Tag Archives: Health

Angus Council sickness figures highlight need for cross party action on Mental Health

I was very saddened to read in The Courier on 9th March that 1/4 of Angus Council Staff and Angus Teachers who are off sick are, in fact, suffering with stress. Many of them will not be met with the understanding and sympathy they deserve, as Mental Health is poorly understood and there is a huge stigma attached to it.

Having been off work with stress myself last year, my heart goes out to all of them and hope that they are able to receive the support and treatment they desperately need. Personally, I was fortunate that I was getting great support from the magnificent Maggie’s Centre in Dundee, who have helped considerably in my recovery.

The figures published highlight the need to treat Mental Health on an equal footing with physical health. As the Lib Dem candidate for Angus in the upcoming election, I was delighted to see my party put Mental Health front and centre, adding it as one of our top five priorities on the front page of our manifesto.

However this is an issue that should cross all party political lines as Mental Health effects so many people across Angus and the rest of the country.

I have therefore written to my fellow candidates to politely request that we all agree on a simple set of commitments, if we are elected at the forthcoming election:

  • Challenge the stigma around Mental Health so that anyone effected by it feels able to come forward and seek support and treatment as early as possible.
  • Treat Mental Health on an equal footing with physical health, with maximum waiting time targets and additional funding for treatment.
  • Provide education at schools so that young people are better equipped to understand mental illness should they be effected by it.

If we can dramatically improve Mental Health treatment we can help sufferers to recover more quickly and, as a secondary benefit, help to improve Angus Council’s sickness rates.

Petition launched to stop sale of so called “Legal Highs” in Angus

Angus Liberal Democrats have launched a petition calling on the sale of so called Legal Highs to end immediately. Following the news that the Montrose Evape-o-lution shop has been broken into for a second time, concerns have been raised that dangerous drugs are finding their way onto our streets.

The petition calls on the owners of the shops in Montrose, Arbroath and across Tayside to stop selling Novel Psychoactive Substances with immediate effect.

The petition can be found online by clicking here. If you want to share the address of the petition, Citi is http://bit.ly/StopLegalHighs

Montrose Legal High Shop after break in

There is no legitimate use of these products, which is why the UK Government has indicated that they will be banned in future. The owners should stop exploiting the vulnerable and stop selling them immediately.

With the Montrose shop is getting broken into repeatedly, these dangerous drugs are finding their way onto the streets and may lead to serious health issues for people living in Angus.

Lib Dem Montrose Cllr David May said,

“The shop was broken into twice today and this is at least the third time of being broken into. There is no doubt many of their products have been stolen. There are some very serious questions about security in the shop if the so called legal highs products can be removed so easily.”

“This is especially worrying as it is clear that the products so many of these types of shops sell are not safe and have led to deaths as well as real long term health problems for so many people.”

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.

Final word on the NHS Programme for IT

I have over the years tried to highlight the national disgrace that was the NHS Programme for IT, and raising awareness that billions of pounds wasted by the last Labour government. I have been relatively quiet about this, since the Coalition government started winding it down.

This is how the Labour party handled your money. Should we ever trust them to run our economy whilst any of Gordon Brown’s back room team were involved?

But just as a final review, this is what the National Audit Office had to say about it in 2011:

“Today’s NAO report concludes that the £2.7 billion spent so far on care records systems does not represent value for money. And, based on performance so far, the NAO has no grounds for confidence that the remaining planned spending of £4.3 billion on care records systems will be any different.”

NAO Update 2011

And this is what the Public Accounts Committee had to say a month ago:

“The benefits flowing from the National Programme to date are extremely disappointing. The Department estimates £3.7 billion of benefits to March 2012, just half of the costs incurred.”

PAC Report 2013

Campaign to end ‘lifetime’ NHS Consultant Bonuses gains support

During the 2010 General Election, I campaigned to scrap unfair, ‘lifetime’ bonuses within NHS Tayside.  I welcome the widening of the campaign to end the bonus culture within the NHS.

The Merit and Distinction awards are only available to the highest paid NHS staff, consultants, as part of their standard contract.  Shockingly, these are not one-off bonuses, but are added to consultants’ salaries, year after year, until they retire.  The NHS even increases their pension contributions accordingly.

It is expected that between 1/3 and 1/2 consultants will receive one of these bonuses during their career, worth up to £70,000 per year on top of their normal salary.  No such bonuses are available to other vital NHS staff such and nurses, junior doctors, cleaners or porters.  This is completely unfair and unjustified.

I am therefore delighted that the campaign is gaining wider support and the pressure continues to be applied.

Tavish Scott MSP, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, recently called for an end to consultant bonuses, saying:

“The [Scottish] Health Secretary is responsible for awarding £30 million of bonuses to the most highly paid personnel in the NHS – consultants.

“The payment of these bonuses is a totally devolved issue. There should be no payouts next year. People will find it an odd priority for the SNP to pay out £30 million in bonuses to those who are already the highest paid, while nurses are losing their jobs.”

Meanwhile, the issue is also creating waves in England, with a BBC investigation finding that a loophole means the bonuses continue to be paid, even when the consultants perform poorly:

Professor Alan Maynard, an expert in health policy at York University, was chairman of a local NHS trust for 12 years during which time he sat on the committee that handed out the awards. He said:

“They never get stopped, once they have them they have them for their lifetime. The system needs completely changing.

“The applicants provide very little information, but you can’t spend the money on anything else as it is earmarked for these awards. I would have preferred to spend it on providing more care.”

He said the evidence for performance-related pay was questionable anyway, but if there was to be an incentives scheme it should be much tougher.

Professor John Appleby, chief economist at the King’s Fund, agreed, saying:

“I think they are out of step with how the NHS should be paying staff. They should be abolished.”