It is time to embrace stress as a mental wellbeing issue

Stress can kill, in terms of causing suicides and the onset of other conditions, and it would be foolish to say otherwise. Stress has and will always exist, and we need to look at how we manage stress in the 21st Century. The first thing you can not do is remove the activities people find stressful, as it is so subjective, although I acknowledge systems like the welfare state could be made easier to avoid unnecessary stress.

Throughout history, stress has been ‘managed’ through vices like alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, sexual activity and now food. These solutions have never resolved the problems causing stress but simply masked the problem, allowing people to temporarily escape themselves. Any period of history shows that that happiness was not the norm for most people, and vices were often culturally mandated.

Over the last century, attitudes towards health and vices have radically changed. As science gave evidence on the physical harm vices cause, ignoring the emotional benefits, vices have been criminalised and/or demonised. We should not smoke, drink too much if any alcohol, not take drugs, and now the food we love is being demonised as we speak. Vices have kept those in poverty or hardship afloat in terms of their mental wellbeing. As society pushed people off cigarettes and towards unhealthy food, we can understand why we now have a big obesity and diabetes issue.

We are now left with no vices for people to take legal and moral comfort in. This means to stop stress leading to more serious mental health issues, we need to radically rethink the toolkit to managing and embracing stress. To do this, I believe we need to make the pursuit of long term happiness a reality for the masses, radically redefining the nature and purpose of society.

Research has shown that long-term happiness, feeling contented with life, does not stem from money or health, but feeling and being in control of as much as their life as possible. I would question how many people feel happy or are even pursuing happiness? It is not about smiling all the time, but a self-belief you are on the road you want to be on. And remaining happy is a job in itself only achievable when people have the right tools to assess where they are and want to be.

Explaining what changes we need in society to achieve this new focus on mental wellbeing as a pursuit for happiness would take a few PhDs, and it is not something that could be done overnight, taking a generation or two to achieve. However, if we wish to solve issues like obesity without simply creating new vices to mask the general unhappiness, radical solutions must be found to how we properly manage stress and offer the opportunity of happiness.

As well as changing the bigger picture, we can all start thinking about what we need to do to pursue happiness for ourselves, looking at all aspects of our life from our employment to our relationships with family and friends, something I have tried to do for many years. It can often begin by acknowledging when we are unhappy and what causes us stress. It can be a long and painful process that may never end, but I believe the pursuit of happiness is something we should all value.

Changing the Conversation on Health and Social Care

We currently live in an environment of label based entitlements. By this I mean many people with impairments feel their labels mean they deserve specific benefits and support regardless of what they may actually need, and with little regard to what having the support would achieve. The fight to obtain the support is seen as the end goal, where what happens next is not considered. This creates passive recipients of welfare, and supports keeping people disempowered and excluded from society.

I would like to change the conversation, moving to a point when people ask for what they need to perform relevant activities that allows them to meet their outcomes. In the spirit of ‘best value’, they may need to explain why one more expensive solution is better able to meet their needs to deliver outcomes than a cheaper solution.

So instead of saying I deserve an electric wheelchair because I have mobility issues, I would say that having an electric wheelchair would allow me to go out to work, and a manual chair would be unsuitable as I can not push myself. It would clearly not be that simple but it gives the general idea.

It is easy to say ‘I need that support because I have extra costs’ but I believe it would be quite revealing if everyone requesting support had to explain what support they feel they required and what they intend to do with that support. Two people with the same impairment labels, like diabetes or depression, may have different needs met with different solutions for different outcomes.

For this way of thinking to work, advocacy would need to be put in place to empower people to understand their outcomes and needs, so they can be an active partner in negotiating solutions from relevant bodies. It would mean a move away from passive welfare and towards proactive and meaningful support,

The greatest barrier to this is the mindset of users, professionals and the public. An example of this is the way ’15 minutes calls’ are portrayed. The public outrage is based on the misguided assumption everyone who requires social care can do nothing for themselves, and are simply passively going along helpless without their ‘carers’. The reality is everyone needs are different and some people may need or even want 15 minutes for simple things like putting their shoes on. While 75% of local authorities may indeed use 15 minute calls, there is no data on the total percentage of users who have them, which is likely to tell a different story.

The other thing about 15 minutes is how they are used. Clearly, if someone needs help with having breakfast, preparing a bowl of cereal, and when the carer arrives they are still in bed halve asleep, waiting to be directed by the carer like a young child, then 15 minutes is not going to be enough. However if they are done as much preparation as they can to have breakfast, then 15 minutes will be plenty of time, possibly allowing assistance with other tasks. Again, it is moving from a passive perspective to an active one.

The system is currently broken but few people are willing to offer alternative solutions. My solution is for us to change the conversation from passivity to proactivity and empowerment.

Surely we all want Best Value for public monies?

I read wih dismay and frustration at the Charity Sector’s response to the government’s proposal that monies given to Charities by government organisations for services should not be used for lobbying. The Charity sector claim this is a vow of silence as they represent ‘the vulnerable’ against the Big Bad Government.

But lets just clarify this. Charities, who claim to be ‘not for profit’, feel they have the right to skim off monies intended to assist users of services so they can lobby government for their own interests? In any other context, this would surely be considered fraud and corruption?

Best Value is not a new term but I believe it is has relevant as ever as a core value to the spending of public monies. Best value is not about always going for the cheapest option, but ensuring the maximum outcomes can be reached for the money being spent. It is something the average household has to do and continiously review, although I am not sure the government is as good at doing this.

The reality which the socialist agenda appears to ignore is that the planet and society is built upon limited resourses. Many of the ‘cuts’ over the 6 years have been effective and nnecessary spring cleaning that has probably improved outcomes. Admittedly not all the cuts have keep best value in mind and I think monies could have been better saved while still maintaining or improving outcomes.

On a personal level. as someone who receives a lot of state funding in a number of ways, I want to feel that I am ‘best value’. By this, I want to believe I am able to make the best contribution to my community and society as I can. This does not mean I buy into the ‘benefit scrounger’ rhetoric but it does mean I have a social conscience and awareness I am not the only person who needs support.

Also being a long term user, being ‘best value’ means I should in theory be in a better position to maintain the support I require for as long as I need it. This is long term thinking I doubt many people care about and I feel this highlights the true level of selfishness that motivates many ‘anti-cuts’ activists.

Getting the most of every £1 of tax raised by reducing waste and avoiding duplication should be the goal of everyone. Best value requires people, including charities, to think far beyond their own interests and think about how public monies can be better spent for the benefit of everyone.

Unfortunately the rhetoric of austerity has caused people to be more divided, battling their own causes one cut at a time, without any interest in looking at the bigger picture. This more divisive era of politics, often led by the Charity Sector, and fuelled by obsessive social media, is sadly likely to keep Best Value off the agenda for many years to come.

Being on the Cerebral Palsy Spectrum

I think most readers will have heard of and understand the Autism Spectrum, an understand that this ‘condition’ can vary its severity from very mild to absolutely severe. Well I would like to propose that it is time we look at Cerebral Palsy (CP) in the same way, as a spectrum.

While every impairment can be seen as a spectrum, which is another story, I would like to propose CP, brain damage at birth, is unique because the effects its generates is so far ranging it appears to cover every other impairment.

CP is quite unique as it generates physical and mental difficulties in many ways. I would like to suggest from personal experience and the stories of others that cp affects mental health in a way that only further research would undcover properly.

I believe the wide range of effects of CP is the reason why organisations like Scope, founded to support people wth CP, have found it easy to shrud its shoulders and proclaim itself an pan-impairment organisation, as CP  is an pan-impairment condition. The problem with that is it ignores the cultural importance of cp as a form of identity.

I have learnt to distest impairment labels. While I understand the importance of labels at the point of dianogsis,  I have seen how impairments labels have recently been used by left wing activists to demand entitlement beyond need or understanding.

Saying I have CP is meaningless, but to say I am on the CP Spectrum makes more sense. I still have CP, the condition that affects everything, or enough of things in my life, but I am now able to acknowledge there are people more severe and less severe than myself.

This individualisation of the severity of my level of CP has fundamental implications. It demonstrates my label of CP is meaningless as a gateway to services and support, where I need to individually be assessed to know what I need as Simon. The idea of a Spectrum therefore offers a more understandable concept of CP and impairment generally.

I believe this may be the first time CP has been defined as a Spectrum and I am unsure of the process to formalise my concept. What matters is I understand it and that it helps me understand I am an individual who is now able to position myself with my friends and colleagues with cp.

I believe seeing the whole notion of impairment in terms of spectrums could fundamentally change our understanding of impairments as degrees of severity. This could avoid people using their impairment labels to blindly demand entitlements. People will no longer have fixåd ideas about impairments but see a scale of possibilty.

I doubt many others will adopt the Cerebral Palsy spectrum but it is a very interesting way to view impairment, bringing its complexities to the mainstream.