arts” has scientific elements like the golden ratio and science must have morality and creative thought. Ethics must be considered in the progression of technology to stop us wiping out our own species, let alone to max out our fulfillment of life.

Finally (you’ll probably be glad to hear) I just bloody love the arts. I love history, politics, literature, debating, going to watch plays… all of it. And I have a lot to thank it for. For example if I hadn’t been forced to do drama at school there is no way I would be able to meet new people confidently now. I’m so opinionated that if I had never been taught to make a balanced argument, through essay writing and critical thinking then Lord help us all, I can’t bare the think of the things I would say to get my point across. I’m lucky because my brain can hack both– I did 2 science AS levels. What about those who simply do not have the mind for science? It would be bad enough to turn them down university style further education, but to turn away their potential at school would be absurd.

Ultimately maybe the intentions behind supressing the arts should be looked at, and if it’s for the success of our country maybe we should rethink what success really is. I agree, there are major issues with our education system and some are choosing less vigorous options out of laziness. Suggestion? Create a more (dare I say it) Scottish or even American system at university where we have to do more than one subject at first.

A Defence of the (Not So Dark) Arts