Wednesday 25 December 2013

Old vs New Testament

Happy Christmas, readers, and special greetings to Hafal's Members, clients, and staff - not least those working today - and I hope you enjoy the festivities and are looking forward to a great New Year!

The weather has been distinctly Old Testament in the last few days, Noah's Ark seemingly a more useful asset than any spare stable in Bethlehem (the Welsh Bethlehem in Carmarthenshire narrowly escaped complete isolation in yesterday's flood - a curious echo of the isolation of the original Bethlehem, on the telly yesterday for seasonal celebrations but visibly hemmed in by the infamous Israeli wall).

But the forecast looks a bit better today and I am about to do a huge walk as a kind of advance justification for eating Christmas dinner, the centrepiece of which is a Coop Elmwood "Very Small Turkey" (£10) - highly commended by independent reviewers.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Just A Point

Sensible people agree that it is generally pointless and oppressive to prosecute people who use hard drugs even though this is a serious criminal offence under our law. And I agree, but we might also agree that those people, in return for leniency, owe something back to us about preventing criminality.

But, anyway, what is your view about those who supply hard drugs?

I think most people agree that we should actively pursue and prosecute people who supply illegal drugs because they destroy lives and are a major cause of problems for our society.

We know that those who supply hard drugs are committing very serious criminal offences. More than that, most people agree that drugs are a major component in serious crime in the UK and are behind many major robberies and thefts.

So, if somebody admits to using hard drugs, the smart - no, expected, surely - thing for the police to do is to pursue vigorously the people who supplied them.

But, if the users of the drugs will not cooperate then the police might reasonably consider whether to prosecute the user because they won't help?

Nigella Lawson has said that she has used hard drugs, and it would be disproportionate to prosecute her - but she must of course now supply to the police the details of those from whom she received the drugs. Nothing less would be acceptable to decent people trying to uphold the law.

Friday 13 December 2013

Annus Mirabilis

What a tenth anniversary year it has been!

Our Lights! Camera! ACTION! campaign galvanised thousands of people with a serious mental illness and their families this summer.

Together they resolved to get the best out of mental health legislation and policy now and in the coming years, working individually to get a great Care and Treatment Plan - see our Guide here - and collectively to encourage politicians and mental health services to deliver their side of the bargain - see the final report of the campaign here, an important document which will resonate into next year as we continue the push for service improvements.

Meanwhile we have engaged strongly with colleagues in England to address the widespread concern about changes to benefits.

This, candidly, remains an uphill struggle not only because it is an undevolved matter on which we can bring to bear less weight than on Welsh affairs but also because there is an inexorability about benefit reform on which it is hard to get traction. Much of the limited success to date has relied on legal challenge - look back through Hafal's Facebook platform to see news on this.

And what about next year?

Two big things jump out from all the engagement (and not just through this year's campaign) with Hafal's Members and the wider community of people with a mental illness and their families, namely...

(i) Physical health - specifically exercise, diet and nutrition, and access to physical health services. Key matters on which we can do a lot to help people very practically and have some fun too, though against a background of people with a serious mental illness dying perhaps 20 years younger (the statistics vary but, appallingly, it is of this sort of order).

(ii) Treatments for serious mental illness - both medical treatment (choice, side affects, management issues, dosage, etc) and psychological treatments (sheer availability of anything but also choice, timeliness, the range between light treatment of symptoms and in-depth psychotherapy, etc).

I am really pleased to report that we have agreed with campaign partners the Mental Health Foundation and Bipolar UK that we will address both these matters vigorously next year in two distinct but related campaigns.

The two campaigns will neatly cover two crucial "life areas" out of the eight areas in the Care and Treatment Plan - and of course we will through both campaigns sustain pressure to progress the wider, holistic, and systematic approach to recovery which Hafal's Members invented and campaigned so hard to enshrine in the present law.

I now have a good long break over Christmas during which I will probably refrain from writing about mental health matters, at least directly. There are those who think almost everything is about mental health and, more worryingly, that mental health services have lots of useful things to say about our "well-being". But nobody who has read this blog will be surprised when I say I am not one of those people.


Recommended Christmas reading: Brian Sewell's two volume autobiography now in paperback (links here and here), outrageous, fearless and everybody's favourite art critic since a self-regarding posse of thirty-five art establishment worthies wrote to complain about him in 1994. This famously back-fired as Sewell mercilessly rounded on them and got a lot of support from people fed up with all the nonsense
about "conceptual" art which continues to insult our intelligence to this day.

Sewell writes elegantly and with erudition but doesn't mince his words when simple language is all that is required. He surely spoke for the nation when he described Damien Hirst's oeuvre as "f**king dreadful".

Funny and moving but not for the faint-hearted as he writes graphically about his numberless homosexual encounters and an unsettling one with a voyeuristic Salvador Dali.

Postscript 2:

"Annus mirabilis"? Literally a "wonderful year" but well known as an amusing poem by Philip Larkin, the best 20c. English poet except perhaps Thomas Hardy (widely agreed) - and, a curiosity, it is read by the best 20c. English novelist (well, I think so) Anthony Burgess here.