The distinction between Mental and Physical illness is unhelpful at best

The Lib Dems are running a huge campaign to tackle the stigma around talking about Mental Health issues, where people suffering from it feel they cannot talk about it. Oddly I have been happy to talk about my mental health issues to anyone who wants to listen. But sometimes it feels as if there aren’t that many people that want to hear about it.

There was the campaign day from Mind on 5th February about taking the Time To Talk, which I was delighted to take part in.

And the Lib Dems want the NHS to handle Mental Health in the same way as Physical Health and have put this as a red line on the front page of our manifesto.

Helpful Advice for Mental Health Sufferers

What I’ve been struck by is that Mental and Physical Health shouldn’t just be handled the same, they are the same. The effects are the same. The impacts on people suffering from them are the same. Having seen so many people go through cancer that are close to me and going through mental health issues myself, I am struck by the difference in attitudes towards them, despite the similarities.

When you have a physical illness, if you’re physically fit, healthy and strong, you still end up feeling tired, sapped of energy and struggle to do what you did before. When this goes on for a prolonged period of time, you can feel emotionally exhausted as well.

When you have a mental illness, if you’re mentally strong, have an active mind and are capable, you still end up feeling tired, sapped of energy and struggle to do what you did before. When this goes on for a prolonged period of time, you can feel emotionally and physically exhausted.

The treatment for cancer can leave you feeling in a lot of pain, sapping your strength further, sometime even further than the illness did. That pain saps your energy more. It can leave you irritable, grumpy, short tempered, even irrationally angry. Sometimes the pain medications cannot take the pain away.

Talking therapies for mental health can leave you in a lot of emotional pain, uncorking things you have buried to keep the pain away, sapping your reserves further, sometimes further than if you did not confront the issues and leave them bottled inside, and certainly more than if you stay in bed, safe and secure. That pain saps your energy more. It can leave you irritable, grumpy, short tempered and irrationally angry.

I don’t have any direct experience of mental health medicines, but from what I’ve seen of from friends and heard from my therapist, they numb you to take the pain away. Sometimes you are just suppressing the pain, perhaps just delaying it until you’re better able to cope with it. For others, the medications are like insulin for diabetes, addressing a persistent underlying physiological problem.

Many cancer patients have to go through their chemotherapy and then continue work as best as they can, because they can’t afford not to work. They muddle through each day as best at they can, using an enormous effort to get through it. At the end of the day, they feel exhausted and collapse and can’t do anything more active than lifting the remote control.

Many mental health patients go through their days, continuing to work because they can’t afford not to. They put on a brave face, muddle through and nobody can tell that there is anything wrong with them. At the end of the day, they feel exhausted and collapse and can’t do anything more active than lifting the remote control.

When you’re physically unwell, even with a cold, you sometimes don’t want to see anyone else. You don’t want them to see you unwell. You don’t want to make the effort to put on a brave face. Putting on the brave face takes energy you need to fight your illness. If someone asks you how you are, you want to be free to NOT say, “I’m fine”, but say “I’m feeling crap.”.

When you’re mentally unwell, sometimes don’t want to see anyone else. You don’t want them to see you unwell. You don’t want to make the effort to put on a brave face. Putting on the brave face takes energy you need to fight your illness. If someone asks you how you are, you want to be free to NOT say, “I’m fine”, but say “I’m feeling miserable, sad, alone and here’s a long rambling explanation of why.”

With chemotherapy or many other illnesses, the illness or the treatment can make you feel so sick, so horrible that you cannot get out of bed, sometimes for long periods of time.

With mental illness, you can feel so sick, so horrible that you cannot get out of bed, often for long periods of time.

When you’re physically unwell you need people around you to do all the daily stuff, cook, clean, take the kids to school, make sure you take your meds, yes. But you also need people around to talk to, so you can share you’re feelings. Or to talk to you about something other than your illness to remind you that you’re not defined by your cancer. You need people to demonstrate that they care to make you feel better about the awful time you’re going through.

When you’re mentally unwell – well you get the picture by now. You need people around you to share how you’re feeling with, to talk to, to remind you that you’re not defined by your mental illness. You need people to demonstrate that they care to make you feel better about the awful time you’re going through.

I’ve heard said a couple of times recently, that people with mental illness are hard to live with. Yes, yes we are. But I’ll let you into a little secret, people with physical illnesses are hard to live with as well. They can be tired and don’t help out much, they can be grumpy and irritable, they can be unclear about their needs but still be demanding. They sometimes can’t go out much but need you to still be around to help them. They need a lot of attention for themselves on top of the extras you have to do to keep things going. It can be hard but it can be immensely rewarding and we do it because we love them.

Cancer used to be a death sentence and many still react to a diagnosis as if it still is. Thankfully our treatments for cancer have so hugely improved that now more than half of cancer patients now survive for more than a decade.

Mental illness can be a life sentence for many, though not all. Treating them as if their illness is not as serious as a physical illness add to the stigma and effectively puts them in solitary confinement for the period of their sentence.

It is not just the stigma of talking about mental illness that we need to tackle. We need to tackle the disgusting, unhelpful perception that there is anything different at all between mental illness and physical illness. People who have mental health issues are not weak, lazy, needy, or not making an effort to get better. They are ill and their illness is having the same effects on them that a physical illness has.

Sometimes, like physical illnesses, those effects may have been taking their toll for a long, long time before the cause is diagnosed. Those effects (otherwise known as symptoms of the illness) do not magically start on the day of diagnosis, or on the day of breakdown. They may well have gone dismissed for a long time, like that persistent cough that will not go away, that is in fact lung cancer.

So let’s all just agree we’ll stop calling them mental illness and physical illness and just call them by what they are: illness. We can then perhaps start to treat everyone who is ill with dignity.

Perhaps then, people with all forms of illness, not just the visible forms, will be able to talk freely about what they are going through and not feel any stigma about talking about their illness.

Cancer Stresses Me Out

The following post was originally posted on Lib Dem Voice on Thursday 5th February which was Time To Talk day, a day encouraging everyone to talk about their personal experiences with Mental Health issues. The Lib Dems have been running a long running campaign to break the stigma around Mental Health and several Lib Dems chose to share their experiences on the day.

The original post can be found on Lib Dem Voice by clicking here.

This is my personal experience with Mental Health.

Cancer Stresses Me Out

Maggie's Centre Dundee

Maggie’s Centre Dundee

Over the last 15 years, my wife and I have supported family members through 10 rounds of cancer. My mother had ovarian cancer, with relapses and recurrences 4 times over 8 years before it took her. My father had lung cancer twice before it took him. My mother-in-law had pancreatic cancer and passed away in under a year. A month before she passed away, her boyfriend started complaining of headaches and weeks afterwards was diagnosed with a brain tumor and passed away within 6 months. My wife’s grandfather was treated for a stomach tumor and is now doing really well, celebrating his 85th birthday tomorrow.

And 18 months ago, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, but fortunately has had an amazing response to the wonder drug Herceptin and has been given the all clear and is steadily getting back to full strength.

During those 15 years, my wife and I have attended at least 15 family funerals, including two pets, losing family to dementia, heart attacks and suicide as well as cancer. When our 14 year old cat had to be put to sleep last year, inevitably she had a tumor as well.

We also had two failed IVF’s, 2 house purchases fall through, lost touch with friends, fell in and out with family and had a host of other stresses.

Not surprisingly with all that going on, I ended up bottling my emotions to cope with year after year of additional heartache. That ended up bubbling over, with an incredibly short temper, fatigue and finding it hard to concentrate and get things done.

I started having counseling at the fantastic Maggie’s Centre in Dundee, which provides a range of support to those going through cancer and their family and friends.

During those sessions, I slowly unbottled all those emotions, coming to terms with the grief of losing my parents, having lost touch with close friends, arguments with family, the failure of my software business and the various other side effects of having so many family members suffer from cancer.

There came a point last year when all the stress had built up so much, I had just bought a new car, and I scraped the side of it entering a car park. I had a complete meltdown, and could not stop crying for ages.

My wife drove to where I was and helped me get back on my feet. I collected my things from work and headed home.

The next day I was signed off work with stress. The recovery has been slow since then, a roller coaster of exhaustion and struggling to get out of bed, uncontrolled crying, and short temper. I have found it incredibly tiring and stressful to be around people that I do not know well. I feel incredibly guilty that at times I do not have the energy or patience to play with my two wonderful children. A cancer scare for another family member plunged me back into my most stressful state and letting out the bottled up emotions has sometimes plunged me into despair.

Meanwhile, my wife has had to pick up the pieces around me, not knowing from one day to the next whether I’ll have energy to get things done, or down in the dumps, or short tempered and irritable.

Thanks to the counseling at Maggie’s, the Stress Management course they offer and their Creative Writing sessions, I am steadily getting back on my feet.

I’ve been advised to do more exercise to get my endorphins going, but that can be challenging, with negative thoughts flooding through my head, so canvassing and delivering for the Lib Dems has been excellent, as you don’t have time to think as you go from door to door.

I had seen a lot of fellow Liberal Democrats focus on Mental Health as their main campaign. It was never something that I particularly understood until I’ve experienced it directly myself. I have found it incredibly emotional to see my party make it such a huge priority of it, whilst I was going through it myself.

I can admit myself to wondering why colleagues were being signed off with stress when I thought they had nothing to be stressed about. Try going through my cancer hell, I used to think!! I now fully appreciate how overwhelming mental health issues are.

I sometimes wonder whether it is helpful calling it Mental illness, rather than just illness, as it creates the impression that it is just in the mind, and that simply will power, positive thinking and a change of attitude can resolve it. Knowing that mental health issues are a combination of physiological and sometimes uncontrollable mental impacts makes a profound difference to how we approach tackling them.

Maggie’s has been a revelation and for me, I feel that it has saved my life and that I would not have go through it without the services they offer. I believe that they should act as a model for best practice mental health provision in the future. Dedicated, nurturing, sympathetic buildings, away from hospitals and their clinical coldness provide a much better space to provide the appropriate treatments.

The counseling they provide is open ended, available for as long as is needed. I cannot stress enough how important this is.

At our Journaling session today, we happened to share and discuss our personal experiences with the mental health impacts of cancer. I pointed out that it was Time To Talk day and came home and decided to write this as my journal entry for the day.

New video starkly highlights need for Laurencekirk Flyover

We are repeating our calls on the SNP Government to build a flyover at Laurencekirk after a new video emerged showing a bus completely blocking the southbound fast lane on the A90 at the notorious junction, forcing drivers to come to a complete stop.

Seeing the video this evening on Facebook was unbelievable. Those of us who have backed Jill Fotheringham’s campaign for a flyover for many years know all too well how dangerous the junction is. But this video shows so clearly that there is a massive safety issue, it is a relief that no-one was hurt.

The SNP Government needs to immediately announce that a flyover will be built, without waiting on the results of the recent consultation, or we may well see a major accident at the junction.

However I do not believe the SNP Government want to be seen to back down, so it is vital that everyone who uses the junction makes their voices heard and give their feedback on the consultation by calling for a flyover.

Montrose Lib Dem Cllr David May said,

“That is one of the most terrifying pictures I have seen and what is truly startling is having it on video as well. This demonstrates the need for a flyover so much more clearly than we could ever do, even with thousands of signatures on Jill’s two petitions, hundreds of photos and 10 years of campaigning.”

“It puts the danger of the junction so starkly that it is plain to see for everyone. Thankfully there was no major accident arising from this.”

Busier Sheriff Court in Angus Closed by SNP #SNPFail

Figures revealed yesterday have shown that the SNP Government chose to close the busier of the Sheriff’s Courts in Angus. This was despite there being over £100 million unspent in the last year for Justice and the Procurator Fiscal Service. 

Angus Lib Dems strongly objected to the closure of Arbroath Sheriff Court and the figures reveal that the court was heavily used.  Forcing witnesses and victims to travel long distances will undermine the effectiveness of the justice system in Angus.

SNP representatives for Angus, Mike Weir MP, Nigel Don MSP and Graeme Day MSP seem to have little or no influence on their SNP colleagues making decisions centrally in Holyrood.

It is now clear that closing yet another service in Angus was a big mistake by the SNP.

Click here for the full article in The Courier which gives the following figures:

Between April 2012 to the end of March last year, prisoner journeys to Arbroath totalled 2,568, compared to Forfar’s 991.

Dundee received 5,262 prisoner movements in 2012/13, 5,284 in 2013/14 and 3,588 between April and November last year.

In the same periods, other sheriff courts received the following number of individual prisoner transport journeys:

  • Arbroath (closed in May) — 1,163, 1,405, 255
  • Forfar — 504, 487, 928

BP Jobs Cut is a Wake Up Call for Independence Supporters

Today’s announcement by BP that they will be cutting jobs in North East Scotland as a result of falling oil prices is a real blow for the local economy.

The news is a wake up call to supporters of independence who based their economic plans on Oil.

Oil prices are out of the hands of the Scottish and UK governments and is far too unstable to rely on for a major part of a country’s economy.

Falling oil prices are seen as a net positive for the overall UK economy that can weather the impact. It is however a massive blow for North East Scotland that the SNP Government has underfunded for many years. It puts a massive hole in the SNP’s plans for independence and shows that Scottish voters were right to reject their inflated promises.

North East Scotland needs to transition quickly to renewable energy where with on shore and off shore wind we have substantial resources and the price is far more stable and predictable. Oil and Gas will be a major per of the local economy for years to come but this news shows that the future is renewables and that we should invest now before we are forced to by shrinking oil reserves and volatile prices.

Scottish Government Underspend a body blow for Angus investment

Angus Liberal Democrats have reacted angrily to news that the SNP Government has left £444 million unspent last year, despite closing key services across Angus and failing to invest in local infrastructure.

Accounts have emerged showing that the Scottish Government has underspent:

  • £92 million on Justice
  • £10 million on the Procurator Fiscal Service
  • £102 million on Infrastructure
  • A whopping £165 million on Education
Sanjay Samani and Cllr David May visit the Closed Police Counter in Montrose

Sanjay Samani and Cllr David May visit the Closed Police Counter in Montrose

Lib Dem Campaigner for Angus, Sanjay Samani said,

“The SNP have been steadily closing down services in Angus. They have closed Sheriff’s Courts, Police Counters, Noranside Prison and Angus College. They have failed to build a flyover at Laurencekirk that we desperately need to protect drivers. Yet in all these departments there was plenty of money left to be spent.”

“Meanwhile our SNP elected representatives, Mike Weir MP, Nigel Don MSP and Graeme Dey MSP, have done absolutely nothing to stop the closure of key Angus services by their SNP colleagues in Edinburgh. This has cost Angus jobs, made it harder for students to study, left Laurencekirk junction unsafe and had a negative impact on our local economy.”

“The SNP have blamed all the cuts on Angus services on Westminster, and yet they had close to half a billion pounds left to invest.”

Lib Dem Montrose Cllr David May said,

“As an ex-teacher and head master, I am appalled to see £165 million go unspent on Education. The merger of Angus College with Dundee and loss of hundreds of college places has had a huge impact on our young people, just trying to get on in life.”

“In Montrose we have a major issue with parking on double yellow lines that are not being policed due to SNP cuts, that they have blamed on Westminster, despite having £92 million left over.”

“Sanjay and I have backed Jill Fotheringham’s campaign for a flyover at Laurencekirk for many years. The news that on Infrastructure £102 million was left unspent will be a body blow for those desperate to see safety at the junction improved.”

Sanjay Samani concluded,

“We have an SNP MP and two SNP MSPs who have badly failed Angus residents. This year they will blame cuts on Westminster to gain votes at the General Election. Then we will see a big spending spree in the run up to Scottish Elections in 2016 and they will try to claim the credit.”

“The SNP need to stop playing politics and start investing in Angus.”