Mental health awareness and resilience: a personal reflection

My blog has always been a place for personal reflection. This post is no exception, but comes with a very clear trigger warning: if you are struggling with your mental health at the moment, you might not want to read on.

This weekend I presented my first RAFAC mental health awareness and resilience course of 2020 to ten adult volunteers in Kent.

For me (and, yes, as an instructor I know I am biased) the course is one of the most important of all of those available within our organisation.

Young people are under an immense amount of pressure and face many different individual risk factors, and I believe that as volunteers working with young people it is important we understand those risks, the effects they can have and what we can do to help support our cadets.

But this article isn’t about the course, and I have no desire to betray either the contents of the course or the confidences of those who participate. Instead, this article is about me: my own personal reflection.

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I’m supporting Bipolar UK this Christmas

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another
~ Charles Dickens

Christmas is about giving.

Sure, it’s nice to receive presents from your loved (and not-so-loved) ones, but nothing beats the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you brighten someone else’s day with a meaningful gift.

But while we fret about chocolates and jewellery, tinsel and turkeys, it is important to remember that for many people, Christmas can be anything but a joyful time of year.

I may not have much in this world, but I have always sought to ensure my Christmas helps others in need.

So, every year, I buy my Christmas cards from a charity supporting those who may be experiencing a lonely, sad or empty Christmas. The profits then go to helping those who need support both at Christmas and throughout the year.

In recent years, my charity of choice has invariably been the Royal British Legion, for reasons which are, perhaps, obvious.

This year, however, I have decided to support a different good cause.

This year, I am supporting Bipolar UK.

Bipolar disorder is a frightening illness which is seen in between an estimated 1% and 2% of the population. Whilst the highs and lows can be equally as distressing, the extreme lows caused by bipolar mean those who suffer are much more likely to take their own lives.

Bipolar increases the risk of suicide 20 times.

For many people with bipolar – and their families and friends – Christmas will be anything but merry. But Bipolar UK are here to help.

Every year, Bipolar UK support 80,000 individuals through a dedicated support line, network of support groups and more.

For the year ending 31 March 2016, Bipolar UK spent £825,313 (82% of its expenditure) on activities supporting both those with bipolar and their friends, families and work colleagues.

I know that the purchase of a handful of Christmas cards is not exactly a grand gesture. But, as someone with a diagnosis of Bipolar II, I also know how important support is to people in times of crisis.

That’s why every Christmas card I send this year will go some way to providing that support where it is needed the most.

If you would like to support the vital work of Bipolar UK, you can make a donation here.

Jeremy Corbyn protests against his own decision

I don’t very often write posts attacking the Labour leadership – not because I don’t believe the many ludicrous policies of Corbyn & Co need to be opposed, but because the Parliamentary Labour Party (and many grassroots activists) seem to be doing a competent enough job of opposing the opposition themselves.

In this instance, though, given my ongoing campaign for equal status for mental health services, I will make an exception. Mr Corbyn was once also a vocal advocate of improvements to the way mental health problems are addressed. In February 2015, he told Parliament:

All of us can go through depression; all of us can go through those experiences. Every single one of us in this Chamber knows people who have gone through it, and has visited people who have been in institutions and have fully recovered and gone back to work and continued their normal life. I dream of the day when this country becomes as accepting of these problems as some Scandinavian countries are, where one Prime Minister was given six months off in order to recover from depression, rather than being hounded out of office as would have happened on so many other occasions.

We need greater and more effective assessment of the needs of mental health services across London, because there is still a stigma in some areas. Some communities and families are more able to come forward than others. We need to create an atmosphere in which people understand that we can all experience stress and that we all need help at some time in our lives, and the NHS must and should be there to provide that help when it is needed.

It was, therefore, pleasing to see Mr Corbyn appoint a Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health in his first cabinet last September. However, the role was short-lived, with the portfolio being scrapped following the swathes of resignations in July.

That didn’t stop the newly (re-)elected leader from protesting against the decision to ditch the post at the Labour Party conference today.

Posing with campaigners for mental health, Mr Corbyn held a sign calling for the reintroduction of the Shadow Cabinet Minister for Mental Health.

The post he created himself and then abolished himself!

I’ll just leave that brazen act of hypocrisy to sink in…

Source: Jason Groves

What would your suicide note say?

This post comes with an emphatic trigger warning

Being afflicted with Bipolar Disorder is one of the most incredible and yet terrifying, joyous and yet soul-destroying feelings in the world.

The periods of elation often feel like the greatest days of one’s life; the highs can spark an almost infectious level of satisfaction and are where I find the height of my creativity. Yet they can also be the source of increased risk, and, in reality, it is no less important to control episodes of mania (or hypomania).

The periods of depression, however, almost always feel like the end of life itself. Whilst trapped in the dark and lonely embrace desperate and despairing cell of one’s own mind, the only way out can often appear to be stopping the slow and painful beat of one’s weary heart.

My Bipolar Disorder is classified as Bipolar II, that is to say the highs are only mild (hypomanic) compared to those with the more severe Bipolar I (manic). The lows (depression) are also usually much more frequent than the highs.

I have often spoken about my Bipolar as a matter of fact: it is an illness and I suffer from it. I have never spoken about how it as a form of my personality. Until now.

One of my greatest passions is writing. Whether it be blogging, poetry or fiction, I love expressing my creativity and innermost thoughts through the medium of the written word. It would, therefore, come as no surprise to learn that one of the things I think of most when I am enduring an episode of depression is what would be in my final piece of writing.

What would I write in my suicide note?

During my deepest period of depression, in the winter of 2012, I was prompted to seek professional help for the first time. I was diagnosed with depression initially, but Bipolar II followed and treatment (such as it was) continued until November 2013.

That low point was the only time I had been so hopelessly depressed as to stop thinking about what I would say in my final goodbye and actually put pen to paper.

To this day, I cannot recall what I had written, nor where the fruits of my labour had come to rest, but now, as my personal circumstances have triggered a new episode of depression spiraling dangerously close to the severity of the one I experienced in 2012, I find myself considering that question once again.

The suicide note is not just about saying goodbye to people close to you, it can also be used to open your heart and reveal the trauma you have been living with – or posthumously settle scores with people you feel have wronged you. When Elliott Johnson, a young Tory, took his own life at the age of 21, he left a letter to his parents claiming that he had been bullied by more senior Conservatives. Just one paragraph on that letter was enough to force a government minister to resign and open a dark secret of the Party which continues to unravel.

Clearly, I have no such explosive skeletons in any cupboard of mine, but surely everyone has something to confess to the world which they would only like to announce on their deathbed? My list of people who I feel have wronged me would run into a few pages, and I would need to decide whose offences were severe enough to spend the energy necessary to include them in my farewell address.

Am I just overreacting? Will I actually fall so deeply into despair that I end up writing another final letter? Will it be the last thing I ever write? Honestly, I don’t know, but the very thought terrifies me to the core. The personal circumstances which have led me to this point show no signs of improving any time soon; now that the illness has taken hold of the problems and claimed them as its own, there is no telling how far it will go.

While I was living in Barcelona, it was, undoubtedly, difficult not earning money. But, for a number of reasons, I was coping and I was happy. I love my homeland, but since I returned four weeks ago, my life and my happiness seem to have crumbled around me. The future I was planning and looking forward to in Catalunya now seems unlikely (at least in my anxious and pessimistic mind) to ever materialise. The dream I have held for many years – and desperately tried to cling onto for the past few months – is dead, and it is difficult for me to see any way to revive it. No other thought I’d ever had about my future even comes close to what I had moved to Barcelona to build, and, honestly, I cannot see any of the alternatives ever making me happy.

The other problem I face in avoiding the worst case scenario is that now I am back in Medway, my fate is, to a large extent, in the hands of an overworked and under-resourced mental health service. Don’t get me wrong, every contact I have had with them in the past has been helpful and professional, but it is incredibly difficult to get that all-important first contact. Mental health services in this country are still the poor cousin of physical health services, often forgotten about by the politicians and suits in offices making the decisions which matter. Those of us who need to use those services, especially in a crisis, only ever end up suffering.

The truth is that I don’t actually know what I would put in a suicide note this time around. There is so much more going on this time that I cannot make sense of it for long enough to put it into a logical order. And, no matter how low I sink into depression, I honestly do not think my vanity would ever allow me to end it all without first having been able to write my last goodbye, clearly and unambiguously.

Mind join the National Free Wills Network

Mental health charity joins national network providing free Wills.

Mind, the charity which provides help and support to people affected by – and campaigns for better recognition and treatment for – mental health problems, has joined the growing list of UK charities offering free Wills to their supporters.

Every year, one in four people in the UK will suffer from a mental health problem and, while there is now much more understanding of mental health as an illness, there is still not full parity with physical health problems in terms of recognition and support – and the stigma that still remains can dissuade vulnerable people from seeking help in times of crisis.

That is why charities such as Mind are a vital lifeline for people, including me, who have suffered – or continue to suffer – from a mental health problem. They provide information on the different mental health issues people face, to running dedicated helplines which offer information on mental health problems and where to find support, general advice on the law related to mental health, and information for emergency service workers and their families.

Local Mind charities offer services including supported housing, crisis helplines, drop-in centres, employment and training schemes, counselling and befriending.

Providing such vital services requires support from the general public and, as with most charities, income from legacies in Wills is incredibly important. In 2009, for example, Mind was left £3.1 million by people who had passed away. Whilst the annual amounts are, by their very nature, unpredictable, legacy income provides charities with a steady stream of income to support their work – and the market for charities vying for gifts in Wills is ever expanding. Indeed, one of the last Wills I wrote while in legal employment contained gifts to 15 different charities – of which five carried out the same type of work.

By joining the National Free Wills Network (NFWN), Mind are providing an incentive for their supporters to leave them a gift in their Will. However, this is not a requirement of the scheme; anyone who takes up the offer is free to leave their hard-earned money to whoever they wish.

The NFWN is a group of charities organised by Capacity Marketing, with a network of over 700 solicitors in the UK writing Wills for each charity’s supporters. Each charity provides their supporters with the necessary information and documents, together with a list of local solicitors.

Supporters are free to attend whichever network solicitor they feel comfortable with. There is no direct relationship between the charities and the solicitors, meaning that supporters can be assured of receiving completely independent advice when they attend for a consultation.

Once the Will has been signed, the solicitors will forward a confidential declaration form (which will have been signed by the supporter) to the NFWN, who will in turn arrange for payment to be made by the charity. The fee the charity pays is usually at a discounted rate from the solicitors’ regular Will rate, while supporters only pay anything if their Will is not considered a “basic” or “standard” Will by the firm they instruct.

(Transparency notice: I am well-versed in the operations of the NFWN as, when I worked at Fosters Law, I saw many clients wishing to make Wills through this scheme.)

The benefit for supporters is immediately obvious: they have a professional, legal Will drawn up, usually for free. The solicitors’ reason for offering the scheme is also obvious: although they have probably received less in fees than if the same Will had been drawn up under their ordinary rates, most clients who come through the NFWN would not ordinarily have made a Will – or, if they had, they may have gone to another firm.

However there is also a distinct advantage for the charity, in terms of increasing their income from legacies. For example:

Five people approach the charity to participate in the scheme: two leave gifts to the charity (the first gifts the sum of £15,000 and the second 5% of their Estate) while the other three do not. The Wills have cost the charity £90 each1, being a net expense of £450.

Before he dies, the first supporter changes his Will because he needs to go into residential care, and leaving a legacy to the charity would mean there was little left for his children. However, when the second dies, his net Estate to go to his beneficiaries is £300,000. As a result, the charity receives £15,000 from his Estate.

From these five Wills alone, a short-term cost of £450 has resulted in the charity receiving £15,000. Although it is not an immediate benefit, these participants’ Wills have provided a net surplus of £14,550.

Although not every Will includes a legacy, the NFWN estimate that over 70% of participants do leave a gift to the relevant charity. Since it was launched in 2008, it has generated approximately £32 million in future legacies for its member charities.

To find out more about arranging your own free Will through Mind and the NFWN, please take a look at the information on their website.


1. Illustrative figure – from memory I cannot recall exactly how much is paid for each Will under the NFWN.