Category Archives: Mental Health

The real lesson to learn from Steven Woolfe’s injury is a medical one, not a political one

I admit that at one point yesterday afternoon I thought Steven Woolfe was going to die. Reports were coming in thick and fast, and when the words “bleed on the brain” appeared on my computer screen, I absolutely feared the worst. Since finding out that Mr Woolfe will be okay after his fight with Mike Hookem (what an appropriate surname), I have begun to reflect both on what the political community seems to think it means, and what we must actually learn from the incident.

The immediate reaction to Woolfe’s collapse was an unsurprising attempt at linking the UK’s vote to leave the European Union with the fight. ‘Brexit Britain’, we were told by pro-Remain commentators on social media, and its toxic atmosphere was to blame. Presumably, referendums can produce such unwanted fervour that, occasionally, emotions spill over. I suppose to some extent this is true, but the politicisation of Woolfe’s condition was unhelpful.

I don’t care if Steven Woolfe (quite rationally) was considering a Tory defection. I certainly don’t care if Mr Hookem believed he should not leave UKIP. We already know that political differences are not grounds for violence, and didn’t need a head-banging in the European Parliament to remind us of this fact. Notice also that I am being careful not to accuse Hookem of punching Woolfe, who denied doing so today, as was alleged to have happened.

Many, including national newspapers, decided to use the event as an opportunity to make what happened in Strasbourg all about UKIP. The Sun’s splash read: “Anarchy in UKIP”. The Times’ (clearly bitter after their failed Remain campaign over the spring and summer) produced a two-page spread dedicated to comparing ‘the two heavyweights’, with one paragraph reading:

“Ukip’s success in transforming itself from an anti-establishment drinking club into Britain’s third largest political party has come at a cost. The driving force behind Brexit is now bitterly divided and riven with personal animosities.”

But in actual fact, the real lesson to be learned from yesterday’s brawl is a medical one, not a political one. Yet anybody who reads the comment and news reflections on the incident will notice straight away that almost no mention whatsoever has been made about the severity of even minor head injuries, and how easily they can happen. That is the real takeaway, and it is an issue we rarely treat with the seriousness it deserves and one we almost always trivialise.

Mike Hookem described it as a ‘silly tussle’ on Sky News this afternoon. Putting aside whether this is true or not, I am once again concerned by the language used to describe incidents which result in head injuries. Maybe it’s a consequence of masculinity. Mr Hookem is, after all, an ex-soldier. Even silly tussles can result in quite serious consequences for those involved in them. As I type I remember being told by a friend that one of her colleagues fell into a coma after falling of his bike and hitting his head on the curb outside his workplace. These things do happen.

Why is it that the responsibility of raising the importance of brain damage must always fall upon the shoulders of sport? In recent years, and across all major sports, real efforts have been made to highlight the effects of head injuries, with particular emphasis being placed on tackling concussions. Even I, until recently, didn’t properly recognise how dangerous minor head injuries can be. If the problem was discussed more frequently and in a more mainstream context, I think our society would be better educated and more likely to treat head injuries with the seriousness they merit.

More worryingly, the vast majority of concussions do not come with a loss of consciousness. An interesting, well referenced article from a scientific journal (only four paragraphs long and well worth reading) published almost 20 years ago explains: “More than 90% of all cerebral concussions fall into this most mild category where there has not been a loss of consciousness but rather only a brief period of post-traumatic amnesia or loss of mental alertness.”

It can be read here: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278591905700594

I cite this because it tends to suggest that many people are suffering with concussions without realising it. Despite not being a medical expert, my suspicion is that a concussion is exactly what Steven Woolfe had yesterday morning when his head struck a metal pole at the European Parliament. An incident so minor it was described as a ‘silly tussle’ resulted in bleeding on the brain and a husband and wife almost being killed. And yet all we can think about while he lays in hospital is UKIP’s PR and how divisive the Brexit vote has been.

It’s disgraceful.

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Here’s what really ought to be in Hammond’s Autumn Statement

I look forward to Phillip Hammond’s autumn statement next month. It will, I’m sure, be refreshing to hear a chancellor who isn’t George Osborne promising to meet targets which aren’t possible in order to stabilise an economy which isn’t actually all that strong at all. If his comments at Conservative Party conference yesterday are anything to go by, then we should all hope to receive a dosage of clarity in the political fog in which we now live. Pleased so I was, also, to hear of support for renewed public spending; a term wildly misused and, in practice at least, lop-sided thanks to the frontrunners of the previous government.

Fresh faces inside Number 10 will bring new direction and focus to British government. The unique political situation ahead, namely Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, presents Hammond with the opportunity to scrap ludicrous pre-referendum economic targets and install newer, more realistic ones. The Treasury has pledged new funding for tech innovation, the biomedical catalyst fund and, thankfully, the building of new homes. Brownfield sites will at long last be pushed forth as centres for new house-building projects in a belated attempt to try and stunt the growth of rapidly-expanding housing bubbles (more on this another time).

These new measures are welcome, but one vital public service, ignored it seems since the London riots of 2011, has been left by the wayside. Earlier this summer, police figures were quietly released and jumped on by the BBC. They were shocking, even for those of us (like me) who do not necessarily relish the prospect of increased public spending. Figures such as those that follow will undoubtedly put the issue of cuts to policing into perspective. Sources are provided both here: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN00634/SN00634.pdf and here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/544849/hosb0516-police-workforce.pdf

As we can see, in 2003 there were 110,910 frontline police officers, compared with just 106,411  in the year ending March 2016. A reduction of four and a half thousand is magnified by the notable increase in the population between the provided years. ONS estimates show that the UK’s population in 2003 lingered around the 59.7 million mark. By 2016, it had reached more than 65 million. An increase of almost six million people combined with a decrease in the number of frontline officers cannot be considered much of a success, and with the scent of Osborne-induced austerity still lingering in the air and a general public becoming increasingly frustrated with less than proactive police forces, I don’t know how inadequate funding can realistically be continued.

I am distressed that even a severely weakened and distracted Labour Party didn’t make more of an effort to draw attention to them. Writing as somebody who is related to police officers from two different police forces, I have seen for myself the effect that the cuts have had on individual frontline officers. The numbers highlighting sick leave are staggering, but not altogether surprising. They suggest to me that in all the babbling about crime figures and whether modest decreases justify piercing cuts to police forces, a more physical and emotional price is being paid by those serving on the streets. If you speak to police officers, most are one or more of fatigued, suffering from mental breakdown, demoralised or in chronic muscle or joint pain. It would seem reasonable to me to suggest that due to a sharp decline in the number of frontline officers, most still serving feel overworked and stressed as a result. This BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37530914 into the current state of officers in Scotland is particularly eye opening.

But the effects of the cuts aside, it now seems most opportune to try and undo some of the damage done to our police forces with autumn’s upcoming statement. I don’t think policing will feature in the budget, but I consider it to be a top priority for the government. Cuts to police budgets have failed officers, the public and left trainees without employment hopes. Austerity has always been a disaster in the past, and is likely to be just as harmful in the future. Notice that it hasn’t brought about the recovery it was predicted to after the coalition government was formed. Notice also, that it tends to be supported by the rich, not the poor. You don’t have to be Left-wing to oppose austerity. I oppose it. Firstly, because it encourages economies to shrink (remember that national debt is relative to GDP), secondly, because it is grossly unfair to workers on the lower end of the income scale (particularly those who work in public services, who end up losing their jobs) and thirdly, it has had a crippling effect on fellow European Union members. Has austerity actually worked anywhere?

Philip Hammond is in a unique position as British chancellor. He is arguably under less pressure than any chancellor in recent memory. Despite crippling austerity measures, Osborne’s recovery was the slowest on record, and the public are fully aware that an EU departure will present bumps in the road to come. Here lie Hammond’s excuses in the event of economic failure. Even the opposition party back his plans to increase borrowing and ditch budget surplus targets. All the stars have aligned for Mr Hammond to really make his mark on British politics.


The mainstream media must lay off mental illness now, before it’s too late

I wanted to address a problem at this blog that grabbed my attention earlier this morning, concerning coverage of last night’s stabbing incident in Russell Square. Thanks to a BBC app notification, I was made vaguely aware of the attack before I went to sleep, but only decided to read more carefully into the report once details had emerged a few hours ago. I wish to express my solidarity with the family of the poor woman killed, and wish the five who were injured a speedy recovery.

I have, though, been left extremely disappointed by the immediacy with which fingers were pointed at mental health issues, and felt the need to raise my concern and explain why this is so. I haven’t the time to cite every media publication, for obvious reasons, so will use major outlets as examples.

Just after its introduction, the BBC’s news update reads:

‘Police using a Taser arrested a man of 19 who is being held under armed guard at hospital. The Met said mental health was a “significant factor” in events’.

This angle is also reported in ‘The Guardian’, which (to nobody’s surprise) leads with its involvement:

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/live/2016/aug/04/london-stabbing-russell-square-knife-attack-live

…Daily Telegraph, who note: “Early indications suggest that mental health is a significant factor in this case and that is one major line of inquiry. But of course at this stage we should keep an open mind regarding motive and, consequently, terrorism as a motivation remains but one line of enquiry for us to explore.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/08/04/russell-square-stabbing-everything-we-know-about-the-attack-on-t/

…and Daily Mail, which reports: “Scotland Yard’s top anti-terror officer Mark Rowley gave a press conference outside Scotland Yard at 3.40am and said the 19-year-old appears to have ‘significant mental health issues’ but admitted terrorism could be a motive.”

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3722796/Woman-killed-five-people-injured-terrorist-knife-attack-central-London.html

How generous of Mr Rowley to concede that terrorism *could* be a motive in a terrorist incident. I can feel comforted this morning by the foresight of our intelligence chiefs.

I am angered by the sudden focus on mental health (though do not deny its involvement) for several reasons. It is obvious to me that ‘The Guardian’ chose to lead with Scotland Yard’s mental health angle, as would be expected of any Left-leaning, liberal publication, in order to avoid immediate anti-Islamic hysteria. The Mail and Telegraph would have no such motive.

Notice how frequently phrases such as “early indications show” crop up in these reports. How often do we hear of ‘sane’ knifeman roaming the streets of London, chopping people to pieces? Which other indications (aside from the blood spilling rampage) *suggest* that mental health issues were a major factor in last night’s stabbing spree?

By definition, terror attacks are committed by people who are not all with it. If they were, why would they take it upon themselves to commit mass (or attempted) murder?

But this is not the point. I could care less by how obvious the cause is, and I am not disappointed by the lack of emphasis on Islamism either. My annoyance at this reporting has been caused by two things.

Firstly, there is the alarming lack of consistency. If the media are intent on pointing fingers and outlining allegedly definitive causes before blood has dried, then they must be consistent about it. Quite rationally, links to Islam or Islamism are not included in premature reports, even if links are suspected, so as to reduce any stigmatisation of Muslims. I am happy for this to be the case, and think it wise to continue with such a policy.

But, as I alluded to a moment ago, we need to ask why the mainstream media display such a startling lack of consistency over the matter. If we are reluctant to engage in the stigmatisation of Muslims, then why are we not so in the case of the mentally ill? The term ‘mental illness’ (far too often used pejoratively, and seldom an expression associated with amazing achievement or ability) is wonderfully umbrella.

Savants and those with strains of autism, for example, often exhibit rare mathematical, kinaesthetic or literary genius. We never attempt to decipher between different kinds of ‘mental illness’ and nor is it fair to associate the ‘mentally ill’ with perpetrators of terrorist acts. In this, or indeed any other circumstance, quick fire reporting on suspected motives before police action or a trial have taken place would seem to me to be a mistake. In my view, media publications should avoid speculating upon motives in the aftermath of such incidents, and should instead stick to reporting on what they know to be cold, hard facts.

On a side note, a video of Nick Ferrari exploding on this very issue on his radio show exists somewhere on social media, but, alas, I cannot find it. It may be worth searching in your own time.

The second reason for my disapproval at this kind of reporting is that it could well help to undo years of good work trying to unravel exactly the sort of mental health stigmatisation that I referred to a moment ago. We have come a long way in recent years and, while we do tend to over-diagnose and perhaps still fail to understand certain conditions, for our progress to be threatened by the actions of murderous terrorists would be a huge step backwards. It is not morally correct to encircle those fighting to overcome a whole range of mental problems with those willing to kill in the name of Islam. I urge journalists to remember this.

Readers may at this point be interested to know that I suffer from a condition called bipolar disorder, also known (more sensibly) as manic depression. I suspect that quite a few people reading are familiar with depression, having experienced it themselves or seen it affect other people. Without making last night’s stabbing incident about me or people like me, I wanted to express my concern that those, like me, who experience difficulty on a regular basis could well find themselves subject to unfair prophecies or labelling. To take steps in this direction would damage our society and split tolerance asunder.

Content with protecting British Muslims from stigmatisation in the wake of terror attacks, the mainstream media has turned its attention towards ‘mental illness’. It’s far too easy, damaging and contradictory. But will anybody listen?