Why We Should Be Worried  About The Rise Of Gambling Addiction By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

Last week I attended an event with Matt Zarb-Cousin, he is known for his previous role as Jeremy Corbyn’s Spokesperson, but is a long term campaigner for the organisation Fairer Gambling (http://fairergambling.org/about-the-campaign/). Since listening to him I’ve been looking at the awful impact gambling now has on our communities.
I grew up with relatives who would bet on the horse racing every Saturday and for them gambling was a harmless pleasure, akin to collecting stamps or going fishing.  

Whilst gambling remains harmless for some, for others it is a desperate source of misery. 

More than 2 million people in the UK are now either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction, according to the industry regulator, the Gambling Commission. They also estimated that the number of British over-16s deemed to be problem gamblers had grown by a third in three years, suggesting that about 430,000 people suffer from a serious habit.

Gambling advertising is now everywhere.

Nine premier league football teams now carry bookmakers names on their shirts. During half time, TV advert breaks are now filled with aggressive adverts flashing up the odds on who the next scorer will be and urging them to log on and place a bet. They are now such a staple part of half time advertising of football games, and have normalised gambling so much that many children think the sole purpose of the break in play is to allow audiences an opportunity to place a bet.
Fixed Odd Betting Machines are a major problem, allowing gamblers to spend £100 every 20 seconds. Indeed the bookies, once primarily concerned with horse racing and football bets, currently make 60% of their income from the machines. 

Currently shops are allowed to have up to 4 machines and this is one of the main reasons for the high street becoming full of betting shops: to allow the company to get more machines in. 

As many traditional shops have departed the high street, the number of bookies and arcades has risen.

I feel these machines are an undeniable source of misery: 43% of people who use the machines are ‘problem gamblers.’ Unlike bingo or a night at the dogs there is no social interaction, in fact I visited a bookies before writing this piece, at noon on Saturday and found people so absorbed in the machine they did not respond to any stimulation like noise. It was a sad sight.  
The machines inflict further troubles to the towns they occupy. One third of the machines are smashed every year, meaning the call outs to betting shops by Police are far above the average to other high street shops. Most have only one member of staff, on a low wage, in store at any one time, so their impact on the total economy is minimal.  

The mental health repercussions of problematic gambling are immense. 

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 80% of addicted gamblers think about killing themselves and one in five make an attempt to take their own lives. As a result, gambling addiction costs the UK up to £1.6 billion a year in mental health, police and welfare system services.

A study published in the Journal Addiction last year found that all gambling increases the participants likelihood of engaging in violence. The gambling industry contribute £10 million per annum of their £13 billion profit towards gambling treatment.  

The social effect of addictive gambling does great damage to the family unit and to the disposable income the family should enjoy.

Poorer people are targeted more by gambling companies: there are twice as many machines/bookies in poorer boroughs and gambling companies are even harvesting data to deliberately target low-income gamblers and people who have given up.

Inevitably calls to set limits on gambling we be met by calls of nanny-statism. But I would like to point to parallels with the smoking ban, which has seen marked improvements in public health since it was introduced in 2007. There are already strict laws on the times junk food and alcohol can be advertised on television. I think the same restrictions should be placed on the advertising of gambling. 

Why not ban fixed odd betting machines altogether? We ban drugs, driving without a seatbelt and cycling without a helmet in order to protect individuals from their own bad judgement, why would this be any different? 

It is not as if the machines provide any positive socialisation or community benefits.
Of course problem gambling has always existed, but the rise in it and the implications it has for those affected and the costs to the state of the health problems it generates surely mean government action should be taken.  
If  you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and would like more information please visit:

https://www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk/

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I Am A Mental Health Worker And This Is A Letter To My Patients That I’ll Never Send By The Masked Avenger

Author Anoynmous

Dear Service User,

I am sorry I cannot offer more.

I am sorry I couldn’t call you back yesterday when you needed me and I am sorry I am not able to do more to help you.

I have worked in mental health for 10+ years and whilst I love my job it never gets any easier. 

I have books on my shelves and articles in files on the latest evidence based practice. I have ideas in my head for sessions we can do together and the passion to sit with you whilst we figure all this out. 

However, first you need to get to me and I need the time to deliver it all.

Referrals into mental health services are on the increase, this could be due to the ever growing pressures in society on everyone; from children to the elderly or the successful drive to normalize and promote mental health like never before, ripping down barriers and shouting from the roof tops that it is ok to not be ok.

So you gather the courage to call someone (which I know is so hard to do) and get help…

Unfortunately our pie is not getting any bigger, there is no more ‘money tree’ and we cannot afford anymore resources. So whilst we are able to see you, accessing treatment is entirely different. 
In the service I work in there are 30 practitioners for nearly 400 people on the waiting lists. No matter how you do the maths it is never going to fit. We try and change the service, we make it more lean, we shave things down to try and get everyone in but it is impossible. We have ideas of more we can offer but no money to fund it and no bodies to deliver it.

I want to see you straight away but there are hundreds of other people ahead of you.

I want to take it at your pace and see you for as long as it takes but I only have 8 sessions otherwise other people will have to wait longer. 

I want to be there to answer the phone straight away when you need me but I already have 6 other back to back appointments, before racing to collect my children from school. 

I constantly squeeze every drop of time to fit in more people but inevitably it all runs out as I cannot make 24 hours into 25. 

I want to offer you the therapy you need but no service, that I know of, is commissioned to offer it, which just really sucks.

I don’t know what the solution is but I want you to know that I am sorry because I feel just as frustrated as you. 

I know my boss, their boss and the bosses’ boss also constantly look for answers, but with an ever growing population and more needs becoming prevalent it is very hard. 

It’s not just us either; before, we could have referred you to other 3rd sector organisations which could have helped but they are just as squeezed as us and having to make equally hard and heartbreaking decisions. 

So please don’t be offended when we talk about self help materials or equipping you with the tools to help yourself, it is the only weapon I have at the moment to help you long after I have to reluctantly discharge and move on to the next case. 

Please don’t think I don’t care if my next visit isn’t for another 6 weeks, I hate this just as much as you do. I need you to understand that my intervention isn’t limited through choice , so all we can do in the short time we have is to teach you the skills I have to help yourself.

I need you to not miss any appointments as they count in my limited time and I need you to work with me as much as you can so that I can give you all I have. 

One day maybe we will have enough resources, but for now all I have is I am sorry!! 

We all deserve more than this, no one more than you. 
Please hang on in there, believe in yourself, take any support you can find and know that your wait isn’t because we don’t care, our pie just simply isn’t big enough.

From Your Practitioner. 

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Family Court Decisions Are Breaking My Child By The Masked Avenger

Author Anonymous 

Children in the UK are struggling with emotions and left voiceless whilst their parents fight it out in front of a judge in family court. 

My experience is children’s wishes and wellbeing are actually ignored in favour of the child having a relationship with both parents. 

Don’t get me wrong I am all for children having a relationship with both parents but when it distresses, upsets and harms our children where do we turn to?

Until they reach age 10 a child is practically voiceless in a family court. 

The court will and does disregard the child and discredit any emotions the child shows just because the judge feels they know best. They do not. 

In my experience the child was left needing a lot of therapy,  very withdrawn and distressed. The child spoke to me time and time again begging, crying, saying “why won’t they listen to me?”

That’s a good question. We are all human and we all are supposed to have ‘human rights ‘ yet a court is willing to destroy a child because they believe it is best for a child to have the contact which they grant everyday. They go home to their comfortable lives and what about the child? They are left crying, with questions that the parent cannot answer, they are left emotionally harmed with nightmares and being packed off to the other parent . 

The suffering that a child goes through is immense. We are in a world where we are dictated to enough without our children being forced to have contact. I have had a child crying on the floor, sobbing because they do not want to leave and all I can do is say  ” I know you don’t want to go, I know this is upsetting you but you must go”.

I fought for a few years in family court for my child to have their voice heard. Nobody heard them and I am the one who picks them up everyday when their emotions are all over the place. I am the one who comforts and tries to make the best of a bad situation.
I feel that the courts need to ‘judge’ each case individually and actually listen to the children. I’m all for a balanced view and equal relationship with both parents if the child is happy with that. 

Why are we breaking the children of the UK?

Why do we dismiss them?

Childhood is a precious time meant for building up a child not breaking them down.

Children’s mental health is so important and I’m not saying let a child have their own way but when a child tells you time and time again they do not want to have contact; we the parent are pretty powerless because the court does not listen.

We are at risk of having a lot of children with self esteem issues and anxiety because the one who holds the power is a judge who despite reports by many will disregard them in an instant. 

We need to listen to the children because they grow up and we don’t need any more damaged adults on the hands of an already stretched mental health services.


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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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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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The worry of raising a child who has mental health issues By Miriam Gwynne 

By Miriam Gwynne

This morning was not a good morning. In fact most mornings recently have not been good.

My child has health problems but I can’t call the doctor. There is no cream I can rub onto her sore areas, no plaster I can stick onto her cuts and calpol will make no difference. She worries me so much. 

I am a sensible grounded parent. I know what to do when my child has a sore throat, or a temperature or a rash. I know if she has an accident and needs checked out I take her to hospital. I know if she is unable to keep her food down I can take her to the doctor to make sure she is not dehydrated. I have a full first aid box at home with basic over the counter remedies for most things. 


But when it comes to her mental health I am lost. 

She cries far more often than you would expect from a child her age.

She is sad far more often than you would expect from a child her age.

She has no interest in life, or toys or doing much at all. 

She has little interest in food.

She has no spark, no energy about her, no motivation. 


If she was 28 instead of 8 I have no doubt she would be diagnosed with depression and given medication.
She may even be lucky enough to be offered counselling. But she is 8 so it is different. Mental health in children is so unrecognised, so misunderstood and far too often just ignored. 

People tell me things like ‘it’s just a phase all children go through’ or ‘it could be her hormones’ or even things like ‘she is manipulating you to get her own way!’ Stop for a second and think about that: imagine if we said that about adults struggling with mental health? 
I spend so much time talking to her. Sometimes we get to the bottom of things that are bothering her, sometimes we don’t. Tomorrow it could be something else again. 

That’s what people don’t understand: the simplest thing can send my child into such a negative spiral for months. 

She is over sensitive I am told. She is just an anxious child. She will grow out of it. 

I know she won’t though. She is a child with mental health struggles and it is likely she will be an adult with mental health struggles. That worries me so much. I don’t know if she will ever manage to live alone, have a job or raise a family. She jumps every time the phone rings and panics if the door bell goes. She lives on her nerves. 

There simply isn’t  the help for children like her. Children are supposed to be energetic, care free, loving life and eager to learn. We make assumptions that if a child is sad then the parents are at fault or the child is just naughty. We say that children who struggle to eat are just fussy eaters. 

As a society we are doing our children a real disservice by not accepting that mental health issues can affect children every bit as much as they affect adults. 

It was a hard morning again today. My child struggled to eat, to get dressed and to walk to school. I worry how she will cope with all that a school day demands when her mind is so fragile. I worry about how she is interpreting what others say when she is so sensitive. I worry if her anxiety will allow her to talk or eat today. 

Had she been going to school with a broken leg everyone would know to keep her safe. Had she been going with an asthma inhaler the staff would be protecting her. Instead she is going to school with mental health difficulties and no-one seems to understand. 

It’s that lack of knowledge and lack of understanding in society that causes me to worry most as a parent of a child who has mental health issues. 

Miriam Gwynne is a renowned blogger who has her own site where she discusses issues she faces raising two children on the autistic spectrum 

https://faithmummy.wordpress.com/

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My Open Letter to The PM About How Austerity Affected My Childs’ Mental Health

By Lisa Mulholland 

Dear Prime Minister  

I feel compelled to give you an insight into how austerity has affected my family.  
Tonight, I sit here in despair, anxious about tomorrow and what the day will bring. I wonder what battles I will have to fight tomorrow to ensure that the eldest of my three children has access to a service that everyone is entitled to; an adequate education.  

What strings am I going to have to pull tomorrow? 

How on earth am I going to manipulate the system this week, just to get a fair chance at a place at a school that meets his needs, or to get access to mental health service, or health service for that matter?

I wonder what tactics I’m going to have to resort to this week. Yes. This week. The overwhelming challenges change weekly. These are the things that are going to keep me awake tonight.  

You see, my 11-year-old son is high functioning autistic. He also has ADHD, dyspraxia and some possible mental health issues. He is what the paediatricians would call ‘complex’.  

They have a 2-year waiting list just to diagnose a child with autism.
I know this because my youngest child is on that waiting list. It’s a pretty confusing place to be, pretty desolate, pretty frustrating. Not at all pretty really.  

My eldest needs to be treated by CAMHS. But In some parts of Kent there is a 5-month waiting list for children or teenagers that need ‘urgent’ treatment. By urgent I mean suicidal. I know this because the poor receptionist at CAMHS has told me so. She must deal with many desperate parents daily.  

I am lucky that I have only waited 8 weeks for my ‘urgent’ referral to CAMHS.  So here I am, feeling lucky.
Waiting for the paediatrician to plead with CAMHS to treat my anxious son. They are overstretched and are trying to pass my son onto the paediatric services. So, they are now in a battle, and my son is piggy in the middle. 

Even after referrals from the ADHD nurse, GP and a paediatrician working the night shift at A and E (yes, we ended up in A &E when his panic attack prevented him from being able to breathe) we have waited and the problem has escalated. 

He cannot leave the house without having a panic attack.  The only school that is suitable and can possibly meet his needs also have a long and difficult history and they are wary of taking him on. The children that attend that school are very vulnerable and have also been pushed from pillar to post. Getting a place in a specialist school, especially this one, is not straightforward.  

You see their funding was cut last year and they were to be closed permanently. They were saved at the last minute but they are now under very high pressure to perform better and stay open. Can they afford to waste a precious place on my son who might not be able to manage there? 

Tomorrow my anxious, autistic son who desperately wants to go to school, who desperately wants to go to university, must swallow his anxiety, crush all his fears, put two failed school placements behind him and go and spend a day at this school (without the promise of a place).  
He must try his utmost best to convince them that he fits their criteria. I know they do not want him there. I haven’t told him this. I have had to give him many pep talks tonight. We have had tears, self -harm and panic attacks and the night is only just beginning. 
I know I won’t sleep. He may wake several times with night terrors tonight. Who knows what will happen.  
Nevertheless, I will get up in the morning and pray he holds it together long enough for them to see that he is worth teaching. I will then come home and call CAMHS and plead with them to treat my son for this anxiety that is preventing him from leaving the house and getting an education.  

It isn’t CAMHS fault, it isn’t the Schools’ fault, it isn’t the local authorities fault and it is not the paediatricians’ fault.  
Who is to blame?  

It isn’t my son.  

It isn’t me. 

I did not ask to have an autistic child in a time where services are on their knees and schools cannot cope with children like mine. Where funding for schools, and all NHS Services have been slashed. Who would have imagined services in the 6th richest nation in the world would get this bad? 

Crippling cuts to services under the guise of a false ‘austerity’ is not the way forward. It is merely an ideological tool that suits your agenda but not ours. 

But it’s not YOUR money to spend as you see fit!! We have paid for services via tax and national insurance and we aren’t receiving them. It is OUR money and we deserve the services we pay for.  

You represent us, you work for us. You cannot do that without understanding us, the people. 

Democracy is supposed to be “For the People, Of the People and By the People”. 

Yours 

Lisa 

A mum, a voter, a volunteer, a campaigner.

 

Lisa’s letter attracted the attention of the BBC and eventually her letter was read out to the Director Of CAMHS. To find out what happened next please click here:

https://theavengeruk.com/2017/09/18/my-letter-to-the-pm-about-my-childs-mental-health-got-an-unexpected-response/

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/

Staying ‘Well’ : 8 Tips to Maintaining Mental Wellness By Rachael Lamb

By Rachael Lamb

This isn’t the be all and end all of staying well as I know different things work for different people and also what works for you sometimes may not at others so do go back to things you have tried before even if it didn’t help in other times because every day, every situation is different. 

First I would just like to say that I am mentally ill,  I have had therapies, counselling , lots of medications, hospital stays and so much discrimination because of this. Over the years I have struggled with suicidal thoughts, self harm , anxiety and PTSD and I have found over this time some things that help me also help others. 

Two years ago,  I was talking with my peer support worker and she mentioned needing ideas for a new occupational therapy group, so I sat and reeled off some ideas; she wrote them down and a week or so later rang and said she had some other ideas from another service user and our ideas were going to make a group which would run for 12 weeks via the mental health team and I was asked to help facilitate this. I felt like finally something good had come of my struggles.

The group ran and it was so popular than have run it 3 times a year since and are also sharing the 12 week group on a website for professionals in the UK so they too can run the groups.



Everything is low cost / free . I will gladly share details on a separate  blog but for now I wanted you to know a bit of my background and ideas for mental health. 

Anyway here are some tips I have found help me to stay ‘well’

1. Have a daily planner
  

If you are really struggling to prompt yourself to do even the minimum of tasks like self care, taking  meds , washing , eating etc , you can buy a planner to put on the wall.

Fill it leaving slots so its not overwhelming. Once you get into the routine of doing the self care stuff you can add other things like going for a walk or gardening or something you enjoy or will get you out of the house. I have a weekly planner now as my days are going OK so I have not been using it but if I feel myself sliding I will write up what I’m doing for the week and I consult it in the mornings it helps to ease stress and anxiety.


 

2. The out and about bag  

I use a zip up bag for inside my bag which is my go to area for when I’m out and about, I use the bus a lot so having things to help calm me or keep me from fidgeting and getting over anxious helps.

I have the following below in my bag, but you can put in anything you think would help you while out and about, or even have it in your living room or bedroom though I have a bigger selection of things for use in situations at home where I am anxious.

  • Hair clip to open and shut so simple but the motions helps
  • Roll on perfume , the scent helps me to concentrate on the here and now of I find myself getting distracted in a day dream 
  • Fiddle toys, there are lots on the market and I find the cube one helps me to relax and stop my hands shaking
  • Lavender balm, lavender is known for its relaxing scent.
  • Lip balm , dry lips are the worst when anxious 
  • Boiled sweets/mints to ease dry mouth
  • Little charms  that I have been given , these remind me of happy memories 
  • Hair brush and hairbands , I sweat a lot due to anxiety and there’s nothing worse than a hairband breaking so knowing I have spares and a brush to sort out my sweaty hair helps
  • Mobile phone emergency charger , I use my phone all the time when out and it helps to know my battery can be charged when needed. I have apps and the radio which help a lot.
  • Bach’s rescue remedy drops , I’m not sure if they really help but I use them sometimes
  • Promethazine ( I am prescribed this and can take it throughout the day if needed) 
  • Pen and small note pad, so I can doodle or write when needed
  • Shiny stones , because they look pretty and are smooth its a great sensory tool.

3. Find a group

Even if it is online where you can talk to others going through similar things and it is good to help others and also talk to others when you aren’t feeling so great.

4. Have a bath or shower 

I know we can get dictated to by mental health professionals to keep doing the basics but I struggled for a long time to have a bath and relax , now I found some lovely bath products and candles can really help if I’m stressed out . 

5. Try and go for a walk

Even if it is a short 5/10 minute walk each day , I used to roll my eyes and say whatever but even a short time outside can break a bad mood and help move the day forwards.



6. Try and eat 

I’m not going to say eat healthy eat your five a day but it is important that you eat ( or drink) at low points I made sure I had lots of smoothies in so I was getting some goodness , when you are on medication it is key to having something in your stomach. 

Eat little and often if you can’t face or prepare a meal. Toast , porridge, yoghurt etc , make a snack plate and includestgubgs that you fancy to encourage yourself.

Never say no to treats!

7. Engage with support 

Whether you can’t reach for the support of mental health teams or you find that you don’t get listened to, even if you have a good friend, they will listen or help you keep distracted go out for coffee/tea and relax. 

I must say at this point if you do have a named care co ordinator or mental health nurse do ask for another if you don’t feel they are helping or don’t understand you. If your relationship with them is not a good one at the times to need to speak to someone you are more unlikely to call if you don’t get on well.

 I had to do this myself recently and although it made my anxiety increase it has worked out better for me in the long run as I now have a care co ordinator who listens


8. Connect with free services who have trained volunteers. 

I stumbled upon a web service chat with trained volunteers called mental health matters. 
http://www.mentalhealthmatters.com/our-services/helpline-services/time-online/

They operate an online chat usually after the telephone line has finished late at night usually around 10.30/11pm. I found talking online really helped. Sometimes I just could not verbally get the words out and would seek support and guidance and they gave me the courage I needed when I really needed to get help.

You are never truly alone

Mental health lies to you to isolate you and it can consume you but by following your own path you can be well. It’s not a recovery , I don’t think you ever truly are recovered from mental illness but that as in life you have the ups and downs the highs and lows. 

Never be ashamed of being you, you are beautiful.



** If you need to seek support in a crisis please try and reach out. **

You can call the Samaritans just to chat, you do not have to be suicidal you can just need someone to listen and vent to and it’s completely confidential.
The number is 116 123 or you can email jo@samaritans.org although a reply may take a little while.

Family Life: The Biggest Casualty of Modern UK Culture By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

 

Barely a day goes by without me hearing some mention of Britishness and British values. There seems to be an acceptance by some that Britain is the envy of the world. I have never been sure what this is based on.

What sums up modern British life? What are the central focuses of our culture? I’d argue money, work and the pursuit of status are what our daily lives and almost all of our time are filled with.  

I visited Holland this summer and could not help but notice how much more relaxed the Dutch way of life seems to be as oppposed to here, where many of us feel our days are about trying to cram in as much as possible. The expectation is to be a conscientious employee, always on time, never be unreliable, strive to climb the career ladder at the same time as being an involved parent, never missing a school play or sports match. keep a perfect house and helping with homework and all manner of other things. But although we might not like to admit it, our value base in this country is about putting money ahead of family life and happiness. 

We are preached to that our status is based upon our (material) assets, people seem to long to tell you how much their car/holiday/phone/home cost, and expect you to be impressed.  

There often appears to be a badge of honour in how many hours you work over what you are contracted; almost as if the company might collapse without us and many of us are forced to waste hours every week sitting in traffic jams or awaiting delayed trains as we commute to jobs far from our homes. Rising costs of living and stagnant wages leave many of us feeling stressed about making ends meet.     

But does it have to be like this? I’d argue not and that the way of life we have here can be changed. Denmark and Norway won the first and second places in this year’s World Happiness Report.  

What’s different about them? Well, both Denmark and Norways’ cultures prioritise experiences over material goods and strive for equality. They have relatively small wealth gaps and friendships are seen as a value. Both nations cherish sharing activities with friends and family.

In the Norwegian language there is even a word for helping each other without being paid;  ‘dugnad’. 

Occasions where everyone contributes their time and skills for the good of the neighbourhood is seen as vital for the good of all. Similarly, Danes might pay extortionate amounts in tax, but this has given them a sense of cohesion; everyone having a stake and everyone getting something back. Unlike here where post compulsory education without being linked to career aspirations is regarded as an extravagance, most Danes take weekly evening classes, all free at the point of receiving them. How many of our lives would be enriched if that were the case here?

One reason people in Denmark have time for enrichment is that they simply do not work the hours we do. The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours compared with a European average of 40.3 hours. Danish workers work an average of 26 hours and Norwegians 33.  

One of the sad things about our culture, in my view, is the failure of us as a society to put family life first and the impact it has our children.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last year conducted a study of children across 44 countries. The results made for grim reading, It found Britain’s 15-year-olds are suffering due to ‘pressure at school, feeling fat and drinking too much.’ They were less likely to report ‘good life satisfaction’ than their foreign counterparts.  

73% of girls and 52% of boys in England felt pressured by school work, significantly higher than the average of 51% of girls and 39% of boys across all countries. 

While 50% of girls and 25% of boys in England think they are too fat, higher than the average 43% for girls and 22% for boys across all countries.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers have consistently argued that the mental health of children as young as six is being blighted by exam stress. We have increasing numbers of young people self harming and suffering from anxiety and stress. Although there are many reasons for this, I would argue the culture in this country which judges everyone, regardless of age on their possessions and status is at least partly to blame. Children are judged on their test scores, their school’s place in the league tables, their clothes, their family status, where they live and all manner of other things that should not be important. So, it is no wonder, like British adults, so many children cannot escape the feeling they are not good enough.

What about if Britain had a culture where employers encouraged and helped promote family life and other activities? What about if when meeting people for the first time we asked people about their hobbies and interests instead of where they live and what we do for a living? 


What about if spending time doing community based activities was the norm? What about if we judged each other by our actions and nothing else – not appearance or status or possessions?

I think we would all be much happier. Isn’t that what we should strive for as a culture rather than the best GDP or the most millionaires?  

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