Wednesday, March 29, 2017

‘Talk, more talk. Chat, more chat. I'm happy to do it for you...’

‘Talk, more talk. Chat, more chat. I'm happy to do it for you...’




Talk is cheap. Yet can prove so valuable. How dear, then, is stigma?
‘Just talking about it is really important.’
So it is - as movingly displayed by so many, such as the (for want of a better word) ‘stars’ of the ten Heads Together two-minute, tear-enticing films released today.
Who could fail to be moved by the heartfelt testimony of so many people who have not only plunged the pits of despair yet also re-emerged strong and willing enough to talk about their ordeals not only with loved ones but the wider world?

For example, former royal marine Philip Eagleton who refuses to flinch from discussing past suicide plans, knowing now the support he has around him - and the strength (re)discovered in himself.
Maddy Austin, chuckling about how she now shares ‘too much’ with her father Mark while he ruefully reflects on too long ‘failing’ (for want of an apter word) to understand her anorexia anguish.
Fiona Millar’s frustrated bafflement at her partner Alastair Campbell hitting himself around the head when depression yet again descends, somehow - yet both resolving to keep out a keener eye.
Watching them and the other seven videos released online today, even best efforts here inevitably failed to keep back the tears - the first trickling subtly down almost imperceptibly, others crinkling increasingly swiftly, still more bursting out in involuntary gasps. (Memories of past self-harm, and more..)
If these courageous witnesses, plus inspirational others, can - as they surely shall - encourage not only sufferers to make their voices heard, but allies to offer their ears and influence, then so many more lives can potentially be helpfully restored, revitalised and enriched.
However, if not careful, one stigma eventually faced by mental health issues could turn out to be being deemed an overdone, tokenistic verbal hobby-horse of those with power but abdicating much responsibility.
How much is conversation worth, in the absence of funding for further actual mental healthcare services?
At times it can seem that ridding mental health of the stigma attached - while plenty more needs to be done - is an easy get-out by government in place of actual resources.
Safely said - self-assuringly used.
The charities, campaigning organisations and health workers giving their lives to improving mental well-being could hardly ask for more high-profile backing than the royal family, especially its most prominent younger generation.
Prince Harry might even have (maybe, possibly, perhaps) hinted himself, at a Buckingham Palace reception last Friday later turned retrospectively off-the-record, some glancing frustration at services being cut nationwide despite acclaim for the royals’ Heads Together campaign. (Maybe misread.)
Theresa May, in a speech to the Charity Commission in January, also insisted that ridding mental health of its - that word again - stigma was a priority, calling for attitudes to be 'transformed'.
And yet even at the time that felt to many like easily warm words floating free of actual actions.
This might feel like a pettifogging, ill-spirited response to well-meaning backing from the highest-born in the land.
Not a bit of it. All power to them - properly influential power, that is, on top of symbolic impact.
But her majesty’s offspring should not be left alone by her majesty’s government to do public relations duty when public health decisions are made - or avoided - elsewhere.
‘It all starts with a conversation.’ 
Of course it does, and should - and then, what next, for those struggling with finding help, getting help, benefiting from help, then building on help?
At least if the royal family, the next in line to the throne, are not only backing but actively promoting such a message, awareness could hardly want for better boosts.
But, but, but ... is that enough?
Already over-strained and under-resourced mental healthcare services suffer increasing austerity pressure - cut in real terms by 20 per cent since 2012.
One in ten depression patients referred by GPs to the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme wait a year simply for assessment and one in six attempt suicide while on the list.
And on Monday the Lords voted through cuts to Personal Independence Payments support for an estimated 160,000 people whose disabilities restrict their mobility - including those who find it difficult to leave home due to anxiety, panic attacks or other psychological problems.
That was, despite the Lib Dems pushing one vote calling for the latest cuts to be scrapped - instead another was approved, merely calling for a review after two years.
(Sarah Olney MP today desctribed the crackdown as showing 'the government are betraying the most vulnerable in our society'.)
And, alhough little-mourned by consensus, the coalition's health minister Norman Lamb did push mightily for parity of care between mental and physical health - again, something that persists these days more in promises than imposition by the administration to follow.
Statistics, like anecdotes, give only part of the picture. Many many more, mind, get scattered or neglected as well.
And easy to say, from opposition benches or from outside - always wanting more. 
But then, there are so many more, wanting more simply because they are suffering more, unheard - or turned away for treatment - or falling somewhere in the middle of well-meaning yet under-resourced and unjoined-up health services.
There are no easy answers - of course, of course. No magical moneypots. Recovery, whether national nor individual, is never straightforward.
Inching forward bit by bit can be success in itself, whether not only being referred to but receiving medical aid - or simply appreciating a friendly, empathetic connection.
It’s good to talk.
And yet: encore.
From palace to playground, surgery to stairwells, this world needs words - and more...
For more on Heads Together, today's videos and all their charity partners, see www.headstogether.org.uk and/or their YouTube page. Partner charities include the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, Best Beginnings, CALM, Contact, Mind, Place2Be, The Mix and YoungMinds.

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