Family Life, Support and Judgement By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Yesterday I attended an event organised by Mums4Corbyn at The World Transformed.

It was clear that women have a lot to offer each other in terms of support. One issue that came up was that of breast feeding. The problem, in Britain at least is that the feeding of babies can often feel an issue of division rather than unification.  

The UK has the lowest rates of breastfeeding in the world.
About 80% of women try breastfeeding at birth but by the end of the first week half have given up.  
Lots of new mums speak about feeling pressure to breastfeed and experiencing guilt about ‘failing.’ 
In recent decades a newer pressure has emerged, for babies to be in a sleeping and eating routine as quickly as possible and this is largely incompatible with breastfeeding and not good for milk production. Mothers are now experiencing a sense of failure if their children are not complying with this picture-perfect experience of motherhood.

To be clear if women chose not to breastfeed this is absolutely fine, what concerns me is a society that tells women to breastfeed, fails to support them to do so and then instills guilt into them for the failure.  

I’m passionate about more support and understanding for new mums, partly because of my own experience. My first child struggled to latch on, was losing weight, not sleeping. He is 10 now, but I’ve never forgotten the awful sense of failure that overtook me. It later transpired I had a tongue tie which made it hard for him to latch on. I fed half breast milk and half formula for four months, before giving up completely. Anytime I met anyone who talked of finding feeding easy or of having fed for long periods I felt jealous and the sense of disappointment hit me.  
Three years later my second one fed without any issues immediately after birth and I breastfed him for over a year. My previous guilt and anxiety about breastfeeding melted away.

What the experience of having two such polar opposite experiences of breastfeeding I have been able to observe the divisive nature many conversations about breastfeeding take, with it often causing conflict, defensiveness and separation between mothers. 

Then of course other issues start to take on the form of division and competition between mothers – weaning, childcare, controlled crying, discipline, clothing, diets, going back to work – discussions around all these things often feel like they end in judgement rather than support.

Is there something about our approach as a society that is unsupportive towards parenting and parents in general?

Well research confirms that if women receive support – whether it be from a friend or family member, a health professional, or volunteer breastfeeding supporter – they are likely to breastfeed for longer. 

Yet, Peer Support and Drop in sessions for breastfeeding services are being cut all over the country. 

In Kent where I live, the County Council was proposing to absorb the support into the health visiting service make a saving of £404,000 a year.

This week the consultation was suddenly halted until September so we await news of what will happen next. Sadly, I think we all know health visitors are too overstretched to offer the help needed.

It is a similar picture with other parenting issues. Up to 20% of women experiencing mental health problems in pregnancy or the first 12 months after birth. A Mental Health Alliance study in 2014 report found significant gaps in the detection of mental health problems in the period before and after birth, only an estimated 40% are diagnosed, with just 3% of women experiencing a full recovery. 

Costs of perinatal mental illness in the UK are estimated at £8.1bn per year, or almost £10,000 per birth. Yet fewer than 15% of areas provide effective specialist perinatal services for women with severe or complex conditions, and almost half provide no service at all.
Sure Start appeared to be making some progress with a culture change, but more than 350 Sure Start children’s centres have closed in England since 2010, with only eight new centres opening over that period. Spending on the centres in the 2015-16 financial year was 47% less in real terms than in 2010.

Childcare remains a deeply expensive and stressful thing for many parents, as work and money compete with family pressures compete, causing terrible stress and anxiety for parents. 

There is nothing I can find to indicate any progress has been made in aiding parents with this.  

It seems that family life, feels very unsupported in this country.
Judgement and pressure reign and support is hard to access and what is available is diminishing.

I think this culture is damaging family life and impacting upon the happiness of parents, children and everyone else. 

 The lack of support undoubtedly impacts on emotional well being across the board. We need better services, but we also need to look at our attitudes towards each other and to create more supportive dialogues and attitudes. 
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No-one Today Should Be Caring Alone By Miriam Gwynne

By Miriam Gwynne


Middle aged man, commuting by train
Thoughts turn to his sister he left crying in pain
He’s off to a meeting, while she struggles at home
Both of them left to face it alone

Teenage mum struggling, pushing a chair
The child is yelling, people just stare
She is begging for help as she picks up the phone
She cares for her child, but does it alone

The couple at the cafe, sharing their tea
One of them lost yet no-one can see
He lives in the past, a mind not his own
Forgetting her name, they both grieve alone

The parents of a child, who may never walk
They sing to a baby who still can not talk
Kissing a hand, though it’s all skin and bone
Everyday precious, weeping alone

Little eight year old, should be out to play
Instead she is feeding her dad everyday
Doing his care as the nurses have shown
With no one to tell her she isn’t alone

The next door neighbour, bringing some meals
Staying and listening to ask how she feels
Filling out forms while letting her moan
Determined his friend should not feel alone

The father sitting at the hospital bed
Digesting the words that the doctor just said
A new diagnosis, his mind has been thrown
Needing support so he isn’t alone

So many people with stories to tell
Caring for others, and doing it well
Yet they all need support, to know they are not on their own
Because no-one today should be caring alone

Isn’t It About Time We Tried A Holistic Approach To Mental Wellbeing? By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Mental health problems are the scourge of our time. 

Around one in four adults in England is diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives. This includes depression (3.3 million people are currently diagnosed with this), eating disorders, psychosis, personality disorder and anxiety. 

The NHS spends around £11.7 billion on mental health, including £400 million on drugs every year. But all indicators are that this is woefully inadequate and terrifyingly 57% of Clinical Commissioning Groups planned to reduce their spending on mental health services this year.  

I fear we will make no progress in improving the overall mental health of citizens in this country whilst we continue to rely solely on a heavily stretched medical model to fix the problem. 

That is not to say that I am not absolutely in favour of increasing the mental health treatment budget (indeed I am a trainee counsellor). However I think we need to start looking at mental health in a holistic way. 

To quote a well known leaflet by charity Mind “good mental health isn’t something you have, but something you do.”

So I am cheered by the publication of the report Creative Health: 

‘The Arts for Health and Wellbeing from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/

The report found that arts-led alternatives to conventional therapy and medicine could serve as effective treatments for many mental health issues. 

Some of the findings conclude that:
Music therapy reduces agitation and need for medication in 67% of people with dementia.

● An arts-on-prescription project has shown a 37% drop in GP consultation rates and a 27% reduction in hospital admissions. This represents a saving of £216 per patient.

Arts therapies have been found to alleviate anxiety, depression and stress while increasing resilience and wellbeing.

● Visual and performing arts in healthcare environments help to reduce sickness, anxiety and stress.

The heart rate of newborn babies is calmed by the playing of lullabies. The use of live music in neonatal intensive care leads to considerably reduced hospital stays.

● A 10-week art and craft programme with mothers experiencing anxiety and their children saw a 77 percent reduction in anxiety and depression and an 86 percent reduction in stress. The bonds between mothers and children improved, and the emotional, social and cognitive development of the children was stimulated.

None of these things sound unattainable to roll out across the country do they? 

I suggest that rather than finances being the problem, what is needed is a change in culture and an acceptance that mental wellbeing is something that requires investment and that should be addressed through multiple disciplines. 

Is one reason that mental health is not addressed in this way because the Ministry of Health works in a silo? 

Could an approach of working with the Department of Culture could have greater success?  
Is it possible this problem is compounded by an attitude that persists that art is something to be enjoyed by the privileged?

The proportion of GDP spent on the arts by the government remains below the European average

This was recognised in the Labour Party manifesto with a promise to rectify this and introduce an arts pupil premium for every primary school pupil, in line with the existing PE pupil premium. 

Announcing the policy Jeremy Corbyn said :

“There is creativity in all of us but we need to give people the opportunities for this creativity to flourish.”

Art based activity (including drama and music) is repeatedly shown to cut stress even if the person is not good at it!!

Therefore it is logical to assume that a if society gave people of every age access to art then they would have less mental health issues.  
Continuing with the theme of looking at holistic approach to wellbeing, last year Natural England published a study which reviewed the benefits and outcomes of approaches to green care for mental ill-health. Nature is known to be one of the most reliable boosts to mental health.

However it has strangely become less accessible to people as we spend more times in offices, cars and generally trapped indoors. 80% of people in England agree that the quality of the built environment influences the way they feel yet our environments are typically becoming more urbanised and our leisure time increasingly spent inside. 

It is unsurprising that as people live in increasingly overcrowded housing and towns that mental well being suffers. We know access to parks, rivers and natural improves lives: people who live in the areas within our cities and towns that have more green or blue space have better mental health.
 
As with art, a new approach is needed to ensure people of all ages are able to access and enjoy outdoor living. The evidence for this being of benefit is plentiful. For example:
Spending just 15 minutes a day in nature can boost focus and ease anxiety.

● From a mindfulness perspective being in nature helps us to become present.

Children who play outside are more physically active, which helps prevent obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues

● Research done in hospitals, offices, and schools has found that even a simple plant in a room can have a significant impact on stress and anxiety.

It is a failing of our society that mental health remains so neglected in terms of recognition, treatment and approach. 

Let’s see a truly comprehensive integrated approach, across government departments and across all organisations including employers, aimed at improving emotional wellbeing. 

It is quite evident that such an approach and investment in relevant projects would save money and would lead to happier people, surely that should be the real goal of our community?


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My Letter To The PM About My Child’s Mental Health Got An Unexpected Response 

By Lisa Mulholland

I am an autism mum and I get ‘political’ sometimes. 

It is difficult not to be when current waiting times for an autism assessment in North West Kent is between 2 and 3 years due to NHS cuts and over the years has varied between 1-2 years.

This is frustrating and can really affect an autistic child’s life as diagnosis means children get support they desperately need in school. Well for now anyway as schools all over the country are having their budgets slashed, meaning many Teaching Assistants will no longer have jobs.

Terrible for the teachers but a disaster for the children who so heavily rely on support staff.

The school budget for my child’s school alone is also set to be slashed by £72,000 by the year 2019. And I dread to think about how many children will feel the fallout of this.

For me once I finally got a diagnosis for my eldest I was unaware that the battle had only just begun and it took 4 years from seeking an autism diagnosis to finding the right primary school setting. 
Anxiety, school refusal and mental health issues became a barrier to my son’s education and eventually his overall quality of life.

It started aged 6 with self- harm and progressed into suicidal tendencies by the time he reached the age of 10.

Although shocking, my son is not a one-off case. While autism itself IS NOT a mental health condition, 71% of children who have autism develop mental health conditions, according to the NAS. * 

Compare this to non-autistic children where the figure for developing a mental health condition is around 10% and you have a staggering 61% difference that cannot be ignored. ** 

When I had reached the end of my tether with new battles arising after two failed secondary school placements in the space of 3 months, due to my son’s panic attacks, self- harm and absolute emotional breakdown I put pen to paper. 

Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) had rejected us from their service a total of 6 times, so we had an escalating mental health issue that no one would treat. 

I literally had nowhere to turn so when I was given a glimmer of hope of prospective specialist school that could cater to my son’s high academic ability, I was overjoyed.

There are not many schools like it and he was deemed too ‘bright’ for other specialist schools.

But he was initially rejected by the school, so another simultaneous battle ensued. Eventually they agreed to let me son have a trial day.

The night before the trial he burst into tears and said, ” Why do I have to be autistic, I just want a normal life, I just want to go to school and hang out with my mates” before having a panic attack and physically harming himself many times throughout the night.

That night I wanted to complain to someone. But I didn’t know where to start. So, I started with David Cameron who was the Prime Minister at the time. 


I was desperate, heartbroken and angry all at once but when I finished writing, I felt a sense of relief that I had got it off my chest.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it, but a friend of mine read it and was moved by it. She had a political group on Facebook and we decided to share it.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened next. 

My letter kept being shared and people started commenting about how they could relate to it and I was being spurred on to continue my battle by people I had never met.

Then I was contacted by a BBC journalist who was interested in my story. 

I was apprehensive at first, but after much deliberation and assurance from The BBC we agreed to do it. We felt we had nothing to lose and wanted to speak out about mental health and felt that is we could help just one other family then it was worth it.

The BBC staff came to our home so that we were comfortable and were very sensitive and respectful.

My son really opened up and the staff were so moved by our story that they offered him a treat to visit the studios and watch the editing process. The staff spoke to him about anxiety in the workplace and gave us some hope when we felt there was none.

We appeared on BBC Inside Out and the Health Correspondent took my letter straight to the Director of CAMHS Kent and Sussex Partnership.

To see my letter being addressed by the Director of CAMHS on the BBC was surreal but it encouraged other friends’ children in similar situations to speak out about their mental health issues too.

Just that alone for me feel like I had made a positive difference.

Just when I was about to lose all hope, a letter and a political group help
ed to give me a second wind to fight some more. It helped us push the services some more, fight for mental health treatment and fight for a school placement. 

We were then invited onto radio and Victoria Derbyshire to speak about our issues and 18 months later and talked to people who had influence over mental health services.

We are still in contact with the staff at BBC South East. They were personally touched by our plight and are now delighted to hear of the progress my son has made. They often drop us a line to ask how is he getting on.


He is no longer plagued by his anxiety (albeit still present) he now has a quality of life that everyone is entitled to.

The school listened to my case and gave him a chance. He is now the happiest he has ever been in his life because he is in a school setting that caters to his academic and social and emotional needs and finally got the CAMHS treatment he desperately needed.

He is excelling in subjects that I never thought he would attempt and he no longer has panic attacks and we are able to manage his anxiety and mental health issues.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been so compelled to ‘get political’.

I want to continue to make other parents in similar situations aware that the difficulties and frustrations many parents feel with a lack of services to support their children whether it be NHS waiting lists, CAMHS waiting lists or lack of school support is a political issue.  People need to be held to account and we should never feel silenced.

The buck stops with the government and sometimes direct action needs to be taken to let the voices of our children be heard. And above all we should never take no for an answer. 

Sources:

National Autistic Society “You Need to Know Campaign”

Mental Health Foundation

To read the actual Letter that was sent to the PM please click here: 

https://theavengeruk.com/2017/09/18/my-open-letter-to-the-pm-about-how-austerity-affected-my-childs-mental-health/