There But for the Grace of God Go I.

I doubt that anyone on this planet could seriously defend the Tory government in the UK in terms of their record on mental health. Their proposals and policies for dealing with what is the largest health epidemic of our time have been best described as ‘bullshit‘. I could have written endlessly about this joke of a government in the intervening quiet time since my last post but one thing has recently captured my gaze: IPP (Imprisonment for Public Protection).

There are around 3000 people in the UK serving IPP orders. They are intended to keep behind bars those who, in the absence of having committed a crime, may still be deemed to be so dangerous that their liberty ought to be deprived of them. Put simply, they are imprisoned without a release date yet they have committed no crime worthy of the sentence they are serving. Once such person is James Ward, a man who is currently serving the eleventh year of his 10 month prison sentence for arson. No doubt this will immensely please the ‘lock them up and chop their balls off’ merchants who want nothing more than to see the reinstatement of capital punishment, the return of the short, sharp shock, and grotesque mutilations for thieves and sex offenders such as amputations, castration and so forth. The efficacy of draconian state power is at the very best dubious, however what bothers me is the (mis)usage of these orders and how they are deployed against the mentally ill. Ward is currently self-harming and his parents believe that his suicide is simply a matter of time, so yet again this is another example of outrageous state power being wielded against the most vulnerable in our society. Are there really 3000 people in the UK who are so dangerous that they ought to be deprived of their liberty indefinitely? I doubt that very much. What I think is more likely is that these ‘throw away the key’ sentences are popular with voters, easy to use when dealing with difficult prisoners and politically expedient. After all there are no votes to be gained in campaigning on behalf of people like Ward, and that aside, who wants to be the person who releases someone who then goes on to kill someone when they could have given them an IPP? I mean, come on, is this not just the perfect tool for a politician to use in order to secure a platform upon which to spout off empty rhetoric about a zero tolerance approach to crime and punishment? The parole board obviously couldn’t care less, and a right wing government sympathies for criminals extends as far as their own interests.

If you think that you are not to worry about this then good for you. Personally I am scared to death of these orders. I am one serious mental breakdown away from being the subject of an IPP. We are 200 short years further on from the mentally ill being a tourist attraction in Bedlam. Do you think we could not possibly return to those awful times? I tell you now, we are closer than you might ever imagine, and the road from IPPs becoming routine down to rampant paranoia and indiscriminate imprisonment of those deemed to be so dangerous that society cannot be subjected to their presence is very much shorter than we think.

Dylan Voller, Paul Gascoigne and the State of Things

Below is a video you should watch before reading any further. Bear in mind that the subject is a child.

This took place in Australia, but do not comfort yourself with the notion that ‘it could not happen here’. Stanley Milgram put that nonsense to bed in conclusive fashion with his famous study on compliance and obedience to authority. You ought also to remember that, as I so often say here, mental illness can strike anybody, at any time, and in any place. There but for the grace of god and all that.

It has been some time since I last posted and I regret that, however real life has kept me busy. What I have done during that time is watch with dismay as things have apparently deteriorated in respect to mental health care and the treatment of sufferers of this constellation of conditions to which we refer as mental illness, a term which seems to describe far too much and far too little at the same time, has worsened. Now, I have no doubt that Dylan Voller represents a serious challenge for those working with him, however there can be no doubt that what has happened to him has done harm to him, and furthermore it has likely made his symptoms worse. Imagine the outcry if that had been a prisoner of war in Guantanamo Bay. Ironically one need not imagine. We have seen the photographs from there and Abu Graibh in Iraq, and the public fury was universal, the justice meted out to the perpetrators swift and harsh. Yet who weeps for Dylan Voller? Locked in prison since the age of just eleven years old, treated as an adult prisoner with all of the physical brutality that that entails, and written off by society. He will likely never work, never have a romantic relationship, never be allowed to live in such a way that grants him a moment’s freedom from the watchful gaze of the state and its penal apparatus.

Dylan’s family likely tolerate what is being done to their son because he has already sustained a criminal career that most people will never emulate, not even young offenders and delinquent children. This life of his has seen him attack his own mother and he has done the same to practically every authority figure that he ever encountered. In that light it seems reasonable that the state should intervene, I am sure most would agree. Really? Is this really the best that Australia, one of the richest and most enlightened countries on earth, can do? Are we seriously to believe that the only viable options are either to allow this boy to brutalise others, or alternatively to have the state brutalise him? Is there no middle ground?

In reality nothing will change for Voller. The men who have mistreated him will never be held criminally accountable for their actions. The media has taken great pains to stress that he attacked his mother, as though it were the ultimate crime a young boy could commit. Few of them bother to mention the foetal alcohol syndrome that he was born with, which paints him in a different light. All of a sudden we start to feel a little compassion, or I certainly do, owing to this boy’s terrible start in life thanks to his drunk of a mother, herself possibly mentally ill too. I doubt that she has even seen the inside of a courtroom to hold her accountable for that.

The indignity of stripping him naked as you can see in the video above is possibly the ultimate curse that this boy has to bear. I would invite you to compare those scenes with those of holocaust survivors, and, aside from the malnutrition and emaciation, I would ask you to honestly evaluate them and ask yourself what difference between the two is. Those who might serve as apologists for this sort of thing will point out that he could self-harm with his clothes. I say give him a gown made from paper instead. This boy has little to nothing in life, and to humiliate him like that is the final indignity in a whole screed of indignities and abuses that ought not to be tolerated in the future, but where mental illness is concerned then you can be assured that they will be.

Paul Gascoigne

To speak further of naked humiliation, this month Paul Gascoigne, the most gifted footballer of his generation, was photographed in a state of near undress, clearly struggling with alcoholism and suffering the severe effects of the illness he and I share. One thing that is 0bvious is that Gascoigne is, for the press, box office gold. The George Best of the modern day, it is clear that the journalists who follow this man around cannot wait for him to finally drink himself to death. On that day the front pages will be covered in cliched drivel spouting mock sadness over the early passing of a tortured genius.

I refuse to duplicate, or even link to the photographs in question. They represent nothing other than voyeurism, and the morbid tormenting of a human being in pain. I bitterly resent the media for doing this because this is the pain and suffering of a sick man being used to sell copy, and it is unethical and immoral. In the same month that this happened a young woman who broke her neck was given a front page story with the BBC for overcoming survival chances of 1%. Why the disparity? Who congratulates the man or woman who beats the depressive urge to commit suicide and walks tall for another day? Who endorses the courage of a patient who goes to ask for help from the NHS, despite knowing the cost of a diagnosis of mental illness? Where is the praise for the people with mental health issues who suffer such terrible symptoms, yet who entertain us? Did anyone stand by Robin Williams in life, during which he was crippled emotionally by his own bipolar disorder? Of course not, he was simply lauded in death as, yes, you guessed it, the flawed, tortured genius.

I fear for Paul Gascoigne. He appears to be so far along the line of a death spiral that recovery and salvation are now challenges that will seem, to him, nigh-on insurmountable. I never give up hope, however I think that the way the media is permitted to harass this man is going to make it impossible for him to manage his illness. They are throwing him under the bus, possibly literally in future.

What is so painful for me to hear in respect to him is that so many people bemoan his decision not to play for Manchester United. I have heard several times that Sir Alex Ferguson would have ‘knocked him into shape’. It is remarkable how many people think this way. It happened to me personally but it seems to be a common notion, the sense that the mentally ill need to be beaten out of their sickness. Dylan Voller is clear evidence of that, as am I and so is Gascoigne. I have yet to hear of anyone ever being successfully beaten into shape. I certainly have not encountered anyone who was cured of a physical ailment through violence or brutality so I do not understand why this idea is so pervasive and why it stubbornly persists in the public consciousness.

Seriously Paul, I hope you make it.

The State of Things

The state of things is not good. The raised threat and incidence of terrorism has brought with it a now universal trope in respect to understanding the pathology of atrocities. Read about any act of terrorism this year and I guarantee you that there will be a pronouncement somewhere of mental illness being the cause. This is usually done to deflect blame away from religion, but also it is used to understand the ununderstandable. When people ask how a human being could do this to other human beings someone will blame mental illness, usually with a shrug of the shoulders or a shake of the head. What is going on here is that all of the shame, guilt and outrage over the crime is being dumped on the backs of the mentally ill. There is a word for this: scapegoating. In biblical times society would pronounce that all of its ills would be loaded as a burden onto the back of a goat, and that goat would be cast outside the city, never to return. This is, in a nutshell, what happens to sufferers of mental illness. Every act of terror is now laid at our door. There is not a single dissenting voice in the media now. The notion that it is all our fault and that the mentally ill are the main threat to society is absolutely ubiquitous. Nobody doubts it, nobody speaks up against it, yet, as I have previously proven conclusively, when it comes to crime, the only thing we may be sure of is that a person who has a mental health problem is not only far less likely to commit a crime than a mentally normative person, they are also far more likely to be a victim of crime than an otherwise normal person. Yet still the myth propagates and dominates debate. This has to change. We are literally killing ourselves through this act of collective scapegoating. In blaming the wrong thing we cannot solve the problem. In blaming the innocent we make a mockery of our supposed compassion and enlightenment.

2016: Carrying on Where 2015 Left Off

2016 is shaping up to be a terrible year for mental health, those who treat sufferers and sufferers themselves. In the UK funding for services has crashed into the national toilet. Our vicious Tory government could not care less about it. Children are being failed and dealt with as though they are adults (as an ex bipolar child this is especially painful to me). Were I to suffer a breakdown tomorrow I might well have to travel hundreds of miles just to get treatment – oddly enough I pay my taxes like everyone else so I would really love to have an explanation on that. I am not holding my breath, however.

Stephen Fry has made The Not so Secret Life of the Manic Depressive – a follow up film to his two part documentary entitled The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. I recommend the former in earnest to you and the latter I am just sitting down to watch. I like Fry but it is harder for me to see him as someone like me. He has my illness and symptoms but I cannot relate to a man with millions in the bank and who has no limitations on the life he wishes to lead. It is impossible. I admire him from afar but I might as well be on Mars compared to him and the lifestyle he leads. I do not resent him at all, good for him. He has cashed in his winning lottery ticket, but he is privileged and loved. I am neither of those things. I feel privileged simply to be alive. Every day that I get to smell my daughter’s hair, or hug my son is another day I treasure as a man who looked into the suicidal abyss and from which I am fortunate to have returned. Many of us simply do not make it.

In other news, this year I would like to produce a memoir, telling the story of how I arrived where I am. We shall see how that goes…

The Pandemic of Bipolar Disorder

Imagine an illness that was prevalent in every country and on every continent on the planet. Imagine that it is an illness with outcomes ranging from chronic, long term symptoms, often substance abuse and in the worst case scenarios, death. Imagine that it is a disease which afflicted those about whom society cares very little, and therefore by extension society cares nothing for that illness and the loved ones of its victims.Imagine an illness that is essentially a death sentence upon diagnosis, both a socially and a literal death. We have seen an illness such as this. In the 1980’s HIV/AIDS was precisely that. I am no historian but it seems to me that this epidemic was a key driver in the campaign for the emancipation of those who are members of the LGBTIQ community, and the simple truth is that there freedom was won because when HIV/AIDS began to lay waste to their communities they had no option but to come out swinging. They were being killed by this disease and many governments refused point blank to invest money in researching, treating and (hopefully one day) curing it. To quote Dan Savage, advice columnist and founder of It Gets Better, gay people had to fight because ‘they were fucking dying’. The institutionalised homophobia in the government of my homeland, the UK stink. The repulsive homophobe Margaret Thatcher and her odious Tory government were happy to let homosexuals drop dead in huge numbers. Even now I hear people say that AIDS is a punishment meted out to homosexuals for their lifestyles. It is 2015 for crying out loud.

Today we have a similar situation with my people, the mentally ill. Isolating just the sufferers of Bipolar Disorder estimates suggest that it occurs without discrimination in all populations at a prevalence of approximately 4%. Taken as a share of the poopulation of the earth this amounts to 120000000 people. By any standard you care to measure that is a crisis. If one accounts for all illnesses prevalence is 25% of the population, some 1.75 billion people. In Paris recently Islamist gunmen killed 129 people and as a result NATO has mobilised for war. So what happens for us? As little as possible. For terrorist deaths the military might of the West is brought to bear upon the problem, yet for something that is decimating our communities and way of life, especially the young, the machinery of government scarcely trembles. As is so often the case with politicians I doubt that this will ever change until it happens to one of them. The empathy gap in Westminster is astonishing in scope. When one of their sons or daughters is found having committed suicide maybe then things will change. One thing is for certain and that is that the current strategy of pretending that there is no problem simply cannot continue, although I would wager that it will. the NHS has been gutted for the last six or seven years as efficiency has become the name of the game and each one of these overpaid, over-privileged Eton boys competes to see who can be the most brutal and macho minister. Who pays the price for this ludicrous, criminal egotism? They do not, that is for sure.

Mental illness is a global pandemic and I for one have had enough of being used as expendable political capital by ministers who could not care less about the lives of ordinary people who suffer extraordinary problems. I write to my MP, nothing happens. I write to other politicians and none of them reply. I pluck up the courage to attend assessment and treatment sessions and nothing happens for months (this is not the fault of NHS), during which time I could well have taken matters into my own hands. We disclose our illnesses and we are subjected to vitriol and abuse from those who wish to taunt us online for the crime of being sick. We live openly as mentally ill and we are attacked in the street. We run into the police and they murder us. We tell our families and they ostracise and disown us. Parents throw us out of the family home, and we go to the state for help and are told that we must help ourselves. We go to friends and they tell us that we are making it up for attention. We tell colleagues and we are ostracised and scarlet lettered at work. We inform our bosses and we lose our jobs. We have a bad day and we are advised to ‘keep taking the medication’, or to ‘go quietly when the men in white coats come’. We live undiagnosed and governments use us. We ask for help and they sterilise us. We live through times of warfare and are exterminated. We post online and Facebook experiments on us. We eventually become so desperate and lost that we sometimes kill ourselves and society blames us and says that we are selfish. We did not do this to ourselves and we are not going to go away. Not now, not EVER.

You tell me folks; what are we supposed to do?

Scott Weiland, Bipolar Disorder Sufferer, 48 Years Old and Asleep in the Light

Scott Weiland, lead singer of the superb Stone Temple Pilots is dead at the age of just 48. He was a sufferer of bipolar disorder and well known for his struggles with drug addiction. This is a common feature of the lives of sufferers of this illness. Sufferers indulge in the process of self-medication. This is not, as the name might imply, attempting to cure oneself of the illness. Rather it is usually an attempt to mitigate the symptoms. I have done it previously with alcohol. In my case it was often done in the vain attempt to sleep. It is difficult to explain to a ‘normal’ person what it is like to stay awake for four or five days, but I can assure you that the desperate need for sleep after that is all-consuming. The other reason I did it was to dull the pain of severe depression. At this point I would stress to you that I was undiagnosed at this point and I had never heard of bipolar disorder. That is a very strange and difficult position in which to be. To not know that anything is wrong is to believe that one’s experience is what all others go through, meaning that when people would ask me if my doctor knew how I behaved (at times) I simply thought they were joking. It never occurred to me that I was unusual.

If you know somebody who drinks or uses drugs and it concerns you then it may just be the agony of mental illness that they are salving. I have long since gone teetotal, although compared to most my drinking was tame, and now my drug of choice is exercise. It is hard to stay awake after cycling 50-60 miles, pounding the pavement on a jog or swimming lap after lap. It is also good for me, but I look back to the days when I was down in the hole with a slightly tearful eye. How I wish that someone had recognised what I was going through and pulled me out. I had to do it for myself, and I cannot tell you how close I came to taking the ‘easy’ way out instead.

Of course, I cannot be certain what killed Weiland but I find it difficult to believe that his struggles with drugs did not contribute to it. And so another creative flame is extinguished, more than likely because of this illness that society is happy to leave to flourish because we do not do mental health treatment.

Scott Weiland, 48 years old, now asleep in the light.

Scott Weiland

Scott Weiland

The Epidemic of Silence

I can  recall a boy I knew when I was a younger man. He was a joker and always smiled, the nicest teenage boy you ever met. I lost touch with him in my early to mid teens. The next I heard of him was the sad news that he had committed suicide by taking a massive drug overdose. It was the sort of overdose where resuscitation would be pointless. He really wanted to die. No cry for help, no hint and no turning back from the brink. Even now, when recalling his name people talk about how stunned they were, not only by the fact of his death alone, but also because of the notion that such a happy-go-lucky (to use that well-worn cliché) could take his own life with absolutely no warning or indication that anything might be amiss.

If ever there was a time and a desperate need to act upon this sort of thing it is now. According to recent research more than half of parents never talk to their children about stress, anxiety or depression. I cannot tell you how heartbreaking this is, not only for the mere fact itself, but also because I am not in the least bit surprised. The one conversation that I have ever had with an immediate family member regarding this amounted to my confession that I was ill and that person reflexively (almost before I had closed my mouth in fact) screaming at me that I was making it up, and an admonishment telling me to shut up and to ‘not discuss things like that’. This is nothing but a recipe for disaster. It should be no surprise at all for anyone to see that the number one killer of young males is suicide and it must be tackled with great urgency and care. The epidemic of suicide that is killing the strongest of us, the boys, is powered by a dreadful, terrible epidemic of silence. Imagine that; a nation of parents who cannot discuss such matters with their children. How on earth did things ever get this way?

I say this all the time but one day soon it may well be your son on the chopping block, your daughter on the ledge. If you do not have this conversation with them now then you might one day find that you are having a conversation with yourself, asking why you stood by and did nothing whilst your son became a man, or your daughter blossomed. You will, on countless sleepless, endless nights face the hard truth that you could have acted, and you will torture yourself for leaving them in emotional poverty when YOU WERE SO RICH.

A hero of mine, the late Christopher Hitchens wrote in his memoir of a telephone call that came from his mother which he never took. It came minutes before she committed suicide in a pact with her lover. How it must have scarred him to know that he might have talked her down. One can only imagine the shame and guilt he felt, right up to his dying breath about his inaction and casual dismissal of her reaching for him.

Would you like to avoid that? Talk to your children. Whisper in their ear before the voice in the dark convinces them that the world is better off without them. No teenager wants to die. They want to cry out to the world and let it know that they have something to give.

The Dignity of the Mentally Ill

Author note: this post dates back to August 6th, 2014. I clicked ‘draft’ and forgot about it. I posted it now because it is important to me.

Dignity is an imprecise word. It refers to a quality that essentially is conferred upon a person by others. One cannot possess dignity. It is given, donated perhaps. At best one can display dignity, however it is usually the case that when a a person is noted for behaving in a dignified manner it is usually in the midst of some sort of trial or difficulty that they are going through. As such we are all reliant upon our fellow humans for dignity.

This week a man was sectioned under the UK Mental Health Act after he was involved in some sort of bomb hoax on a flight which was escorted to land by a fighter jet. I doubt anyone would defend this act and it is clearly something that must be taken seriously, however, what I have found most upsetting about this incident is the rhetoric surrounding the condition of this man and the way he has been portrayed in the media. For one thing this is the first story I have seen in some time which deals with a mentally ill person and of course, it is not a story about the positive lives and contributions to the world made by many people who happen to be mentally ill. This story is, of course, about a nutter on a plane trying to blow it up, or pretending to do so at least. It is yet another scare story. I have previously discussed this sort of press coverage and it is nothing new. What is new is this quote taken from the Guardian

One police source said: “On a sliding scale we think we may be looking at an idiot rather than an international terrorist.”

This comes from the police so it is not to be dismissed as idle chit chat. The questions I want to ask this person are these: given that this man is already deprived of his liberty and will pay a bitter price for his actions taken when we was, in all likelihood, not accountable for his actions, was it really necessary to publicly humiliate him like that? What problem has been solved by saying that? Finally, did the person to whom this comment is attributed do anything other than substantially reinforce the stigma surrounding mental illness and the stereotypes that are often so brutal?

Furthermore, I briefly perused Twitter as I am often wont to do and I noticed that, of all people, Al Murray referred to him as follows

I regret posting this as I do not like the lazy brand of Internet journalism that lies in wait for someone to say something silly or offensive and then attacks, but I could not let this slide. I did have a brief and cordial exchange with Murray which you can find in my Twitter feed and I hold no grudge against Murray. I am sure as a famous and successful comedian he has no interest in my little corner of the web here either, just to be clear. The same questions apply, however. What has been accomplished by that tweet, other than the promotion of stigma and the ongoing bullying and oppression of a man whose only crime was to do something over which he could have had no control and cannot be held responsible for in law?

If people are not afforded dignity and respect then they will learn to behave in an undignified and disrespectful fashion. I would like to think that I, complete with my illness, am worth more to the world than the description of ‘a stupid c*nt’. Nobody deserves that when they are subjected to forces beyond their control in this way. I regret however that this is just another loony for people to sneer at, not realising for a moment that at any time in their lives it could be them.