Category Archives: Mental health

Fanning the Flames

NB: Although I do not know the person concerned here, I was motivated by a strong sense of empathy to write about the situation described in the ensuing paragraphs.I have sought approval from Sabrina Winfield to publish this piece and she has seen it. Therefore, all is sound ethically.

 

Let me ask you a question. What do you think of when you hear the word university? The best times of your life? The place where you might meet your future partner? Where you make friends for life?  Then when you’ve stayed up all night, handing in your essay the next morning like a boss?

For some., that is their experience of University. Lucky fuckers. What about the rest of us?

I’ll talk about my experience more later but let me just say I struggled socially at University. I loved Sociology though, except group work.  Group psychology is king and for somebody like me who prefers a few close friends that’s my worst nightmare. I could hear whispers early on “Oh, they’re a bit weird.”

Film nights and beer were the norm in my flat. Chatter laughter noise and small talk, and being sociable. All my worst nightmares. I’m just not very good at it. I’m deeper. I’d rather talk about important interesting stuff. Art music writing and psychology and feelings. That’s more my bag.

Luckily I had a flatmate who preferred similar and after everyone else had watched the film, I’d often sneak it back to my room and watch it with her instead. I spent a lot of time in my room.

We have recently reconnected on Facebook after a long time apart for reasons which I’m not going to go into here. But we were talking about our University days. We helped each other out a lot mutually. I’m not going to go into her stuff here either. She was in her second year and I was in my first.

She recalls our first trip to the uni bar. She tells me;

“I looked at your eyes. Every time somebody said hello to you you looked as though you wanted the floor to swallow you up!” I rolled them too apparently. She knows me very well.

She was right. The one thing I remember was that one of the tracks on the jukebox was Coldplay’s Yellow. Everybody was chatting and laughing, and I just felt like there was a glass wall between me and them. In subsequent trips to the bar they ended up being rather shorter than they should be. Why? We used to make our own way discreetly back home to my bedroom and talk. I’d rather spend time with a few close friends than a huge group I can’t stand.

Without my friend in the first instance I would have hated University completely wholesale.

What if you don’t meet that ally?

I think it’s fair to say that that was the experience of Sabrina Winfield featured today in Southampton’s local newspaper The Daily Echo.

Sabrina, screamed the headline terrified her housemates with a home-made flamethrower.

Before I get into the issues of the post, I’m not very good with numbers I do words. I asked another friend of mine to go through the article and count for me how many lines and paragraphs it took before we got to any  mention of mental health. The numbers make for sad reading. Mental health was not even mentioned until the 38th line and the 13th paragraph. Put another way mental health was not even mentioned until the penultimate paragraph in terms of the website and on mobile.

Instead we are treated to salacious sensationalist hyperbole. Sabrina went on a rampage. Through a hall, though you would think from the tenor of the article she had rampaged through the entire flat. I have to say at the moment I’m not in a good spot myself mentally, and I have been taking a break from blogging and writing. However, this story made me so angry I had to say something.

I was angered that Sabrina’s housemates were centred in the article.

They were terrified apparently. One tried to climb out of a window during a previous incident.  Whilst I accept that seeing somebody going through a corridor with a home-made flamethrower isn’t something you see every day I thought one thing. What about Sabrina? Let me just repeat that to ram it home. What about Sabrina? What was she feeling? What led her to that point? That’s what I wanted to know. If I was more green and less savvy about mental health I would think that random people just make flamethrowers every day.  It’s what everybody thinks isn’t it? That everybody’s ultimate ambition. It’s what you wake up in the morning and fancy doing. Not reading a book not watching TV, no making of flamethrowers beats all that. But the fact is I’m not green and I am savvy about mental health. I have had mental health problems since I was 16. I’ve still got them.

You see the point is this, the flamethrower, coupled the terrifying of her housemates, that’s the end of the story not the beginning. Nobody just wakes up and decides to make a flamethrower.

The real story is the struggle that led up to the making of this flamethrower.

 

For the switched on amongst you there is another point. Previously police had been called when Sabrina was screaming on the landing and threatening to burn the house down. There was an opportunity here to support Sabrina and get her help.

Instead of squealing about how Sabrina was acting eccentrically why not do what housemates ought to do and look after your housemate? Had Sabrina received appropriate help and care at an earlier stage then my bet is and I think it’s a safe one that the incident with the flamethrower would never have happened.

So why in the name of fuck did nobody try to help then? A hug may have helped, a listening ear or perhaps some empathy. But no people would rather go and have their drink and their dodgy kebabs and ignore the people who are struggling.

University is a highly superficial and highly artificial environment in my experience. Nobody cares not really. For those of us with mental health problems, we are often told you’re too intense, you text too much, I can’t cope with you.

In the social media age too, friendship is bastardised. Your mate is somebody who you met the night before and tagged you in that really awful selfie you don’t want anybody to see. Your mate is the one who drags you to the pub when you’ve got an essay to do. But what about when you really want to talk? When you’re crying alone in your room? In the middle of the night when you’re staring at the ceiling for the millionth time and you really can’t sleep? I was lucky. I had my friend. But what if I hadn’t? I still can’t sleep now though.

The fact is that those housemates were quite happy to talk to the papers and to hang Sabrina out to dry. She is not a hardened criminal. She was not attention seeking. She needed help. I wish she’d been my housemate because I would have been there for her without any preconditions or caveats.

I said earlier that I would not go into my friend’s stuff and I won’t. When she had problems though and I’m not trying to big myself up, I sat and listened for three hours without even peeing. My feeling is that if her housemates could have listened to and heard her which is a perfectly simple act Sabrina would never have come before the courts and could have been treated with appropriateness, courtesy and empathy.  All the things which society by and large is shit at. I am today emotional because before writing this I had the opportunity to read Sabrina’s own response to the events. I learned two things. One thing she has an ace taste in hats which I like. And secondly I learnt about what had actually happened to lead her to this point and if I was furious this morning I’m even more furious now.

The biggest crime of the whole thing? The doorway people yes the doorway!  We’d better think about its feelings and book it in for some magnolia therapy. Doors have feelings and can get traumatised. Didn’t you know? Nor did I!

The fact is the local newspaper would rather listen to those who want a cheap sexed up story lacking nuance and truth rather than the real story of somebody with mental health problems. Through the whole article my head was screaming what about Sabrina herself?

She was just reduced to bit part status in her own story. Objectified and dehumanised As for the comments below the line I’m not even going there disgusting individuals! Mind you they are generally disgusting and have the insight of an earthworm. In fact it’s probably an insult to earthworms to make this claim.

Some would say Hannah why the fuck you getting so angry about somebody you’ve never even met? Empathy, which according to the Guardian recently we are getting very bad at.

You see my first year was fine while I had my friend there. My second year was a blur because a carer abused me. I’m in a wheelchair and disabled so I depend on 24-hour personal care. Much of that year, I spent not in lectures but in bed or in the bar or crying my eyes out to my GP.

She was ace. Also I got therapy with a good therapist Liz.

I had to repeat the year. My best friends at uni then were Jack Daniels, Southern Comfort, Snakebite and weed. But the thing is, I wasn’t like the popular kids, I wasn’t drinking because I wanted to be rat arsed on a Friday night. I was drinking too much. I was drinking to not feel. I didn’t want to think. Other stuff happened too, so Liz and I went through strategies for keeping myself safe. So yes I’ve never met Sabrina, but I feel like I have. From having read her blog, I think that this is why sometimes the best support for mental health issues comes from others who understand. I’ve also been lucky so far with the professionals.

 

It was wrong to describe Sabrina as stupid too. People who have suffered abuse of course are never infantilised and called stupid no. They are listened to and respected as cogent human beings with their own stories. That is of course on some kind of fantasy island somewhere.

 

To conclude then, Sabrina Winfield is far from stupid. She is intelligent articulate, honest and erudite. In her blog which I will place at the end of this article she is honest and frank and doesn’t hold back about her own experience. It is perfectly obvious from reading that what led her to this point.

Her housemates should be utterly ashamed of themselves. I suspect they might feel guilty I hope they do. Let me say that whatever fee they were paid they probably have a nagging feeling somewhere in their unconscious and perhaps in the shadow side that they could have done more because they could.

Mental health should have been contextualised in the beginning, not the end of the piece.

Here’s the thing you see when I saw the headline I knew there was a mental health connection.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Turn the pages. Don’t leave the person to struggle. Hold their hand. Leaving is expected. Staying is revolutionary.

Let me leave the last words with Sabrina. But before I do I think that Sabrina’s housemates should be ashamed. I believe that people who make diagnoses in comment sections should be ashamed. But I think above all incidences like this are a stain on society. The flamethrower was the crisis point in an ongoing struggle. Not the beginning. Starting at the beginning would be better. Less easy to write and less easy to read. But infinitely better.

“Nothing was damaged and more importantly nobody was hurt. This event has had an effect on my life that has caused permanent casualty to my quality of life, my reputation and my mental health. Whilst the students at *** Road have surely swiftly moved on, I have an on-going hell of troubles to deal with, as this entire situation was a huge misunderstanding and unwarranted, I can promise that. I was not looking for attention as the article claims, I know how to get “that” without being a fucking asshole or hurting anybody.”

 

Sabrina blogs at http://emptybiros.blogspot.co.uk/

 

NB: If you are struggling with mental health problems at University and don’t know where to turn for support, a guide has been produced by the charity Young Minds. This is available at http://www.youngminds.org.uk/assets/0002/7042/Uni_Zine.pdf (Adobe Reader required).

 

 

So What Is A ‘Mental Health Patient’ Costume Exactly?

mental patient costume

The chances are that if you have ever been to your GP surgery and been diagnosed with a chest infection it was a very mundane affair. Of course, as with anything medical there is always the risk of complicating factors and underlying issues being discovered. However, in most cases your GP will listen to your chest and if they find an infection, taking into account your clinical presentation you will be sent on your way with some bacteria killing broad-spectrum antibiotics.

For the patient presenting with mental health problems though, the journey is a harder one. Unlike those with physical problems, patients with mental health problems present with fewer definable symptoms which are suggestive of certain diagnoses.

There are no rashes, no physical pain and no real visual or sensory clues.

What an effective diagnosis of a mental health problem relies upon is a positive professional relationship between doctor and patient, consisting of a willingness to listen, and from the patient perspective, a feeling that their concerns have been heard and understood, they can trust the medical professional, and lastly that they feel empathy has been extended towards them.

Even medical professionals though are not beyond reproach and are not above learning more. Clinical training for the best of doctors should not end when they leave medical school. They should have an appetite to learn something new every day, to be scholars and make a difference to people. In the real world outside of the tutorial or the lecture hall, or even a clinical rotation it is arguably patients themselves who make the best teachers.

Too often in mental health though interactions between doctors and patients fall short of this ideal. My main objective in liaising with clinicians about my own mental health has always been to be heard and understood. But I am lucky. I am articulate, and I can converse well. Mental health patients are often hampered by archaic anachronisms embedded within the clinical system. Here’s a paradox for you. Those working with anorexic patients will always tell them that their disorder is not about food and weight and this is true. Yet simultaneously patients get caught in the imbroglio of the Body Mass Index. After being told that eating disorders are not about food and weight, with the aforementioned acting as a cipher for other issues, people are told that they have to be under a certain weight in order to receive treatment in the first instance. This seems to be counter intuitive at best and dangerous at worst, encouraging a dangerous game of eating disorder Russian roulette. It makes people feel that they’re not sick enough,and furthermore that they are wasting people’s time.

Of course none of this is true, but that is of little comfort to someone in the iron -like grip of an eating disorder. The greatest injustice of all is that this is perpetuated by the very system which people rely on to help them and that is wrong. Without getting past the gatekeepers, treatment from specialists in mental health conditions is just not an option let alone a pipe dream. This too can leave people feeling that they are a fraud.

What I hope I’ve demonstrated so far is that seeking help for a physical health problem is far less daunting than seeking help for its mental counterpart. Outside of the clinical setting, there are also the attitudes of your family, your friends and the wider public to consider. One of the most heart breaking realisations I have come to is that people are far more sympathetic to physical health problems than they are to mental health problems. With a physical problem, say a broken leg people receive sympathy and empathy because it is tangible; people can see it, touch it and relate to it perhaps.

When it comes to mental health problems, people’s first reaction is often to lean out instead of leaning in. Instead of showing sympathy or empathy, they are often nowhere to be seen. There is much stigma surrounding mental health. It is that stigma upon which the remainder of my argument focuses.

Halloween can be a challenging time for people with mental health problems. When I was a child we made pumpkin soup and made funny faces out of the pumpkin skin. But now it seems Halloween has taken on a much more sinister, visceral disguise.

I looked on Twitter the other night and happened upon a retweet from Dr Rory Conn a Specialist Paediatric Registrar in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Great Ormond Street hospital in London, and a Lord Darzi Fellow.

Dr Conn was drawing attention to this vile poster pictured at the top of this piece. The article from the Bournemouth Daily Echo can be found here and a Storify, containing Twitter’s reaction (credit:SectionedUK) can be found here.

Let us take a closer look firstly at the language and tenor of that poster. Even a layperson who is not a linguistic specialist would know that this disgusting advertisement is going to end in tears for Greene King as a responsible company and provider of leisure facilities.

The Broadway ‘Mental Asylum’ promises free shots for participants. The kind of fancy dress they are looking for is for people to dress as ‘deranged doctors and nurses’ and ‘mental patient’ (sic).

According to the Science Museum the last asylums closed in the 1970’s and 80’s. This harks back then to a time when mental health was less understood, and where people with mental health problems were treated as lepers, people to be feared and hidden from society. What is abundantly clear from the actual poster itself is that some of these attitudes still have some currency today and that is highly poignant. Moreover, it is demoralising for those with mental health problems, as well as those who work in the field of mental health either clinically, or in other capacities. It becomes almost an evangelistic obsession; to break down taboos and stigma so that people do not have to suffer in society.

But promotions like the Halloween event The Broadway pub attempted to run are counter-intuitive and reinforce the very stereotypes which clinicians, campaigners and others try to break down. First of all, doctors are not deranged and the word belongs to a bygone lexicon. I don’t doubt the fact that there are clinicians and other people in mental health whose own experiences have driven them to enter the profession. Unlike The Broadway clinicians and counsellors are there to make a difference.

Secondly, where these mental patient costumes you speak of? Do people wear a big flashing neon sign on their head saying mental patient? If so, please send me evidence for it is news to me.

As one tweeter Katie Hodgie enquired, should she come dressed as herself because she has mental health problems? She didn’t realise that she was scary enough for Halloween. I joked frostily that they should offer free shots to all people in ordinary clothes.

That is the crux of the argument upon which this case rests. Aside from prehistoric retrogressive mythmaking by shameful retailers, there is no stereotypical mental patient. Mental illness transcends barriers of sex and sexuality, race, age and disability to name just a few social categories.

A mental health patient could be anyone. It could be me, your best friend, your parent or sibling. It could be your bank manager, your GP, or the person at the checkout when you went to do your shopping. There are no visible signs of mental health problems so therefore anybody you meet today or tomorrow could have one. It is disgusting to cash in on people suffering, verging on the ghoulish and vulgar.

Are The Broadway genuinely so naive as to assume that nobody with a mental health problem visits their establishment? Are they really that stupid?

The fact that the night was withdrawn is a testament to the power of social media, and everybody who took part in the campaign as recorded in the Storify should feel justly proud. The Broadway however, were most unspooktacular in thinking that this cheap gimmick balanced on the backs of those who suffer as a result of mental health problems who have to endure such stigma was in any way a good idea.

The manager of The Broadway, Jay Cutler, quoted in the Bournemouth Daily Echo’s article seemed like a man who had just stepped off a rather scary ghost train, and I quote:

As of 8am this morning all the posters were taken down, we are sorry if these posters upset anybody, it was just a Halloween theme that all of the staff came up with.

The posters have been up for a week, this is the first we’ve heard of any problems and we acted straight away. We took all of them down and will now come up with a new theme.”

Oh the hubble, bubble toil and trouble they must have gone to taking those posters down at 8: 00 a.m. I can’t help but smile a little really. But the response worries me. As somebody who suffered with mental health problems for a substantive part of my life, the response does not elicit feelings of hope from me. The apology seems perfunctory rather than heartfelt. It’s not a matter of simply upsetting people. Furthermore, such a characterisation only serves to trivialise the matter, and implicitly suggest that Dr Conn et al were making something out of nothing.

Secondly I find it troubling that had been up for a week prior to any complaints. What signal does this send about the attitude of society towards mental health? A society high on cognitive dissonance, jet propelled by the rise of the individual; essentially that as long as one is okay in their own skin they do not need to worry about anybody else. Also Cutler claims that this was the first time that been aware of any problems. The theme was problematic from the outset and any good customer facing business should be able to deduce that at the very least. Why did no light bulb come on in Cutler’s own head when the theme was agreed to between himself and his staff? Notably though approval was not sought from Greene King, the brewery who operate the business. I suspect strongly that if they had been aware the theme would never have made it on to the poster.

But even they don’t get away scot free from admonishment. Whilst I’m aware that diversity is an important and noble cause, and one I actively encourage and support both as a woman with a disability, and a trans woman I feel it is irrelevant here. This does not fall under the banner of diversity but insensitivity. Those with mental health problems are not some diverse separate group with their own needs which need addressed. That is not to say that those with mental health problems do not have needs, rather than those needs should be addressed within mainstream society rather than categorised as something separate and other. This only adds to the stereotype of those with mental health problems as something freakish and beyond everyday understanding.

Staff should not be coming up with themes without approval centrally. Marketing specialists know the kind of ideas to sanction and ideas which are best left in the waste paper bin.

I also  blame the retailers, because if retailers did not produce and market these items themes like this would be impossible to conceive. To think that retailers are cashing in implicitly in people’s suffering beggar’s belief in a modern society.

Now, the UK’s parliament can be and ought to be an adversarial bear pit at times. But one of the most edifying and non-adversarial House of Commons debates I can remember is one where MPs met to discuss mental health. There were many distinguished contributions, with some MPs disclosing mental health problems for the first time. Now, if the UK Parliament can be grown up about it, and if the Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn can appoint a Shadow Minister for Mental Health in Luciana Berger MP, who by the way is already making a sterling mark in the brief then why can’t the rest of society follow suit?

We can feel somewhat naïvely I think that huge progress has been made in the field of mental health. Every time we see a new documentary, a new symposium or a new initiative, such as the new campaign launched by Care Minister Alistair Burt MP and the charity Time to Change, we often lull ourselves into a false sense of security. We think that this means people get it. But the truth is these initiatives are preaching to the choir. We get it, because we’ve always got it. But there is still a sizeable chunk of the population which to put it quite bluntly does not. It is these people such initiatives need to cut through to. If mental health was truly understood, then BBC Three would never need to devote a whole slate of programs to mental health,  and people would not be waiting for huge pieces of time for treatment as highlighted by Liam Fox MP on the Victoria Derbyshire programme this week. Most germane to this essay though, is that reducing mental health patients to a mere caricature, something to be laughed at mocked and traduced would never have entered The Broadway’s theme no brain storming.

As Dr Conn makes plain in his remarks to the Echo such callous ambivalence to mental health problems has direct and tangible consequences. In the worst-case scenarios it leads to suicide, resulting from mistakes and errors sometimes by mental health professionals, but more often the problems begin with society. All people with mental health problems want is a friend, someone to talk not to be solution focused but just to listen and understand. Most often what people with mental health problems want is to be not just understood but to be truly heard. There is a remarkable difference between listening, active listening and truly hearing. I sat and listened to a friend for three hours once. I supported that friend, and I would do it again for anybody. I don’t want to hear endless accounts of people jumping in front of trains or off bridges. That is not because I am dissonant to them. Congruently I’m a highly sensitive and emotional person. But, it is because I want to stop people getting to that stage. I want people to be encouraged by peers to seek appropriate help and to augment their help with love empathy and understanding.

One thing I do know is that we must do better. But the stakes are too high to frame that as some lofty abstract ambition. We must do better, and friends we must do better now. Right now this minute. I wrote a blog in 2013 excoriating the supermarkets for cashing in with mental health problems, after hearing a discussion led by LBC presenter Cristo Foufas on the subject of mental patient costumes. I am furious and embarrassed to find myself in the same position a couple of years later. It proves that nothing has changed. We need to stop preaching to the choir and cut through to those who don’t understand because the stakes are too high and the need is too urgent. Let’s get to work. I have spent enough time with Rogers and Jung to know the benefits of therapeutic support under core counselling conditions. But just because after 16 years I’m antidepressant free doesn’t mean I stop caring. I don’t walk by on the other side. I am also not foolish enough to think that the scrappage of one idea in one pub in Britain means mental health stigma is over. What is saddening and maddening is that there are probably thousands of promotions which are predicated on similar tired boring disgusting tropes. To those who don’t get it, to those who don’t understand I say examine your conscience and walk a mile in the shoes of those with mental health problems. I don’t check my privilege here, I use my way with words to help people who feel voiceless and disempowered in the struggle with mental health problems. This blog is for you. I hope it shows that at least one person cares. When I had mental health problems I needed somebody to care too. I know what it is like to be on the phone to the Samaritans in the small hours. I know what it is like to be bullied at school and emotionally abused by someone who should take care of you. What I also know is that mental health patients are not a costume. So this and every Halloween I implore you to treat them as people, not as your spooktacular theme. You want your zinger marketing idea. I bet you wouldn’t want the mental health problem it mocks now would you idiots? Do better and do better now. We are not your marketing devices; we are human beings. Give us dignity and do better. I hope I never have to write such a blog again. Such blogs fall into the category of stating the bloody obvious. From a writer’s perspective they are the kind of blogs you never want to write, because they remind you that ghoulish voyeurism is still a persistent force in society and as we head towards Halloween I find that depressing, icy and chilling. Think and reflect. What is most chilling is that if Dr Rory Conn’s friend had not photographed the poster the event would have gone ahead and checked and free of scrutiny from Greene King. If that does not stir you from cognitive dissonance nothing will. It really is time to change.

Oh and the costume? You’re wearing it already.

 

To John Woodcock MP I say “thank you!”

Mental health problems are common in society. One in four people have them, yet many suffer in silence. I knew very little about the Labour MP for Barrow in Furness John Woodcock MP when I woke up the other day.  I knew that he had had a nasty accident with a ladder and had resigned from his post as Shadow Transport Secretary as a result. Over the course of the day however, I learnt a lot more.

John Woodcock MP yesterday did a brave thing. He admitted he was suffering from depression and had been prescribed anti-depressants. In the high octane adrenaline sponsored environment of Westminster, the impact of this should not be underestimated. Under the spotlight of Westminster, politicians of all stripes are never more than one step away from a camera lens, or a journalist ready to analyse and deconstruct their actions to reveal even the tiniest chink in their armoury.

When a politician acts with bravery and candour, the partisan temptation which all politicos suffer from ought to be silent. I have been impressed also by the breadth and depth of the support that John Woodcock has received from across the political spectrum. This has ranged from colleagues on all sides of the House to journalists across the political spectrum; notably perhaps a very supportive blog from Fraser Nelson at the Spectator.

As someone who has depression, I know very well what John Woodcock is experiencing right now. The first time I admitted I had depression is as clear to me now as it was when I was 16. I had been seeing a counsellor for various ongoing issues in my life and she said to me one day,

“I can’t work with you anymore. Not until the fog clears. You should go and see the doctor and talk about antidepressants.”

 

 

 

Even the word antidepressants put me on alert. I was only 16. Not having the nuance that being 32 gives you I confided to somebody that I was worried I would be thought of as a nutter so what John says in his excellent blog on the subject has a real resonance  with me. Most of all, it is his hope that friends, family and fellow Parliamentarians will notice no difference in him as a result of popping pills.

You see that’s the thing. It would be churlish to ignore the fact that there is a stigma around depression. Firstly, the stigma arises from admitting to yourself that you have it, for it is all too often portrayed as a sign of weakness in popular culture. Secondly the stigma arises from wondering how people may react, and that is something which one cannot predict. Those of us who suffer with depression are not suddenly different people. We do not grow three heads. We are just struggling with a broken soul and would appreciate your support.

One of the problems with mental health as opposed to physical health is that people cannot see it or touch it. You cannot show them an X-Ray or a rash but it is authentic

When people ask what depression is like, John’s description of black moods also resonates. For that is what depression feels like. It has no bright colours initially. But as treatment bears fruit, shards of a rainbow come through.

But people are still fearful of coming out and admitting they have a mental health problem. A common misconception about people with mental health problems is that they are attention seeking. Exactly so! We all seek attention. Human beings are relational. But it is the idea that seeking help is cast in a negative light that stops people coming forward and admitting their problem, thus delaying recovery and better management of their condition.

Another platitude offered by the armchair psychologist is that there are people worse off. This is a red herring. People still have to live in their skins, and they should be able to do so equitably and happily without bogus interventions from armchair ‘doctors.’ If we all followed that ridiculous line of thought, sympathy, and more pointedly, empathy would not exist.

 

John has said that he hoped people would notice no difference as a result of the pills. I actually think they will. They will hopefully notice fewer black moods. They may see a happier person as time progresses. They will see a man who confronts difficulty, not one who shies away from it. MP’s are people and this intervention shows politics has a human face, and is not all about duck ponds and foie gras. I believe John’s intervention will have helped many people. For in my world, socially constructed, misappropriated weakness is really strength. Thank you Mr Bump. You are impressively climbing the metaphorical ladder again.

Female Genital Mutilation: It’s Our Problem: The Cruel Cut with Leyla Hussein

I was emotional impressed and in awe one night watching Channel 4 recently. The weather forecast was slightly different. The forecast was for fanny-forwardness with a chance of cupcakes. Okay, the weather forecast was a lie although it would be funny to see fannies popping up all over the weather map. But one night recently Channel 4 was much more fanny forward than usual.

Channel 4 broadcast a groundbreaking documentary, The Cruel Cut with Leyla Hussein on the pernicious scandal of FGM, Female Genital Mutilation. Girls who have undergone FGM have had their genitals cut often at a very young age. The practice of FGM originated in 512 BC. 140 million girls worldwide have undergone FGM. That alone is a shocking figure. If I was to substitute the vagina for a leg, or an arm that wouldn’t be right would it? Neither is it right to condone the mutilation and refashioning of the vagina for non-medical reasons. FGM is a disgusting practice. It is one which dehumanises and stigmatises its victims, causing them lifelong and everlasting emotional and physical pain. I am glad that Channel 4 decided to broadcast this programme.

Leyla herself had been cut at a young age. Hearing her recount the false expectation of normalcy from the day, she recalls sunlight beating through her window is emotional in itself. For that day would be a day like no other and a day that changed the course of her life for good.

FGM though is not just a remote cultural practice happening on a remote island somewhere. It is happening here and now in Britain in 2013, in our homes and in our communities. So therefore it is not just affecting victims, although it affects them primarily. It should affect us too, as we can help in the efforts to arrest and cease this practice.

To raise awareness amongst women and girls Leyla set up a vagina tent, telling people there were going to discuss vaginas for the afternoon and also enticing people into the tent with vagina shaped cupcakes. I have never before seen a vagina so expertly dusted in pink icing!

Unfortunately after the sweetness of the cupcakes, the event proved much more harrowing than a sweet treat. Leila ran through the different types of FGM and how they are performed. In the first type the clitoris is cut or pricked. I don’t just want to say that as a blasé statement. When I was making notes for this blog yesterday I sat and thought long and hard about how that would feel. Imagining searing pain and blood for the victims, their vaginas damaged and never quite the same again made me really sad. And there are no fancy semantics or words I can use to dress that up. It made me sad that human beings could do this to other human beings. Many of the cutters themselves are women too, so one cannot easily simplistically dismiss this as female subjugation meted out by men. Men and women are complicit in this barbaric practice and it has gone unchecked and unquestioned by the wider public for centuries.

In the second type, both the clitoris and the small labia minora are cut. In both cases this results in a lot of bleeding and discomfort. The remaining hole is then cut and closed.

In a third type of FGM, infibulation, a woman’s labia majora and clitoris are both removed. Therefore the big and small lips are gone. What remains is a tiny hole out of which women are expected to menstruate, give birth and urinate.

As I write I am thinking, and thinking hard. What FGM is at heart is butchery of a woman’s body. It would make every one of these three experiences listed above much more traumatic than it needs to be. Not only would it be more traumatic, it would be physically painful. I would dread going to the toilet I really would. Periods although painful for many women would become the stuff of nightmares. Giving birth, and having to squeeze a tiny human being out of this tiny space would be nothing short of brave.

Yet thousands of women in the UK are living with this reality. They experience urinating this way, giving birth this way and menstruating this way because they have no choice and I salute them. Let us not forget that this is something done to women in the name of obscure culture rather than done for them and their benefit. They experience these things because they have no choice but to carry on with the burden of FGM on their shoulders. There is an operation known as reversal which can open the hole further reducing the pain, but it can never be a reconstructed vagina returned to its original form and functionality. This violation of women’s bodies is permanent and irreversible. Many women carry on because they have no choice and I find that admirable.

The operation does enable women though to have periods like everybody else. Why shouldn’t they? The thing I want people to keep in mind as they read is that there is no medical reason for this. It is a non-medical procedure. It can be likened to somebody amputating my legs just for the hell of it. There is discrimination here hiding in plain sight. It is advancing the myth that women are somehow inferior and less worthy than men which is simply never true.

During a fruitful discussion at Leyla’s house the conversation turns to the topic of sex. Leyla said that in the clinic environment she had witnessed women with third-degree vaginal tears because of men having to force the penis into a tiny space. There was also she said a high amount of anal sex amongst couples where the women had been cut, because quite simply there was nowhere else for the penis to go.

Everyone has the right to enjoy pleasurable sex in ways that feel good and pleasurable to them. FGM reduces the chance of this and I think that is barbaric. It turns what should be a pleasurable experience into a painful one and a nasty one which you would most likely remember for all the wrong reasons and that is not right ethically, morally or sexually. It is taking women’s rights away. It is allowing and encouraging discrimination against women because women who have not been cut are seen as unclean, with cut women seen as the gold standard. FGM is an agent of social control against women, limiting their sexual experience and opportunity and that is not right. It destroys women’s confidence and love for themselves. Interestingly though the women pointed out that African men were more understanding of their experience knowing about the culture and practices for themselves.

I think it is impossible to ignore the racial dimension inculcated within FGM. Felicity Gerry, a criminal barrister and anti-FGM advocate stated that it was impossible to take race out of the equation. Gerry was uncompromising. She said plainly that;

“This would not happen to white vaginas.”

For me there are two issues raised by what Felicity Gerry argues and they are both equally as troubling. If  FGM wouldn’t happen to white vaginas, why not? Is it because issues affecting marginalised groups are not enough to motivate the rest of the population into getting onto their collective feet and making a noise? Following on from this, is there the subsequent implication that non-white vaginas and therefore non–white people and their lives matter less? If so I find this disgusting and beneath contempt. Every life matters and every life deserves the protection of the society and the law enforcement around it. I cannot help feeling somewhere in the pit of my stomach that if FGM was happening to white people there would be protests, innumerable online petitions and perhaps even a debate in the House of Commons without anyone asking for one. What we need to do is to get a point where all life is sacred because it is.

Another major realisation from the dinner party which Leyla hosted is that men have to be part of the wider conversation about FGM, although from the film it seemed that many older men were hesitant to condemn it outright.

The younger generation though are a different matter. After being shown imagery of the types of FGM and plasticine models in the case of the boys, both young men and women were in no doubt that they wanted to join the campaign to end FGM. During the film one boy was seen to feel dizzy and had to leave the room.

The views of the young men changed dramatically after their plasticine experience.

Before beginning their day with Leyla they had said that FGM was a good thing, and that it calmed women down rather than being like a supermarket open to everyone.

Now at first glance this may seem depressing but the change in attitude from the boys afterwards was nothing short of amazing and I feel confident that they will take that change and knowledge back to their own communities. It shows that hoping for  a sea change in attitudes and perception around FGM is not unrealistic nor a waste of time.

Keir Starmer the former Director of Public Prosecutions was also interviewed for this film. There were six active cases being considered at the time of the end of filming. The main difficulty though as he said is that the chances of a child being willing to testify in court against family members is pretty slim.

Approaches to tackling FGM also varied widely in terms of geography. In France they have a prosecution heavy approach, and have secured just over 100 convictions. Girls are also routinely checked for FGM by doctors.

In the Netherlands, FGM education programmes are routine. There is also real political will to tackle the issue with an overall financial investment of €4.2 million. Britain falls behind with a much lesser financial investment benefiting fewer people.

The political difficulty also in Britain, as the chair of the all-party group on FGM, Jane Ellison MP points out is that FGM policy is spread out across three departments, the Department of Health, the Department of Education  and the Home Office. We need more joined up thinking and a single minister or department responsible for FGM policy. Only then can we move things forward politically as a country.

That is something we need to do. Leyla suggested that Britain is considered a soft touch on FGM by many of her European colleagues.

Returning back to Felicity Gerry, in her eyes women are at the bottom of the agenda and black and minority ethnic women further down still. By implication then FGM is someone else’s problem.

For Efua Dorkenoo OBE the Chief Executive of the charity Equality Now the problem is that Britain opted for diversity, meaning that different cultures are allowed to live their lives in their own way however they see fit.

This is interesting for me as I have never really considered the idea that diversity could have disadvantages as well as advantages. For me diversity of people, and diversity of life has always been something to be celebrated.

But in terms of FGM culture is most definitely the problem. We in Britain take a laissez-faire approach and turn a blind eye, because being typically British we do not want to interfere in somebody else’s life in somebody else’s culture for fear of being racist or nosy or unfriendly. But in the case of FGM I feel it is a situation where we must interfere far more.

And if anything proves that, it was Leyla’s own survey which she conducted appearing to support FGM. Because it was seen to be a cultural practice, most people voted in favour of retaining FGM when in reality Leyla hoped they would do the exact opposite. It is amazing how much of a lever cultural practice is over people nowadays even if harmful to others. Leila even dropped in subtle verbal cues like mutilation and torture to encourage people to smell a rat in yet they still voted in substantial numbers in favour of FGM is a cultural practice..

This is the part of the film where I felt most empathy for Leyla and being honest I was almost in tears myself. To realise that there is such a disparity between your own critique of practices within your own culture, and the lack of awareness of this critique amongst the wider public must have been devastating for her. This is why we need to be far more fanny forward in everyday life and tell people about the dangers and consequences of FGM. There is more on that petition here in London’s Evening Standard. We must not be afraid to critique or question cultural practices. Such scrupulous behaviour could lead to a better life for somebody and we must never lose sight of that.

We need to learn something from the approach in France. As Efua Dorkenoo OBE suggests, we need to adopt their approach of equality. For France they would say, all the children are French, and this is what French kids do.

Another contributor said Britain is too politically correct when it comes to tackling FGM. If ever there is proof that cultural sensitivity and a laissez-faire approach does not work always then FGM is that proof.

The concluding part of the film centred around a trip to Maidenhead the constituency of Home Secretary Theresa May MP to talk to her about FGM. I was really sad when their hopes of spending a little time with her were dashed. However I know that a meeting has taken place with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and newly promoted Public Health Minister Jane Ellison. That really encourages me.

Overall then, I am proud of Leyla Hussein and her colleagues as they all work tirelessly, individually and together to end FGM. We need to move away from the idea that somehow FGM is happening in another culture, in another place, that it is something we should no longer pay attention to now the documentary has aired. FGM and the fight to end it is an ongoing struggle and it is a struggle which we can all play a part in. We owe it to these women and girls. The best way we can show that we understand their pain is to do something to help them and do it now, I found the documentary genuinely harrowing to watch, but that is insignificant in comparison to how harrowing it is for the victims of FGM to live through that experience, and as another contributor said;

“The image never leaves you of standing in your own blood, looking at your own flesh.”

I doubt those heartbreaking words will ever leave me either.

We must stop compartmentalising this child abuse. It is not a black problem or a white problem. It is not an African problem or a British one. It is not just the Government’s problem. It is not just your problem and it is not just my problem. It is everyone’s problem across the world if we care at all about the forced medically unnecessary mutilation of female genitals, and the residual emotional scars. It is our problem and we can do something to help end this scurrilous practice. I salute every victim of FGM, their courage their bravery and their strength in coming forward to share their stories.

Thank you to all involved, thank you to you for raising my awareness of FGM. I will definitely forever be fanny forward.

SIGN THE PETITION – please remember to click on the email you will receive in your Inbox after signing to verify and add your signature to the petition.

“Hello” I said to the shop assistant, “I’d like to buy a ‘mental patient’ costume please.” “Oh”, they said. “Just ordinary clothes then. ” Exactamundo” I beamed gladly!

With summer about to go on its year-long holiday, giving way to autumn the leaves will start falling off the trees and the weather might get slightly colder. With this in mind, I thought I had better start thinking about my next ‘mental patient’ costume. I might need some new cardigans, new jumpers and perhaps warmer blouses and trousers. That will be my new ‘mental patient’ costume. The funny thing is they are readily available on all good High Streets and are virtually invisible to wearers of these costumes. So undoubtedly they will have maximum scary impact on Halloween.

My opening paragraph of course refers to the horrible story which broke yesterday surrounding to fancy dress costumes available for purchase on the websites of two of the U.K.’s biggest supermarket chains, Asda and Tesco.

The costumes themselves were very stereotypical in nature. A white coat stained with blood and I think you can imagine the rest. The costumes are deeply offensive to anybody first with a mental health problem and secondly to anybody with any level of social awareness at all.

It is not only the costumes themselves that inherently bother me. I would love to understand the rationale behind these costumes being designed and approved for retail in the first place.

It would be disingenuous of me not to say that the costumes have now been removed from both websites and the companies have apologised. However anybody can apologise for anything. I am curious as to how this happened in the first place.

You see you may think I went a bit mad and behaved like a bit of a nutter in my opening paragraph. Went a bit crazy even. But my point is that people with mental health problems are visually indistinguishable from anybody else. It’s not like the education system; there is no uniform. We do not have tattoos or neon signs joyfully declaring our mental health problems. My point is that by suggesting that mental health problems can be reduced to some kind of stereotypical scary costume is pandering to the very lowest of common denominators.

There’s nothing inherently special about people with mental health problems. I bet if you walked into your local town or city centre today you would pass at least 20 and you wouldn’t even know. This figure becomes even more concentrated when you think of people living together in large institutions like universities for example.

We have to strive for parity between the seriousness of physical health problems and mental health problems. For the two are just as deadly and just as lethal.

An unfortunate quirk of society though is that it handles things much better that it can see. You can see a broken leg, but unfortunately we don’t yet have the ability to put a broken soul into the x-ray machine or under the microscope. If only it were that simple.

Earlier this year I was privileged and proud to watch the ‘Mad World’ season on BBC Three. One of my highlights of those series was the programme Don’t Call Me Crazy set in the McGuinness unit in Manchester.  I wrote a blog about each episode of the show when it aired so I don’t want to repeat myself here.

What I will say is that the programme depicted with aplomb the diversity and breadth of mental health problems, as well as the diversity and breadth of people suffering with them.

There is also a great deal of shame and stigma around people with mental health problems still. People are scared and frightened to admit they need help as we are worried I suppose about how that be perceived. I can guarantee you that the release of those costumes by Tesco and Asda will not have helped in that effort. The main problem I would say for people with mental health problems is people themselves. People can be very cruel, verging on disgusting if they do not understand mental health problems. To them it is something they don’t understand and they do not make any effort to understand it.

Having filled in a survey for Mind recently I began to think we were making some progress. After the television programmes aired, I felt optimistic about understanding of mental health and I think the participants in those shows shared my sentiment. It takes a lot to go on television and to expose your soul especially about a taboo topic like mental health.

Mental health problems bring in their wake real suffering real anger and real sadness. Not to mention isolation and loneliness. People with mental health problems are in pain already. Imagine a throbbing pain in your heart or your leg. Would you expect people to mock that? You could probably reasonably expect some kind of analgesia to alleviate your symptoms.

As a mental patient though you get the privilege of a costume made especially for you. How kind! I think what really annoys me about this situation is that it sends a message that it is okay to talk about  people with mental health problems, to openly mock them in a perverse game of Chinese whispers in which they cannot participate.

Would you have a wheelchair costume? Or maybe a white stick costume if we are going to be inclusive? No. Then this is not acceptable either.

There is nothing funny about mental health problems I say to the Supermarket Satire Department. They are a constant and unrelenting Russian roulette of sadness happiness and suicide at times.

People with mental health problems are not some fictional characters in a book or from a film. In this vein a Buzz Lightyear costume would be perfectly acceptable.

I am saddened by these events because I am fed up and angry with mental health being the last taboo. It gives those who mock carte blanche to do it and they say it is okay. They can wear those costumes with ambivalence and dissonance because it is not their problem. And this is part of the problem with our Western stiff upper lip culture. We are too happy to walk by on the other side and not help the person who needs that help the most. We are told to walk by when we see somebody crying in the street because it is not our business. We selfishly worry about how we will be perceived rather than thinking about the person who needs help.

I don’t mind telling you I take antidepressants, I’ve been a mental outpatient and I’m proud because it gives me understanding that the people who sanctioned the design of those costumes for a cheap gimmick will never have in a million years.

My biggest fear is not though for people receiving treatment currently. Naturally I wish them all the best and send my support and love to them. However my fear is that the people sitting at home struggling and ruminating will have their worst fears confirmed by the crass and inexcusable actions of the supermarkets. People already think society doesn’t care, society doesn’t get it society doesn’t understand it and nobody gives a fuck. The last thing you want to do against this backdrop of stigma and titillation is seek help.

The one thing I take heart from is that against this backdrop of a proven lack of understanding of mental health in wider society is that people have come together via social media to form their own community, to build their own fortress insulated from the cruelty of the world. And before anybody says that’s not healthy don’t even start. Because when every day is a struggle sometimes you need a safe space and safe people to talk to.

I was impressed with the way people from all walks of life united in fury against the supermarkets yesterday. It showed them at least through collective action what is and what is not acceptable in the public eye.

Some say that people doing this kind of thing, rocking against the supermarkets have too much time on their hands. I say no no and no again. The same parity has to be established between mental health conditions and physical conditions. People are entitled to respect empathy support and compassion at the most basic level with whatever problem they are struggling with. But still in 2013 somebody is still likely to garner more sympathy for a plastered leg than for a plastered soul.

Of course we in mental health costumes are just ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives. But at times we slip, sometimes things get difficult and at that time mockery and derision is the last thing I would want or welcome.

People die because of mental health problems continuously. Day in day out suicide features in the news. Ask questions of people with mental health problems. We are not nutters bloodstained in white coats we are people just like you. We are your next door neighbour, your bus driver your milkman and your friends. As an empathic person I always try and support those who need it in a limited way I can on social media. You don’t need to wear a costume to do that – the only requirement is that you do not think mental health problems are something to be made fun of.

As a caveat I’m aware that not everybody will find this the most offensive thing ever. However we have to think of more than just ourselves. We have to think of the person being bullied and tortured because of their mental health problems. We have to think of those who self harm who may indulge in unhealthy coping mechanisms as a result of these costumes, and other multitudes of people who suffer in silence. I can assure Tesco and Asda that this will not have helped to reduce that fear in the minds of people with mental health problems. The good thing is that those who care, those professionals those friends and allies who tirelessly give their time and energy are helping to do that already. I say thank goodness for my friends with mental health problems and their costumes of ordinary clothes. They are often without a shadow of a doubt the most understanding people of all.

Some jokes just aren’t funny.

Ciarnan Hilferty, the chair of Amnesty International in the UK has made some openly mocking remarks on the subject of mental health problems. These have been revealed on Twitter by the website Political Scrapbook.

I appreciate that humour is an issue of personal taste and a matter therefore for the individual. On a subject like mental health however you have to be extremely careful. What is palatable for one person may not be palatable for another.

In the arena of mental health there is already a huge stigma around admitting you have a mental health problem. Many people feel afraid that they will be laughed at and it would appear from Mr Hilferty’s Twitter feed that those fears are not without justification.

There is often the rationale in journalism that such comments should not be reported upon because it gives them publicity. Instead therefore, it is better to ignore them and not react at all.

Well, I’m sorry but today I am throwing that rationale out of the window. Such comments make me angry and make my blood boil. These were not just comments made by my mate in the pub, these comments were made by somebody who is a representative of a national and international charity. The charity Amnesty International exists to provide better human rights for those who are in difficulties or peril around the world.

The charity’s own website makes clear that mental health is a human rights issue. So how does joking that somebody could enter the BBC competition The Voices advance the human rights of a schizophrenic? How does it improve their dignity or self-esteem? The questions were rhetorical but I’m sure you know the answer. Of course jokes like this are unquestionably unhelpful. Mental health problems are misunderstood by society enough without jokes trivialising them as a party piece for a BBC talent contest.

The other point about mental health problems is they are largely unseen. You can’t feel depression by reaching out and touching it. The average person would not know you have OCD when you walk down the street to the supermarket. The point is the person with the mental health problem knows only too well. For Ciarnan Helferty mental health problems may be material for jokes on Twitter but for many people they are their real lives. For them they are not just a source of casual humour on Twitter but something they have to live with day in day out.

When you make a joke the object of the joke is to laugh with somebody not at them or at their expense. Not to dehumanise them or to put them down but just to share a moment of fun.

I found Helferty’s jokes disgusting and they left a bad taste in my mouth. It shocked me that the chair of an internationally respected and renowned organisation could be so callous and stupid in making fun of other people’s problems in a public social media space like Twitter.

Ironically perhaps in 2010 Amnesty International published a report on ending discrimination against people with mental health problems in all walks of life. The report states that:

“AI further believes that all individuals have a role to play in bringing

an end to discrimination against people with mental health problems

by equipping themselves with accurate knowledge and information

about mental health and the issues that affect the lives of people

with mental health problems; challenging examples of prejudice or

discrimination against people with mental health problems where

they encounter them in their daily lives, within family settings, social

environments or in the workplace; being conscious of the impact that

their behaviour can have on people with mental health problems.”

When juxtaposed with this quote Hilferty’s jokes look even more risque and ill judged. Mental health problems are not a joke, any more than living with a disability or having a broken leg is a joke.

Instead mental health problems are a daily isolated emotional grind and the ability to seek help takes courage. The media as a whole are trying to make a concerted effort to shine a light on what it is like to live with mental health problems.

For me, when my depression and anxiety was at its worst I did not want to get up in the morning. In terms of the anxiety I had an irrational fear that when my mother went upstairs to bed she would not come downstairs again. This resulted in me phoning her multiple times a night to ensure she was okay. This was no doubt due to my disability but you feel like you’re suffering alone and you can’t turn to anyone. The isolation is real and so is the fear of being laughed at. But it doesn’t make it right. That is why we, those who have experience of mental health problems must challenge the approach of those like Mr Hilferty. I’m not saying I’m humourless. I’m not saying you can’t laugh at yourself sometimes. But to do it in a public forum like Twitter when you have no idea of the mindset or the feelings of those reading is wrong.

 

I say that instead of making jokes about people with mental health problems, Ciarnan Helferty should spend time with people with mental health problems, listening to them and asking them questions.

It will be interesting to see after an experience like that whether he still thinks his jokes are a barrel of laughs. There is enough stigma. We do not need wannabe comedians adding to it. We need understanding, empathy and compassion.  These comments were made by the Chair of a human rights organisation. Ciarnan Hilferty is in a position of authority, responsibility and influence in the field of human rights.

That is what makes his comments so eye-wateringly appalling and ignorant.

 

 

Don’t Call Me Crazy 3

TW: Mentions suicide, self harm, anorexia, and voices inside the head. PLEASE DO NOT READ IF IN AN UNSAFE PLACE EMOTIONALLY.

The final episode of Don’t Call Me Crazy throws a spotlight on to males with mental health problems. I think mental illness can be particularly difficult for men given the myriad of social expectations and stereotypes around them. Bullshit like men don’t cry or men bottle things up. These stereotypes also have a negative effect on men as they are so ingrained into our culture. If men are trained not to talk or speak about something bothering them then places like the McGuinness unit may be a last resort after a build up of problems.

Firstly we meet Matty, who was brought to the McGuinness unit after his lecturer found him at college writing suicidal thoughts on the Internet. He has a fear of being killed on his 18th birthday and has plotted out in great detail his own solution to the problem. Chillingly he has worked out the cost of a gun, and intends to use one to kill himself.

In an art therapy group where patients are using pictures taken from magazines to illustrate their problems Matty chooses the emboldened word ‘THOUGHTS’ and a picture of red boxes all close together. He is able to articulate to the art therapist that the word represents his thoughts and the boxes close together represent the voices all shouting at him at once..

I think the visual aids helped him to consolidate initially his own problem. They can come upon him at any time as is shown when he has to leave the room abruptly when the voices begin. Voices from my impression of Matty seem to be really crippling things. Imagine trying to move with a heavy weight on your back. You would probably move slowly and slightly fearfully due to the pain. It seems that this is how it is for Matty. He cannot predict when the voices will strike so has a constant crippling fear gnawing at him and in many ways it becomes easy to understand why faced with this scenario he would want to kill himself.

I am not saying anyone should; nothing of the kind but it is easy to understand why somebody in the grip of depression thoughts of suicide and psychosis would want to. It seems like a temptation, and a way of escaping the problem. But that said also there are healthier ways of achieving this.

After having home leave cancelled Matty begins to open up to Mental Health Nurse Pete about his regret over not talking to somebody before he felt the urge to self harm the previous night.

Mental health is not about perfection straightaway, it is about as Pete says learning lessons for the future. The two then bond over a shared love of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers song ‘It’s My Aeroplane’ and the tattoos of the lead singer Anthony Kiedis.

Such bonding is important as it helps to build up trust and rapport. I share Matty’s love for music and it is definitely one of my techniques for de-stressing too.

Later in the programme we see Matty with occupational therapist Vicky. The group are talking about support and are asked to name five people who support them. Matty is initially unable to think of anyone and writes that down. However by the end of the session there is progress as he has managed to name five people and the voices have not emotionally crippled him this time.

For Dr Andy Rogers, Head of Psychological Therapies at the McGuinness Unit, hearing voices is nothing more dramatic than a common response to stress when the mind races. I think that the lack of sensationalism around mental health has been a real strength of this series. Practitioners such as those in the McGuinness unit deal with situations as they are rather than how they would like them to be. Understanding the story around the voice helps a lot according to Dr Rogers both for the patient and medical professional alike. I think I know that nothing mental health wise ever happens in a vacuum. There is always a trigger and as I said previously it is about walking alongside people while they figure out what that trigger is.

After Matty is restrained he meets with case manager Maureen to discuss his anger. He tells us that he attended anger management. This failed him though and only served to make him more angry. This is not unusual. In my own experience when I feel pissed off I tend to feel anxious first. Anger is a visceral strong emotion and does not appear generally as a first response. Rather the anger is precipitated by other events. Matty actually getting to grips with what he is dealing with is a powerful moment for him and a powerful moment for me as a viewer.

In this episode too, we also meet George, a gifted rugby player who won a prestigious rugby scholarship to a top boarding school. Far from home though he became depressed and began to hear a man’s voice telling him he was worthless and should quit rugby.

As psychiatrist Dr Ihenacho suggests any kind of competitive pressure can cause depression and anxiety . Competing against people who are equally talented as you are can break you as you are always comparing and contrasting your abilities with those of others. He shares time with his father reminiscing about happier times on the rugby field. He speaks tenderly about a card he has received from the boys in his House at boarding school.

For George the McGuinness unit is a safety blanket. He feels safer than he did before and he knows he is with people who understand. His mental health assessment helps him to understand his problems better. Matty too echoes these thoughts. So then, the act of listening is so simple but rarely practised to any great effect. We must listen more, much more and be there for people when they need us most.

George confides in Gill about a wall he punched and how he was given diazepam. Gill is not shocked, nor does she condemn him. What we need to do is to harness such attitudes and to spread them out into the wider world. A better more compassionate humanity is what is really needed here. We need greater empathy too. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. People say I am very understanding and very empathetic and I listen. Yet it saddens me that this should be something so wonderful and remarkable. Why can’t more people do it?

An attraction developed this week too between George and Beth. They have a good laugh but wind each other up as well. A funny moment occurs when Beth throws George’s slippers out the window. To say sorry she makes a pancake. At least she cared even if George didn’t fancy touching the pancake!

For Beth the overriding narrative of this week is one of progress. She is eating more, being weighed and for the first time is allowed to eat on her own. Ultimately, she is speaking more positively than ever before. This is heart warming to see and gives you a kind of happy feeling. However such transformation is not without its problems. A difficulty comes for Beth when the review team makes a decision to stop her Zopiclone and replace it with melatonin. We see her in distress at this development, begging a nurse to reverse the decision with one of the doctors.

In institutional settings, any change in routine can be destabilising. Its significance can also be increased. Beth feels the staff are against her and are letting her down. The reality is she’s sleeping effectively without the medication and no longer requires it. But when decisions are made for you and not by you it can be hard to see that they are in your best interest.

We see this later too, when home leave is cancelled due to Beth self harming close to discharge. For Dr Rogers though, blips are not unusual. Think about it if you have been in an enclosed space for several months, going back to familiar spaces may not feel so familiar at all. It is natural to resort to a way of coping when we are scared often the way of coping we fall back on most, even if it is not the healthiest.

But the best thing is Beth herself realises that self harming may not be the best way of coping as in no longer has the same effect for her and in her words “doesn’t even hurt, [and] was just annoying when it wouldn’t stop bleeding.”

Beth was then happily discharged soon after and according to narration had not self harmed since leaving the McGuinness unit. Matty was discharged into the care of an adult mental health unit after turning 18 and is now back at college.

George made the decision not to return to his boarding school and to study for the same scholarship locally to his family in Essex. For me this is no way a retrograde step. Sometimes we can all feel a huge amount of guilt over our decision-making since it can have an impact on others too.

However we are all built differently, and whilst one decision may suit one person it may not suit another. I am glad wholeheartedly that George did the right thing for him – well not only for him but also for his mental health. People say you only get one body, and there is a plethora of health and safety advice about looking after your back, for example. You only get one mind too, and that needs looking after also.

In closing let me just say a few words on the series and mental health in general. You may be wondering why I decided to dedicate three blogs to this series. Why mental health matters to me so much. As regular readers will know and new readers may not up until 2012 I was in counselling every year of my life for various things. The bulk of it was due to depression around my disability and my stepfather’s abuse. I have devoted enough time to transsexuality elsewhere in the blog’s are not going to discuss it here.

But you see, when I was first sent for counselling all those years ago, I felt crazy. I knew it was something everyone did. It’s not like an after-school club that everyone goes to. I would shoot off in my school uniform to the offices of my local Social Services Department. Nobody ever knew where I was going. But talking helped, talking to a stranger who did not judge who did not think badly of me who would just listen and allow me to talk, not sharing preconceptions even if they had them. Talking and being heard was vitally important.

Latterly I went to college, and things were pretty bleak. I was boarding away from home and just felt really lonely. I was having counselling and had managed one session with my new counsellor, when she said to me;

“I can’t work with you till the fog clears. I want you to go and see the doctor about antidepressants.”

Antidepressants, I thought. What the fuck! I’m only 18! I later told the deputy care manager that I was scared people would think I was a nutter.

But it turned out I wasn’t alone. There was a special set of appointments after the main general medical ones for students with mental health problems. You see, we reflect our own stigma. My attitude of choice towards mental health problems is informed by my own depression. Nutter is a value judgement. Yet instead of being kinder to ourselves it is these value judgements which we are most afraid of. Having a mental health problem is scary and isolating. But it is far easier to go through it with kindred spirits than alone. Mental illness is not having to walk on eggshells. Mental illness is not feeling pissed off we all feel pissed off. But imagine if that’s the only feeling you feel.

That is mental illness. The worst thing you can do it to tell somebody to cheer up or to snap out of it. This may be something you do to ease your conscience, and maybe your way of wishing that the person’s suffering would go away. But the best thing you can do is to listen and hear.

For I tell you people can understand my disability in a heartbeat. They can see my wheelchair. They can see I can’t walk. But depression is less well understood.

Eating disorders and self harm too present their own unique challenges. A friend at uni told me they had an eating disorder. They were shocked by my understanding. Their explanation of it from their world and their perspective made perfect sense. I don’t judge that perspective nor think about it for when somebody is disclosing something it is their voice and theirs alone which is important. My task then is to shut up and listen as counsellors did for me. Empathy is very important.

It saddens me that many do not understand even belittle or make fun of mental health problems. They are not fun and not a joke..

People with mental health problems deserve our respect our love and our care. Even if you can’t directly empathise with a problem, learn about it read and listen.

I’m so proud of all the participants in Don’t Call Me Crazy. I think it has achieved its objective of showing other young viewers they are not alone. Places like the McGuinness unit are a much needed safety blanket of love and support, sometimes tough love but love all the same.

The thing that saddens me though is the act of listening is not rocket science. We can all do it, yet sometimes I think we choose not to. Let us make better choices and not ascribe pariah status to those with mental health problems, especially the young.

Let us open ears, silence preconceptions and opinions and listen. Many of the young people sounded as though the McGuinness unit was the only place they had felt truly listened to. Does that not disturb you? It smacks of a huge deficit in society and it is not a financial one either. It is a deficit of humankind and only humankind can solve it.

Asking for help should never be the wrong choice. It is not a weak choice either. Sometimes it may be the only choice, the best choice and the strongest choice you ever make.

And for others, make the choice to say this:

“Yes okay. I may not understand everything but I am willing to listen. For the person with mental health problems, those may be the best words they ever hear.

The irony of this show for me, and the irony of mental health from the bottom of my heart is that people with mental health problems often make the most sense.