Monday, 22 April 2013

Mental health is such a huge and important issue, it has the potential to be an election winner or loser, despite the stigma still associated with it

I've always had an interest in issues around mental wellbeing and began training as a psychodynamic therapist in 2007.  What follows, are some of the powerful and distressing comments I've heard and read over the years; the same things come up time and time again, yet still no government will talk about mental health in an intelligent, compassionate, helpful way. 

"Every morning I wake up in a state of anxiety and within an hour the depression has started again"

"I drink to numb the pain of anxiety and worrying about all the bills mounting up. But these days I don't stop at just feeling numb, I keep going until I'm unconscious - what sort of existence is that?"

"When my wife left my whole world fell apart and ten years on, absolutely none of it has started to rebuild"

"Governments do nothing to help people like me with depression, they don't understand mental illness and call us scroungers and shirkers.  I've already been thinking, when the kids leave home and no longer need me, perhaps I'll commit suicide"

"I grew up watching my dad hit my mum and my mum hit the bottle. I decided a long time ago I'd never get married and have a family, I couldn't live with myself if I inflicted that on my own kids"

"My parents were good people but they were just always at work and you felt you couldn't bother them. For three years I was bullied at school every single day and I knew I had to carry that burden alone because mum and dad didn't have time to worry about me"

"I'm terrified of being alone so I stay, even though this relationship isn't good for my mental health. No-one else would have me, anyway"

"Politicians keep saying 'get a job and that will improve your mental health'.  I'm sure for some with transient mental health problems this might be true, but if you've got a deep underlying mental illness which has been there since childhood really, no job is going to solve that problem, in fact the stress of work and having to deal with the public will only make it worse"

"Single parents, with absolutely no support, are expected to look after their children, but who looks after the parent when they're in trouble? No-one, that's who"

"The medication stops the voices most of the time, but when I'm put under increased pressure and stress the voices come back and I can't cope with anything"

"Sometimes I see my daughter washing her hands for fifteen minutes and it's like watching myself at that age - but I daren't get help because I'm terrified they'll put her in care like they did with me, and that's where my real problems started"

"I cut myself because my feelings are constantly dismissed by my family and by society, so I've learned to suppress the mental anxiety because no-one will listen to me.  When I cut myself it's such a relief, the sense of physical pain seems to reduce the mental distress I'm feeling"

"Being in care in the 1970s only made my problems worse.  I ended up pregnant by one of the care home workers"

"There's a lot of mental illness in my family. Problem drinking and violence and suicide on both sides. Six sessions of CBT won't cure that will it!"

"I find it really hard to trust men, because my dad used to hit us all the time and say he was going to kill my mum in the night.  I used to go to sleep terrified and check on her at 5am each morning.  I was about 7 years old"

"I keep applying for jobs but once they see I suffer from a mental health condition they don't want to know.  I had thirty rejection letters last month and it's destroying my self-esteem.  Why can't the government create supported work opportunities, where your employer understands things like concentrating and dealing with the public are more difficult for you?"

"Most nights I go to sleep hoping I won't wake up in the morning"

"I keep ending up with these blokes who abuse me. Whenever I get to know a guy and he's the kind and caring type, I end it because I don't feel comfortable in relationships with men like that.   I don't know how to behave"

"Forty years on, I'm still angry at my mother for dying of cancer and leaving me and my little brother with a dad who beat us up and constantly blamed us for her death.  I think my dad was probably angry at her too.  He drank himself to death after we left home"

"It started when my wife lost her job and I was having nightmares about losing our home.  I'd never gambled before in my life, it just started with £10 bets in the bookies on the way home from work and snowballed from there"

We all know how prevalent mental health problems are, almost all of us will have someone in our family who suffers from a recognised condition, from personality disorders to stress, anxiety and depression.  The poor are more likely to suffer, but the better off are by no means free of risk.  Latest figures suggest one in three of us now will suffer from an episode of mental distress which will require some level of treatment, from counselling to medication or hospitalisation. The World Health Organisation predicts that by 2030 depression will be the leading cause of disease around the world. Greater than cancer, greater than diabetes, greater than heart disease or malaria.  How will society function when such a vast number of us are struggling to cope in our day to day lives?  And at what point are political leaders going to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee?  Even in this liberated age we're lucky enough to live in, there is still enormous stigma attached to mental illness, but with it affecting so many of us, either directly or our concerns about family members, friends or colleagues, we have to find the courage to start talking about it, because politicians are unlikely to do anything without a great amount of public pressure.  Mental health is such a huge and important issue, it has the potential to be an election winner or loser, despite the stigma still associated with it.  No longer can we allow them to brush it under the carpet like years gone by.

Some useful links for support with mental distress:



Time to Change


Black Dog Tribe

Depression Alliance


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Social and political activism could improve your health and wellbeing (and get rid of the Tories too!)

The number of people living alone has almost doubled in the last 40 years, according to a recent study of 372,000 households.  That's 16% of us, compared to 9% in 1973.

Other research, involving 6,500 men and women, has found that social isolation increases the likelihood of death by a staggering 26%. 

An increasing number of us are choosing to live alone, or find ourselves doing so after failed relationships and this could be damaging our physical and mental wellbeing, both studies revealed.  Human beings are social, no other species has evolved to live in groups as large and complex as ours, but increasingly people report feeling socially and emotionally isolated, even though they might have a regular job and neighbours living all around them.

Most who report feelings of loneliness and isolation have a desperate craving to belong, to matter to other human beings, our brains are hardwired to connect with others, and this might explain why so many people joined in with demonstrations around the country, objecting to the £10 million funeral of a former prime minister, at a time when the very weakest and poorest in our society are having vital benefits withdrawn, because the chancellor insists this government can't afford to support these groups, as the previous Labour administration did.

The left could benefit from harnessing public anger and uniting in a formidable force to attack the coalition relentlessly, as the coalition has embarked on a prolonged and ruthless attack on the sick and poor since coming to office, 3 years ago.  There is certainly consensus for a campaign to give power to the people, but with the official Labour front bench reluctant to speak out against the government (and I've yet to hear a credible reason for their collusion with the cuts) the Tories appear to be getting away with murder - quite literally, some would say!

The Conservatives are a party of millionaires, they have extreme amounts of money and resources at their disposal certainly, but we should not be put off by this, for this obscene level of wealth can be highlighted to rouse the people from impotent slumber, to show how sickeningly unfair it is to make the poorest and most vulnerable pay for a banking crisis they had absolutely nothing to do with.

I urge political commentators, back bench MPs, workers, bloggers and sufferers at the mercy of these heartless sons of Thatcher, to continue applying pressure to the government, and to the mainstream media alike, to support one another and to embrace the challenge ahead and  to force the change we need. There are thousands of us, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, who are keen to connect with our fellow human beings and take this government to task, and to hold David Cameron to account and consign these vicious Tories, for once and for all, to the dustbin of history.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Who actually benefitted from last night's Panorama film? No-one really, apart from John Sweeney.

The BBC's Panorama special report from North Korea was broadcast last night, despite growing objections that programme makers had needlessly put LSE students at risk, in using them as cover for the notorious operation.

I've yet to hear a compelling argument for taking this incredible risk with people's lives, and watching the documentary myself, I was surprised that little was exposed that hadn't already been revealed by more accomplished journalists than John Sweeney.  I didn't find him particularly convincing as a student and he lacked the gravitas of a professor, rather he reminded me more of a male Judith Chalmers as his film seemed to be a fleeting tour of site seeing attractions, such as they were, and a visit to a hospital with no patients to interview.  Which summed things up in a way, for I found I was left wondering if this broadcast might not have been better if it had been presented as a three minute report during the Ten O'clock News - and without using students as a human shield! 

From scenes of a country in crisis with intermittent electricity, which Sweeney seemed particularly fixated on, the focus then moved a few miles across the border to reveal the booming economy of its neighbour, with all the wonderful offerings of capitalism, Big Macs, casinos and enough flashing lights to keep you in migraine tablets for a lifetime.  The comparison was unnecessarily crass and I kept thinking I was watching a Chris Morris satire or an episode of Cyderdelic, illustrating the citizens of the south were being just as effectively kept quiet by their masters, on a diet of western consumerism.  I don't think the irony was intentional.

This was a self-indulgent project which ultimately seems to have achieved nothing and benefited no-one, except perhaps John Sweeney, from all the hype.

Murder of homeless man by three teenage boys, was a tragic story in which everyone was the loser, including society.

Yesterday in Liverpool, three teenage boys were sentenced for the murder of a homeless man back in August of last year, they'd literally kicked the living daylights out of him as he slept rough in the early hours.   Everything about this case was tragic and left you thinking, is this really what life has become?  The murdered gentleman was typical of so many on the margins of society in every town and city throughout Britain.  Struggling with alcoholism, the only support he had to lean on was a bottle in a shop doorway.  The children who killed him appear to have received woefully inadequate parenting, this was a story in which everyone was the loser, including society.

It was Margaret Thatcher who introduced Care in the Community, back in 1983, as part of her agenda to reduce the welfare state, particularly to reduce the financial burden on the government for people she no doubt saw as, economically inactive and of no use.  Only one problem with a concept like Care in the Community, Thatcher's community - raised largely on a diet of selfishness, greed and indifference to suffering - didn't actually care.   Through the 80s and 90s, the underground Circle line was known as the "care in the community line" because former residential psychiatric patients would ride it all day long.  With little money, and nowhere else to go, it at least kept them warm and dry and they were less likely to have their head kicked in, than up there on the streets of London. 

The outpourings of anger we've witnessed following Thatcher's death, are due to her callous view of humanity and her ruthless determination to stamp out groups of people she despised.  Sadly New Labour did little to try to reverse the public's perception of the needy, as worthless parasites; when Labour left office in 2010, society was no more compassionate than it had been at the height of Thatcher's popularity.  This is an inevitable and vile by-product of successive governments' economic policy - There is no such thing as ethical capitalism, it thrives on hate, fear, misery and paranoia.  When people are happy and content and have wonderful relationships with other human beings, they tend to buy fewer objects to satisfy their emotional needs.

One of the challenges for an incoming Labour government will be to improve society, before it's too late, to increase the collective sense of compassion and integrity.  But one wonders how this will be possible with so many New Labour faces on Ed Miliband's front bench, and with so many shadow ministers appearing to share Iain Duncan Smith's view of the vulnerable - like Thatcher before him - that they need to be eradicated from our communities by whatever means necessary rather than supported and encouraged to make happy, meaningful lives for themselves.

Sadly, I think we have a long way to go.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher's passing has divided the nation, but united the left. In some ways, the former Prime Minister's death could not have come at a better time for Labour.

Margaret Thatcher's death has certainly divided the nation, but it seems to have united the left - though the Labour leader himself was keen to appear statesmanlike, in his tribute to the former Prime Minister.  But Labour would do well to take notice of the public's outpouring of anger at the glorification of a woman who delighted in trampling on whole communities and individual lives - so many of them, the most vulnerable in society.  David Cameron has misjudged the mood of the country, the people are certainly not behind him on the issue of Thatcher's funeral, and come the next general election, he might well pay the price for his failure to understand voters' objections

If Twitter is anything to go by, and it usually is, people have been joined both in outrage - that, at a time of so-called austerity, the state is contributing millions of pounds towards the lavish funeral Lady Thatcher designed for herself, and in joy - that despite the brutal war she waged on the working class, they've outlived her.  Like her party, she subscribed to a Darwinian philosophy of life, she stamped on the weak and mocked the poor; you were a winner or a loser under Thatcherism. 

Last night's party-goers had somehow survived, stayed strong enough to hang on in there, not through a selfish desire to succeed, but through camaraderie, sticking together, supporting eachother, because, unlike Mrs Thatcher, most of us do believe in society and the importance of giving eachother a helping hand when we're struggling.

The BBC opted not to cover the gathering, and as with the corporation's decision to play only a few seconds of "Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead" tonight - despite it being number 3 in the official chart - it seems probable that former Tory party chairman Chris Patten, now Chairman on the BBC Trust, brought some pressure to bear.

Occupy London however, ran a live video stream and Sky News did choose to cover the celebrations in Trafalgar Square, with Ian Woods' impartial report showing the party was almost entirely good natured.   They're having fun, he reported, they're singing and dancing and drinking champagne.  They've waited over twenty years for this moment, they pledged after the Poll Tax demonstrations they would return to the square to party on the first Saturday after Margaret Thatcher died, and here they are!

Again, if Twitter is anything to go by, far more were sat at home raising a glass, or a cup of tea with the celebrators than were muttering objections.  This has been the general mood too, of radio phone in shows in the days since Thatcher's death; the vast majority of callers don't seem to agree with David Cameron that she was a fantastic Prime Minister who deserves an extravagant send off, funded by the taxpayer.  And if the Tories were hoping for a bounce in the polls, from all the Iron Lady hype, they'll be sorely disappointed, all their efforts would appear to have been largely wasted.  Her death will not save Cameron, indeed it's been reported the knives are already out, and he'll likely meet the same fate as Mrs Thatcher did in 1990.  Once you look weak, once you're a liability, you're brutally dispatched in that party, you're surplus to requirements, no place for compassion in Darwinian law.

But one man's misfortune, is another man's gain, as they say, and David Cameron's twelve hour tributathon to Thatcher backfired spectacularly when Glenda Jackson gave a six minute masterclass in oratory, reflecting the anger of voters throughout the land.  It's been suggested the double Oscar winner may even have secured Labour election victory in 2015, at a time when the Labour leadership was being criticised for failing to stand up for the people suffering once again under a brutal Tory administration.  In some ways, Margaret Thatcher's death could not have come at a better time for Labour.  Perhaps the outpouring of deep resentment will encourage Ed Miliband to consider a little side step back to the left, away from Tory-lite-New-Labour, or to reshuffle his shadow cabinet at least, to make sure the views and values of the vast majority of ordinary, decent people are represented once again at the despatch box.  It's been quite a while, but events this week will surely show him supporters of the Labour Movement don't give up, they hold onto eachother and they hold onto hope.

And sometimes the good guys win.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Compelling BBC FOUR documentary "Century of the Self" (2009)

Compelling 4 part documentary which explains how governments have used Freudian theories about selfish human desires, to control the general public and keep them docile, thus allowing those in power to continue to rule and become obscenely wealthy, largely unchallenged.


1. Happiness Machines
2. The Engineering of Consent
3. There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed
4. Eight People Sipping Wine in Kettering

This is a must watch for anyone interested finding out why society has become so selfish and so narcissistic and so paranoid over the past thirty years, and for anyone who wants to contribute towards creating a more ethical, more humane, less stressful existence for humans in the future.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The death of Margaret Thatcher: Yet again, MPs in their ivory towers, fail to connect with ordinary people.

Like many, I've been stunned since Margaret Thatcher's death, at the way most politicians and much of the press have sought to rewrite history in their desperation to paint a portrait of her, most ordinary people simply don't recognise.  And just as with the barrage of negative stories about people on welfare last week, so we've had to suffer a bombardment of quirky little anecdotes and tales of heroic bravery, for fear that if the airwaves fall silent for a single moment, people might catch their breath and start to question some of these strange accounts.

Did she really go into South Africa and single-handedly liberate Nelson Mandela in February 1990? (I can't find any news footage of that at the moment!)
Did she demonstrate compassion for human suffering by regularly taking in waifs and strays at Christmas time?  (Well, Jimmy Saville, I suppose!)
Did she genuinely want to release thousands of mentally ill patients from the trauma of residential care, so that they could be free... (to travel the circle line from dawn to dusk, because they had no money and nowhere else to go!)

Politicians frequently express these sorts of polarised views, you're either good or you're bad and anything that casts doubt over the category you've been placed in, is ignored or denied.  George W Bush was famous for doing this; his Axis of Evil comments revealed just how paranoid he'd become, and here in the UK too, politicians made remarks which sometimes had you questioning their mental health as well.  Why did they think everyone was trying to f*** them over, screwing the system, at the time I didn't understand this at all.

Then in 2009 of course, the Daily Telegraph revealed MPs themselves had been claiming expenses, inappropriately, at least, we were frequently told these claims did not technically break the rules, but most were found to have claimed for things, the public were astonished by - from blue movies to duck houses and moat cleaning services!

Politicians had been obsessed with the public fiddling figures, because it appeared there was an embedded culture of this in Westminster.  They judged us, by their appallingly low standards!  Very few emerged with self-respect intact - though I have to say, the current Labour leader, Ed Miliband was on the Telegraph's short  "Saints" list of MPs for claiming very little in comparison to others and he was ordered to pay nothing back.

All too often our members of parliament seem to live in a world of their own, with no idea what life is like for the vast majority of us (who actually don't fiddle our monthly expenses and wouldn't have anywhere to put a duck house!)  They seem out of touch with the public's concerns and out of touch with reality.

On the passing of Mrs Thatcher too, politicians have read the public mood all wrong.  That's why so many people are objecting.  It's an insult to tell people who suffered as a result of her brutal policies, that we must all lavish praise and respect on her, because she was a woman who won three elections.  To be honest, she didn't have a lot of competition did she, the left was in chaos for most of the 80s and 90s!  So many people lost their jobs as a result of Thatcher's heartless economic policy; they lost their homes, their marriages, their dignity and any sense of hope.  Why on earth should they be expected to toe the Tory line and mourn the loss of a woman they only ever knew as a cruel, oppressive ruler, who condemned their own suffering through desperately hard times, as weakness!

But it's not just people who despised Mrs Thatcher, who are objecting to the extravagant funeral she planned for herself.  Many have come out and said they actually admired her, but they still find it outrageous that in times of extreme austerity, when we've been told vital public services must be cut back to the bone, the government has offered £5 million of taxpayers' money to help fund her send off.  At least £5 million, for they won't know the exact amount apparently until after the event.

And now we are hearing MPs and ministers are wading into an argument about what songs the BBC's official Chart Show on Sunday night should and shouldn't play.  There's been a campaign to try to get the Judy Garland song, "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" to number one, as a protest against the glorifying of someone whom a significant percentage of the population have loathed for over 30 years.  Considerable pressure is being put on the BBC not to play this song in their regular top 40 run down.   The track is currently number 4 in the charts, and actually number 1 in the download charts.  One wonders what Mrs Thatcher herself, would make of the Nanny State stepping in to take control of the free market!  As usual, Tweeters have been keen to offer advice to the BBC, the funniest one perhaps being: "Why don't the BBC play Ding Dong The Witch is dead but have the words spoken by an actor."

If MPs are successful in preventing this record being played, this might well be seen as the government upping the ante - is this really such a good idea with her extravagant funeral taking place on Wednesday?

However much MPs from both sides of the house have been keen to express their affection and respect for Margaret Thatcher, there simply hasn't been a mass outpouring of grief around the country, as there was, for instance, when Princess Diana died.  I cannot believe for a second that thousands will line the funeral route to weep into their hankies and throw flowers at her hearse.

While I imagine this must be a very sad time for Margaret Thatcher's family, I don't understand why everyone else is expected to mourn her. Yet again, MPs just don't get it.   Most people probably don't care any more about Margaret Thatcher, than she cared about them and the public is rapidly reaching 'Thatcheration' point.

I should close, by extending my appreciation and respect to those famous faces who have shown the courage and integrity to give a more honest view of how Mrs Thatcher's policies affected individual communities and society as a whole.  To Ken Livingstone, who was I think, the first to give a more balanced interview (and got cut off by Sky News I believe for doing so!), and to Glenda Jackson  along with colleagues, Michael Meacher, Diane Abbott and David Winnick, to Polly Toynbee on Question Time and to Mark Steel for writing an excellent, nail-on-the-head article in yesterday's Independent, which you can read here:

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Kudos to iconic British actress Susan Penhaligon

Kudos goes to iconic British actress Susan Penhaligon, who is reported to have ripped up her Liberal Democrat party membership, in protest of their brutal welfare and NHS reforms.  She said her late cousin, Liberal Democrat MP, David Penhaligon, would be "turning in his grave" over some of the coalition's policies.  "I feel slightly betrayed by the Lib Dems by going along with the 'bedroom tax'. And the NHS reforms seem like a step towards privatisation. More competition in the NHS would be a disaster," said the actress, once hailed as the British Bardot.

It's wonderful that a lot of opposition to these cruel, ideological reforms is coming from the arts and drama community.  It's just such a shame the official Opposition remain reluctant to speak out about the injustice of the government's attacks on the nation's greatest loved institution and the people it looks after.

Susan Penhaligon's most acclaimed role was her stunning portrayal of spoiled daddy's girl Prue, in "Bouquet of Barbed Wire"

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Mick Philpott displays all the common signs of sociopathic behaviour, and that's what made him risk his children's lives, not being an unemployed council tenant.

The Daily Mail's recent front page article about child killer Mick Philpott has provoked widespread disgust and condemnation.  In his poorly researched story, A N Wilson states there are not dozens, not hundreds, but tens of thousands [of people just like Philpott] in our country.  As often seems to be the case with the Daily Mail, there is no actual evidence to support this shocking claim that there are tens of thousands of fathers up and down the country who would put their own families in mortal danger, without giving it a second thought; this is just A N Wilson's bizarre and bigoted view of what people who live in council houses are like. 

Mick Philpott didn't kill his own children because he didn't have a job, or because he had a large family, but most likely because he displays all the common signs of being a sociopath, which are:

  • Impulsive nature, bizarre decisions often without any serious thought to consequences
  • Obsession with winning at all costs and a need to dominate others
  • Ability to charm people, superficially charismatic, often come across as enigmatic and sexy (just as with Fred West, women seem to find Philpott charming, a loveable rogue!)
  • Absolute refusal to take responsibility, or acknowledge that they're wrong
  • Lack of remorse, shame or guilt - would never say sorry for anything, because they're convinced they do nothing wrong - if bad things happen, it's always someone else's fault
  • Pathological lying - they're expert storytellers and will speak very movingly about terrible things that have happened to them, which tends to be all complete lies,but people warm to them
  • Grandiose sense of self, delusion that they are special or gifted and everyone admires them
  • Sexual promiscuity, often high sex drive associated with mania and strange sexual fetishes
  • Incapable of love, due to total lack of empathy, associated with extreme neglect in childhood.  Though superficially they can come across as loving - it's just acting a role to get what they want
  • No consideration for the impact of their cruelty on others, inability to connect their actions with someone else's suffering
  • Intelligent, at least in specific ways, ability to intuit someone's weakpoint and use this to manipulate them. Often ability to retain facts and figures and pick things up quickly, which gives them the illusion of being bright, capable, confident, genuine and trustworthy.
  • Lack of realistic life plan, wild dreams about what they're going to do and who with with no evidence whether this might be possible - as soon as they think it or say it, it becomes fact to them
  • Often a history of suffering abuse in childhood, including sexual abuse, which causes the mind to split bits of the personality off and switch feelings off, so abuse no longer hurts
  • If things do go horribly wrong as a result of their actions, they'll shamelessly play the victim because they lack the courage to acknowledge responsibility
  • Ability to switch personas, depending on who they're dealing with and what they need from that person.  None of the adopted personas are real, but roles they've learned to act out to get their own way.  There is no real sense of self. 
In prison he may need to invent a new persona, to ingratiate himself to fellow inmates, to avoid the inevitable hostility being a child killer will attract.  If he can't win admirers in prison, he might become a recluse and shut himself off from his surroundings, something he may have learned to do in childhood if he suffered abuse.  With a personality which has such a driving obsession with being in control, suicide is always a concern - after all, this is the last and most powerful way of taking ultimate control.