Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for February 11th, 2018

It’s OK to Talk about Mental Health

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th February, 2018

mental health 1When I was a child I went through prolonged periods of what I now understand was mental depression. From the age of seven, I over-slept (when I was allowed to), over-ate when I was awake and withdrew into myself so fully that I was not just anti-social but barely conscious of the world around me at school, much less at “home”. I don’t need to rehearse the reasons why here, as I have written about them in my childhood memoir, Eccles Cakes*. But what is important to draw attention to is that (a) in the 1950s and 1960s, nobody acknowledged that children could have mental health problems, and (b) mental health was a matter of utter shame, to be kept out of view. If adults suffered some mental condition they tended to hide it and in extreme cases committed suicide as a result. Their families (with some noble exceptions, I am sure) shunned them, and covered over the facts of their illness — especially if they were sent to a “loony bin”, out of the way. Even Britain’s royal family did that. The French philosopher Michel Foucault wrote brilliantly about Western society’s self-declared need to incarcerate — and even punish — those who were mentally “abnormal” or who demonstrated odd behaviour.

mental health 2Though I wouldn’t wish on anyone what I went through as a child — with its distressing repercussions later in life — I draw comfort from the fact that these days it is recognised that children’s odd behaviour may have roots in some mental problem and that people of all ages can talk more openly about periods of mental illness. Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk, played an important role in mainstreaming mental health during the 2010-2015 Coalition government and some of those improvements have endured in the UK. There is still a way to go with regard to public perceptions and undoubtedly the education system at all levels needs to foster greater understanding as well as care. At SOAS these days lecturers are encouraged to spot what could be mental problems with students and to refer people accordingly. I hope that is the practice now in higher education everywhere. How much more sensible than just sending a child or young person to go and lie down in the sick-bay, which is what happened to me at school whenever I had one of my “turns”!

* https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eccles-Cakes-Odd-Tale-Survival-ebook/dp/B01II737EM/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1518382263&sr=1-1&keywords=Jonathan+Fryer

 

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Exit from Brexit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 11th February, 2018

Catherine Bearder 3Yesterday Catherine Bearder MEP hosted a rally in Richmond-upon-Thames as part of the LibDems’ campaign to Exit from Brexit. As the Party’s London spokesperson on Brexit, I gave a short speech of welcome, underlining the importance of two dates this year. First is May 3rd., when there will be all-out elections for councillors in all 32 London boroughs. Though obviously local issues will be at the fore, these elections can also serve as a verdict on the Conservative government’s chaotic performance so far in relation to Brexit. Moreover, for citizens of the other 27 EU member states who are resident in the UK, this is a chance (maybe their last) to make their voice heard through the ballot box. So local parties need to be encouraging those who are not yet on the electoral register to get on, and to make clear to EU voters that the Liberal Democrats are the only major party in England campaigning for an Exit from Brexit. The second important date is October, by which time, in principle, the UK and EU will have mapped out their proposed new trading relationship, and a public vote on the details of that deal would be timely. So we need to persuade the public as well as Parliament over the next six months or so that such a vote is desirable, so they can pass their verdict on “Is this really what you want?”

Sarah Olney Catherine Bearder Costanza de TomaFittingly at a time when Britain is celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to women (over 30, initially), the rest of yesterday’s event was entirely in the hands of women. Catherine Bearder gave a speech outlining many of the practical problems that will occur if Britain does leave the Customs Union, as the Government maintains. Many things will be more expensive, choice will be reduced and there will inevitably be delays, threatening the viability of many businesses. Sarah Olney, LibDem MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston until last June’s general election, gave an update on the progress (or otherwise) in Parliament regarding the EU Withdrawal Bill and other related legislation. The House of Lords is currently proving its worth by critically analysing what is before it. But there is a growing feeling that the timetable the Government has set for Brexit is impossibly short. The third principal speaker yesterday was Costanza de Toma of the 3 Million group, which lobbies for the rights of EU citizens here (and liaises with representatives of UK citizens on the continent and in the Republic of Ireland, who will also be impacted by Brexit, if it goes ahead). Much of her testimony highlighted the gross injustices and absurdity of the way the situation is developing, as well as the frequent incompetence of the Home Office. The 3 million are encouraging EU citizens to vote in local elections in May, so they could make a real difference.

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