Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Brexit Does My Head In

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 29th January, 2019

depressed-manAccording to a new opinion poll from Channel 5 News and YouGov, one in ten people in Britain say that Brexit has had a large impact on their mental health. I know that is true in my case. Along with many Brits who believe that the country is better off inside the European Union I feel depressed and frustrated that the Conservative government is ploughing on with a course of action that is bound to harm the UK economy. In her desperate attempts to hold her party together, Prime Minister Theresa May is even continuing to flirt with the possibility of a disastrous No Deal Brexit, by which Britain would crash out of the EU on 29 March, with huge risks to the delivery of food and medicines and the supply chain of farming and industry. The Official Opposition is not much better either, as under Jeremy Corbyn Labour has failed to listen to the majority of its members who want an Exit from Brexit, probably through a referendum, dubbed the People’s Vote. Last night, Parliament debated the government’s disgraceful Immigration Bill, which will downgrade the status of EU citizens in this country if it is passed. Until almost the last minute the Labour leadership was saying that their MPs should abstain in the vote on this reading, until a howl of protest led to a partial U-turn, with a decision to oppose, but only on a one-line whip, which meant that not enough Labour MPs were in the chamber to vote it down (though some brave Tory rebels voted against). But if Brits like me have some sleepless nights over Brexit imagine how much worse it must be for EU citizens, many of whom have lived in this country for years and are now being required to apply for settled status so they have the right to stay in their own homes. Moreover, many EU citizens — and other foreigners — have been the butt of unpleasant xenophobic/racist abuse from a small minority of nationalistic bigots who have been empowered by the 2016 EU Referendum to vent their prejudices. Even speaking a language other than English in public is enough for some of these zealots to sound off. No wonder some people are turning to their doctors for prescriptions for anti-depressants. But given that physical exercise is known to alleviate depression, getting out and about campaigning for a People’s Vote is perhaps one route those of us who are feeling down about Brexit can follow.

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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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