Given that we know any genuine chance of keeping any of the sorts of lofty, well-intentioned and/or healthy resolutions many make at this time of year lies with our own willpower it is perhaps testament to the likelihood of success that we have waited until an arbitrary point in time synonymous with group failure to choose to enact them. That said undoubtedly some will make it through, it does after all take two weeks for a habit to form, so they say, therefore the actual chances of success if the initial short-term obstacles are overcome rises exponentially. It interests me that at a point in time over the festive period that most people look to enjoy themselves, sometimes too much, the new year is beset with recrimination and efforts to make ourselves the person we feel we ought really to be. This lends itself all to easily to manipulation by forces around us, look no further than the issue of image and weight in particular. As someone who has suffered from weight problems since childhood I see this quite acutely, I am however only a man, the pressure brought to bear on me comes more from within and from the occasional friend or relative who may see me struggle from time to time. Where I have overcome some vices in the past this is the one that seems the most entrenched and tied to my psyche and therefore juxtaposed is the fact that it is the one that would make the biggest difference to my confidence if conquered.

I hear much about restraint, how people’s weight is to do with their own choices and this is undeniably true but a person’s choice hinges generally on their state of mind at that time, positive state of mind like as not healthy choices, negative state of mind and the minefield is laid out in front of you. Christmas therefore can be a time when presented with many choices but also with commensurate emotional baggage such to influence our state of mind and often even whole frame of reference given the likely involvement of family or sometimes the marked absence thereof.

Not everything we do to make us feel better is a vice, the key is whether if told at some point that it is bad for you that you be able to stop with immediate effect and not notice the lack of it. If there is a sense of longing or a sense that we would still have a desire or need in spite of the knowledge that it is not good for us then this is no longer an entirely benign influence. How malign it might be would depend on the balance of need over the likely damage caused by continuing. For some it is eating, for some the very opposite; for others it is substances of any description, from the socially more ‘acceptable’ drugs such as alcohol and tobacco to the more illicit narcotics. In all of these cases there are support groups across the land looking to help those who fall foul of the effects. However the root cause is seldom looked at properly and consequently other people suffering the same issues but with less tangibly identifiable effects may fall through the net. There are those who form relationships which are not good for them for a variety of reasons, there are those who hurt themselves physically and mentally and this can often only be seen should the scars show. What binds all of the people in all of the strands is that in all cases to varying degrees what is happening is self-harm.

The term self-harm often conjures up images of people inflicting specific physical damage on themselves, this is perhaps the most immediately alarming of the evidences and the one to which most people would feel themselves remote against, but if we look at it pragmatically we all know people who behave in a way that is clearly going to cause them harm and that this behaviour can be seen to be so by all parties in advance. The person that drinks/smokes/eats a little too much, a little too often. The person who stays too long in an abusive relationship/job they hate or simply tolerates behaviour from others towards them that could be seen as damaging. We may need to look no further than the mirror for that. Equally likely is that we may be part of the problem, putting expectations on people about things with which they are clearly struggling, we can be as much a part of that spiralling by caring enough to want someone to stop what it is they are doing when it is clearly harmful but not taking the time, for whatever reason, to understand why they might be. There may be a variety of reasons and it may be that the prospect of stopping and the reality that is left is far more terrifying than the consequences of the harm.

I remember a flippant example from my past when I was especially overweight. I had suffered from heartburn for many years, burning reflux at night that would wake me up in pain and never just recede. I could never fathom exactly why it was but what I did get to the bottom of was the fact that a glass of milk would assist. The greater the heartburn the more milk I needed to get it to go away, I tried plenty of heartburn remedies and these might assist briefly but rarely for more than the specific attack and usually not even for that, milk seemed the solution which had a degree of keeping it under control and tasting a great deal better not to mention being a lot cheaper. The only problem was I have a lactose intolerance that causes rhinitis if I drink milk, but in a toss up between gastric burn and blocked sinuses it was without question the milk which won out, by the pint. The consequences were sufficiently low level as to be outweighed by the need to assuage the more immediate pain and by and large I was reconciled to that dynamic. Whilst this is a flippant example there are elements here that map themselves to others quite easily, not least was the fact that when I was drinking milk I was in fact assisting myself to remain in the cycle for it was directly linked to my weight that I suffered the heartburn in the process therefore perpetuating a vicious circle. The principle point that I wished to make though was that the alleviation of immediate and acute pain will almost always win out over the potential prospect of problems later and that therefore to want to help a person in such a situation one must first understand the multidimensional reasons they are who the are and how many people have really the time or the inclination to do that?

Herein is the real problem, the lack of society, the lack of close-knit family, the lack of joined up services coupled with the pervasive ideology of self-aggrandisement, self-fulfilment and self-reliance has led us to where we are now. To me if you judge success and failure on anything other than the overall health and happiness of people then you are utterly missing the point. A country with a strong economy underpinned by slave labour is not a success, that is not to argue that a strong economy may not act as a vehicle for success if used properly but if that use is to grant tax breaks to the wealthy whilst mental-health funding is woefully inadequate then this is a time-bomb waiting to go off. What covid-19 has done is shine a light on where we are, who we are and for many people what is really important, the lack of proper structures of people around us has shown how interdependent we are. If that is something only now occurring to those who have hitherto felt themselves to be doing ok spare a thought for those who knew they were not and think about where this leaves them now.

Whilst I hesitate to speculate on what will happen with mental health from here and whilst I acknowledge the positive steps that have been taken bringing this one of the last great societal taboos more into the open I cannot help but fear that an already stretched health service with funding pared back to the very bone that has been struggling for some time to meet the needs of the declared mental health problems currently is going to be overwhelmed. In that circumstance where the bean counters may look at what can be done, the quick processing of people with milder forms of mental health issues in order to show some ‘results’ is a much easier path to take than to acknowledge that mental health is a lifetime condition and roadblocks along the way are part and parcel and require a lifetime’s attention. The prognosis therefore for those with deeper seated and more longer term mental health conditions who may not even have made it as far as the outside world let alone the workplace may not be a good one in the short or medium term. The onus therefore is on those of us in the middle tier who straddle both those environments to try to make our voice heard, not to do so may have fundamental implications for a long time to come.

Song Of The Day ~ Star Feminine Band – La Musique