Let’s end mental ill-health stigma by … ignoring the mentally ill!

This blog post is going to be the angriest you’ll have read from me in a while. If you follow this blog you’ll remember when I wrote “An Open Letter To Nicola Sturgeon”. I also send that directly to her. Well, not quite. Today I got a response from someone who had been asked to respond on her behalf.

For those of you who haven’t read it and don’t intend to, I’ll sum up quickly. CAMHS referral targets state that no child should wait more than 18 weeks to be seen. Only 78.9% of children are seen within that time frame. When you look at the statistics for 26 weeks only 7% more are seen by then. That means that 14% of children are not seen by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services after half a year. Here’s the response I received on behalf of our First Minister:

Some successes to date can be seen in the improvement to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS), where Scottish Government introduced a waiting times target that stated that from March 2013, no one will wait longer than 26 weeks from referral to treatment for specialist CAMHS – and no longer than 18 weeks from December 2014….We appreciate that there is still much room for improvement and we are working with NHS Boards to support their working in this area.”

How is that in any way a response? I know all of this, that’s why I included it in my original letter. But don’t worry, they’re “working on it”.

I also mentioned that in the last 5 years – under an SNP majority government – the number of children being hospitalised because of self harm had doubled and that in Scotland alone Childline were reporting a 34% increase in calls from suicidal or depressed children in just one year. None of that was picked up on in the response. I did get this lovely closing statement though:

NHS Health Scotland, the See Me programme and other agencies have been working over recent years to raise awareness of mental health issues and to tackle the stigma which can be associated with mental ill-health. They are currently working together to develop and implement an engagement strategy to influence public perception about suicide and the stigma which can be associated with these issues. The aim here is to continue to raise awareness of mental health and of prevention of suicide and self-harm, and to help people to feel more confident about coming forward for help when they need it.”

If we’re tackling the stigma of mental ill-health then why did I not get a response from Ms Sturgeon herself since I said that her comments specifically were worrying as she had said “I have to convince you we are doing enough” when it comes to mental health provisions in this country. Why does this read like a straight up copy and paste from the government spin book when mental health is concerned? 

I wanted to know what was going to be done to solve the issues I brought up. I was told the work they’re doing – which is failing – is a success. How do we expect our kids to grow and prosper if we can’t give them the help they need now and we call our inadequacies in that respect ‘success’?

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On the shoulders of giants, we stand.

I’ve tried several times to put into words something meaningful or poignant about the passing of Charles Kennedy and I can’t. Because there aren’t the words to accomplish such a task because he was an incredible man whom words cannot accurately describe. There’s also nothing meaningful or poignant about death. Death just is. It’s messy and it’s painful and it hurts everyone too much that you forget it happens daily.

That’s why I get so angry when I read the tripe that passes for “journalism” in articles by the Mirror.

“My first thought on hearing Charles Kennedy was dead suddenly at 55 was, ‘had he killed himself?’

But of course he had. Because that is what alcoholics do. He may not have done it this week with a blade or a leap into oblivion (we don’t yet know), but he has done it nevertheless. With a steady yet relentless booze-sodden stumble to the grave.”

Alison Phillips, ladies and gentlemen. Her ‘article’ says that it aims to bring light and attention to those suffering with alcoholism. What a disgusting and horrific way to go about it. In one paragraph boiling anything alcoholics do as a “steady yet relentless booze-sodden stumble to the grace.” Clearly, this woman has no concept of what alcoholism truly is or she’d not have written about is a coldly as she has done.

As of writing this, we don’t know how Charles Kennedy passed but what caused his passing is irrelevant. To diminish this man to a struggle he had is offensive to not only to his memory but also to his family. His son will hopefully grow up knowing who his father was and the amazing accomplishments he had and not “with only distant memories of his father and the persistent fury that he chose alcohol over him” as Alison Phillips writes with such conviction you’d think she’d interviewed the child.

So, don’t ever let them tell you that politics isn’t personal because that’s about as personal as something gets.

If you’ve loved someone struggling with alcoholism you know that the label “alcoholic” means nothing in the grand scheme of things. It’s a thing but it’s not their defining thing. To those who knew him, Charles Kennedy would have been Charles first. I doubt if “alcoholic” would have even made the top 5 things that defined who he was. I know I could think of more than 20 things I’d go for before I went with “alocholic” to define the person I lost to it.

Charles Kennedy was a political giant and joins the ranks of many who came before us whose shoulders we now stand on. They deserve our respect. Diminishing someone to their failings isn’t ever okay, but to reduce someone to one word after their death is horrendous. Charles Kennedy was a politician. He was a father. He was a human being. Humans are so intricate and complex and accomplish unthinkable, amazing things. One word does not define us. One word does not define him.