Monday, 29 February 2016

One road to happiness - making a difference by volunteering.

This was published in The York Press on Tuesday, March 1st 2016.
When Terry Wogan died recently, some of his quotes were mentioned in articles about his life. I liked this one: “The way to happiness is to give yourself to others and to think of others before you think of yourself.”  I would add that also needing some ‘own time’ and ‘own space’ is not being selfish. It’s about having a balanced lifestyle to be emotionally healthy.

This brings me back to the subject of volunteering, the topic of this column last July. At the time, I was considering some local volunteering opportunities. It took time while all the necessary checks were carried out and in one case, some training. Patience was required. Seven months later, I am a visitor for Victim Support and a volunteer hospital play worker. 

The hospital work brings me great joy and I didn’t even know this position was available. Perhaps some of you are not aware of how you could volunteer. I thought of people I know and the voluntary work they do. It may give you some ideas too. 

  • Working in hospitals. Running a website. Dog walking. Pet sitting.
  • Local environmental projects. Helping in schools. Shopping. Gardening. 
  • Youth groups. Hospital driver. Victim Support visitor. Charity shops.
  • A Trustee of a charity. Community projects. Local service organisations.
  • Local and National campaigns. Library assistants. Support groups.
  • Religious groups. Local theatre groups. Writing. Political groups.
  • Charity shops. Sports clubs and events. Prison visiting. Teaching.
  • Historic buildings and gardens. Advocacy groups. Singing groups.

There is something for everyone and with a variety of time commitment.  Perhaps you’re tempted, but don’t think you could be of any help. You can help. You have skills that could help others. You can make a difference. When the enormity of the world’s problems seem too much, I recall this story.

A man was walking along a beach. As he walked, he could see a boy in the distance and he noticed that the boy kept bending down, picking something up and throwing it into the water. As the man walked nearer, he was able to see that the boy was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach and, one at a time he was throwing them back into the water. The man asked the boy what he was doing, the boy replied," I am throwing these washed up starfish back into the ocean, or else they will die through lack of oxygen. "But", said the man, "You can't possibly save them all, there are thousands on this beach. You can't possibly make a difference." The boy smiled, bent down and picked up another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, “I’ve made a difference to that one.”


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

What I have said for years, but with academic credentials.

Around ten years ago I read Richard Bentall's book, 'Madness Explained'. His second book, published in 2009 is called 'Doctoring the Mind'. I have heard him lecturing and agree with most of his findings. The only area of concern I had, was with his research when he was describing his work with mothers and babies and their communication. He was not aware of the problem with front-facing pushchairs, so his research was flawed. Now it would have to include the ubiquitous use of mobile phones and tablets by toddlers and babies, as well as older children.

That was some years ago and I was interested to read an article by him last week. It comes in the form of an open letter to the actor and presenter, Stephen Fry, after his BBCTV programme on bi-polar disorder.    

It begins:

Dear Stephen,
You and I attended the same public school (Uppingham, in Rutland) at the same time, in the early 1970s, and our unhappy experiences there have undoubtedly helped to shape our different trajectories, which have led us to a shared interest in mental health.
In your case, your premature departure from Uppingham, and your adventures immediately afterwards, were documented in your wonderful book, Moab is my Washpot. Your subsequent openness about your own mental health difficulties, for which I salute you, has been an inspiration to other mental health sufferers.
In my case, despite a lacklustre academic performance which I attribute mainly to spending much of my adolescence feeling depressed and emotionally abused, I managed to make my way to university and eventually pursued a career in clinical psychology. (My brother, unfortunately, was much worse affected by his time at the school; his expulsion was the start of a long downward spiral that culminated in his suicide, an event that haunts me twenty years later, and which reinforces my determination to improve the public understanding of mental ill-health.)
I have now spent more than thirty years researching severe mental illness, focusing especially on patients with psychosis (who, in conventional psychiatry, are typically diagnosed with ‘bipolar disorder’ or ‘schizophrenia’). It is from this perspective that, reluctantly, I must now ask you to rethink the way that you portray these conditions to the general public. I know that you wish to demystify and destigmatise mental illness, which are surely laudable aims, but my worry is that some aspects of your approach may have the opposite effect from that which you intend.
and carries on...please click on the link above.
In response to that open letter, Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool & President-Elect, British Psychological Society, has written another open letter on behalf of many of his profession.

It begins:

Open Letter about BBC Coverage of Mental Health

Following Richard Bentall’s inspired OpenLetter to Stephen 
Fry, we – a group of people who have (and still do) use 
mental health services, who work in mental health, or 
who work as academics... or fall in to more than one of 
those categories – have decided to write a parallel Open 
Letter to the BBC and other media organizations about 
their coverage of mental health issues.

We need as many signatures as possible! If you wish to sign, 
please email Peter Kinderman at with ‘BBC letter’ in the 
subject heading, and your name, title and organization as 
you would like to be represented. You can also leave 
comments below.

And carries on...Please click on the above link.

Why are these academics not listened to seriously? If they are not 
listened to, there's no hope for the non-academic professionals such 
as me and my colleagues. It is so frustrating with the unnecessary 
suffering loss of life and tragic loss of life we have been witness to 
over the last twenty years?

But then I read and listen with interest to the latest horror stories 
about sugar. That's not news. Professor Yudkin wrote about the 
dangers in 1972, 'Pure, White and Deadly', and was ridiculed. 

To those of us questioning the food industry, Big Pharma and other 
large, influential organisations. We must never give up, whoever we 
are. If it can save one life, it will be worth doing.