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.

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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.

Ageism and Mental Illness

This Sunday, today as I write, I sat down and watched BBC Sunday Morning Live on the television. As is often the case my fury bubbled and rose up as I listened, in particular when one man, David Vance, spouted his obnoxious opinions. To preface this post, I have read a little bit about him and he seems to be nothing other than an ultra right wing blogger and, frankly, a bit a of a twit. In the midst of healthy discussion he tried to stir up a fight which is all his kind ever actually does, and it is certainly how he sustains a living. He is the perfect blogger insomuch as he possesses no creative skill at all so he instead destroys whatever he sees and calls it politics and morality. What concerned me the most was his rant on the notion of mindfulness. The actual question asked concerning this was whether or not mindfulness has become a middle class religion, in my opinion a perfectly ridiculous question and exactly the sort of baiting in which the BBC engages far too often. My concern is not this question per se and I will explain why.

Vance brought up the issue of how much money the NHS spends on teaching mindfulness and how, in his entirely predictable and uninformed opinion, this is a waste of time and money. He even went so far as to give the standard Idiot Signal regarding healthcare which is the following:

Why are we spending so much on this when people cannot get cancer drugs?

He may have varied his words a little but that was his point. As soon as a person says this you can be sure that they are talking nonsense.The opposing argument quoted studies that I confess to taking at face value rather than having read  them (no sources were given) which assert that mindfulness reduces grey matter in the amygdala, instead stimulating growth in other areas of the brain. This is a favourable thing for those suffering from various mental illnesses. This exposes Vance’s argument as the fatuous and specious drivel that it is: ageism. Not only that, it is the typical right wing, macho response to mental health. He essentially asserts that cancer ought to come before mental health treatment. Why? The answer is simple. Cancer kills the old on the whole whereas mental illness, and by extension suicide kills the young on the whole. Our society in the UK is a gerontocracy. The old, the group that put the Tories in power, are bullying the young and Vance is epitomising this with his wild claims concerning cancer. I doubt that he cares a jot about the suffering of cancer patients. In fact I doubt he cares about anyone but himself, but that is a different matter. The issue is that of his sophistry, which is he is using to cover his relentless commitment to bullying the young, and in particular boys. The Tories have defunded and decimated mental health provision, a deliberate and targeted attack on the young. This is powered by the old, Baby Boomers like Vance, and their conviction that the young are living the high life on the taxpayer.

It used to be that the elderly men in power sent our youngest and strongest to war. Now we send them to hell instead. The hell known as untreated mental illness. Suicide is now the leading cause of death in young men and people like Vance know this. His argument concerning cancer has nothing to do with concern for those suffering from it. Rather, it is a cloak covering his contempt for the young. David Vance is an a obnoxious, ageist bully and he is making a name for himself by bullying the helpless and  hopeless.

You Must Be Mad!

How many times have you heard it?

He’s mad!

or

She’s a looney!

You can add to this list words and phrases such as crazy, round the bend, insane, nuts, nutter, off his or her rocker and much more. Language is powerful and if you are anything like me then you have used it carelessly before now. Language is like a cultural window. What we accept without thinking in terms of the spoken and written word reveals that which we are.

I have often paralleled the struggle for acceptance faced by the mentally ill with that of the rights of gay people. My best friend as I grew up was gay and seeing his world change over the years as our society adjusts itself to orient itself favourably towards homosexuals has been a privilege and a pleasure. I hope to live long enough to see the same happen for those with mental illness.

Below is a video excerpt taken from an edition of BBC Question Time in 2012. This features Will Young, among others, talking about gay rights, and in particular something said on the BBC Today radio programme by an awful, repulsive vicar who described gay marriage as an abomination and who likened it to slavery.

What Will Young does in this video is attack one prejudice with another. He particularly highlights the use of the word “gay” as an insult in schools, and dismisses this man by doing exactly the same thing when it comes to the words he uses, specifically “mad” and “crazy”.

The use of the word “gay” in the way in which Young describes is something I experienced first hand at school it was extremely unpleasant and had a detrimental effect upon my education. I would argue that the socially acceptable allusion to anything relating to mental illness as a negative thing has the same destructive effect upon a vulnerable group of people. I have never heard a single person challenged upon their usage of such language. It seems to me to be completely acceptable to regard mental illness as the ultimate expression of all that is unwanted in terms of what a person might suffer in life. That a man can argue so eloquently in favour of the rights of one vulnerable group by denigrating another one shows where we are as a society. The status of the mentally ill is, in my estimation, similar to that of gay people at a time when it was illegal to be gay and being homosexual was essentially a social death sentence and often a literal death sentence.

This problem is the essence of my reason for writing this blog. I know that there are children going through schools now for whom growing up is extremely difficult. They are dealing with things within themselves such as suicidal feelings, serious depression, psychosis and other serious, chronic and debilitating symptoms. Add to that prejudice and a stigma, both of which are considered entirely socially acceptable and completely normal, and which serves to make the mentally ill outcasts and it is not hard to see how awful the lives of mentally ill people can be, particularly schoolchildren.

Just as we have begun to make a better world for gay people, I long for a better world for my people, and I hope that I live long enough to see it.