Thursday 3 March 2011

Vote for (Your) Mental Health

There has been worryingly little excitement about today's Referendum. This may well be because the constitutional change on which we are being consulted is not straightforward. It's not about whether devolution is a good idea or even whether we should move to the Scottish model (for example) but something in-between.

However, if you are reading this in time, do get out and vote not just because the issue matters or even to keep democracy alive and well but for the sake of your own mental health. How's that? Well, forgive me quoting myself from April last year...

Voting is good for the voter's own mental health. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the scant majority of us who vote in elections are doing ourselves some good by feeling empowered in making the collective choice of those who govern us, perhaps thereby seeing them as our servants rather than our masters. By contrast those who cannot make a choice (in the many undemocratic countries of the world) can be unsettled psychologically by the sense of having limited control over their livelihoods and by repressed rage at that injustice. So do yourself a favour and cast your vote.

Though this was not exactly prophetic I think there has been ample evidence of the truth of what I said in the recent news from north Africa and the Middle East, both in the immense bravery of citizens taking on their repressors and in their ecstatic partying when they win the day - surely a huge catharsis of that repressed rage.

We should remember that this all started when a young street vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi (picture) set fire to himself because corrupt municipal jobsworths in Tunis were hindering him from earning a living because they knew that he couldn't do a damn thing to stop them. This kind of desperate response to disempowerment, turning his rage on the only thing over which he had some control (his own life), illustrates the inhumanity of political repression and, by contrast, the importance to our mental health of exercising political rights in countries where we are free to do so. It also echoes the importance of empowerment for specific groups within otherwise relatively free societies such as ours - patients of mental health services in particular come to mind.

The Welsh Referendum may seem a bit trivial compared with the struggles of our friends in Arabia but at least we are being asked and, I repeat, we should do ourselves the favour of responding.