04/03/19 First they came for the…

It’s a seldom pondered fact that around 275 thousand people with a mental illness were slaughtered in Nazi Germany while a further 400 thousand were sterilised, probably as part of the massive eugenics movement that ravaged much of Europe, including the U.K., in the 1930’s.

Horrific, eh?

Recently, the British Medical Journal reported that there have been an extra 120 thousand premature deaths as a result of austerity measures since 2010

People with one or more mental illness are hugely over represented in this group – dying 10-15 years earlier than your average person on the street.

There’s been a lot of noise around social and mainstream media talking about how people on disability benefits – or, more importantly, still waiting for disability benefits, are dying prematurely…

Throw the swingeing cuts in any service you care to mention and we’ve a perfect storm of hopelessness and desperation across an already vulnerable population.

Sarah Newton , the minister responsible for the DWP, has warned us against forming a causal link between the astonishingly punitive benefits system and the suicides of many in that desperate situation. That said, there are no plans to research the matter.

Ok team, stay with me here…

Back in 2007, I was a part of a study into my mental health condition – Borderline Personality Disorder – during which I was plonked in front of a computer screen that presented me with 100 portrait photos of adults from all ages and all walks of life.

The study required me to press one of 2 buttons in response to each picture – ‘Trust’ or ‘Not Trust’.

You’ll be delighted to hear, having just been retired from my life as a happy-clappy social worker, I trusted none of these fuckers….not one!

That said, I did press ‘trust’ for an 80 something woman – I didn’t want to appear like some kind of whackjob (DSM-38- revised)

Around the same time, I heard on the radio that over 90% of folk wouldn’t feel comfortable about inviting someone with a mental health problem into their home.

Bastards! We were officially at war!!!

I took a long breath and decided to challenge all this by starting my walk around the edge of the U.K. to highlight the experience of people with mental health problems, taking no money with me, with a brand new belief that the fabulous people of the U.K. would look after me on my endeavour.

What caused my radical U-turn?

First of all, I think a lot of my (surprising for me) mistrust was part of my history and mental malady…this didn’t invalidate my gut reactions, but it certainly allowed me to challenge them…

Secondly, I read, ‘No Destination’ by Satish Kumar – an Indian Jain monk who went on a peace march in the 1960’s relying solely on the generosity of the people he met to see him on his way…

I felt if he could walk from India into Pakistan, expect and receive great hospitality from the people he met, then I should anticipate nothing less from the lovely people of the U.K.

Needless to say, I found people to be fabulous…read my book , ‘Walk a Mile: Tales of a Wandering Loon’ they just are!!!

People hadn’t changed.

Much of the prejudicial treatment by the Government and negative reportage by the mainstream media hadn’t changed.

I had begun to change. And because of that, I’d started to think.

I consciously started changing by mindset from mistrust to trust. It wasn’t easy – but after a few hundred miles, and a whole bunch of unbelievably generous people, I began to approach folk with a deepening belief that they were going to be fabulous.

These weren’t one-offs…everyone who stopped for a chat was lovely and keen to support me on my way – whether it be through a few kind words, a peanut butter sandwich or a few nights in their spare room…EVERYONE was fabulous.

If you, I, one starts from that position of respect, and, dare I say it, love, then the whole dynamic changes.

If you don’t trust someone and they say something contentious in your mind, your first response will be something like, ‘Bloody typical! I knew they were going to be a bellend…’ You’ll be looking for any sign of disagreement, prejudice or micro-aggressions.

If, however, you come from that position of love, then you, I, one is far more likely to believe a couple of things,

1) This is just their belief on a specific topic. It doesn’t make them the son of the devil. They can hold a belief that’s different from yours and that’s ok. You separate the person from the action.

2) Instead of thinking, ‘This is fucking typical of bellends like them…I knew I was right…’ there might be space for a more compassionate, empathetic thought that this disagreeable statement/ belief is out of character for them – keeping your ‘Theyre fabulous’ belief still intact.

Chris! What manner of bollocks is this? Have you taken leave of your…

Whoa…easy tiger…let me give you a brief, working example…

If I bump into a person on the coast and they have the audacity to use the ‘wrong’ language….

e.g. ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying, Chris, but you’re CRAZY for doing this…’

If I came from an angle of mistrust, where micro-aggressions lurk around every corner, I would immediately dive headlong into a 10 minute diatribe about prejudice and discrimination against people with mental health problems and, as a result, nobody would have invited me into their homes and Walk a Mile would have bitten the dust…

The thing is…if you jump on every piece of language you deem to be wrong…that might somehow offend you or harm you, or some, often fictional, caricature of a vulnerable person, then the conversation will stop there.

You’ll walk away feeling vaguely pious for righting a wrong and saving the day…

…and the other person will wander off thinking that’s the last time they’ll bother trying to speak to a stranger (or anyone) about (insert your own favourite subject for a punch up here)

Ultimately though, you’ve both lost out here.

The wrong language doesn’t mean a person holds a deep seated prejudice. I know I’m using the hyphenated word a lot, but it isn’t necessarily a micro-aggression

Suggesting that it is, is a really…really inaccurate and lazy way of measuring prejudice and discrimination.

You might feel like some kind of freedom fighter for that mythical, less fortunate than you, character, but the chances are, you’d have made the situation significantly worse.

People won’t change their standpoint if you infer they’re some manner of discriminatory cockwomble. They’ll batten down the hatches with a more entrenched belief of…whatever it was.

And surely that’s the whole point of debate – to discuss – to talk and listen to other people’s perspectives…even when you might disagree with them.

To think otherwise drags you into a world of fear…

Did you know, only 42% of Scots and 36% of folk across the U.K. are comfortable about talking to friends and family about their mental health?

That’s what fear does. It closes down communication.

And without communication, nothing will ever change.

Imagine…just imagine, instead assuming someone means you harm, you pause to ask…

‘Sorry, what do you mean? Because it sounded like you were saying…’ insert whatever you like here

There are more than enough macroaggressions – blatant, structural, prejudices and barriers to the rights of our most vulnerable people – for us to combat without looking for a million bogeymen.

This, for example, is a macroaggression

‘I had to sack my carers’: agonising choice between food and home support’

‘Elderly and disabled left rationing their care as local authorities hike charges’

Yes, I’m being naive – I’d be foolish to think if that was all there was to it…

We’re living in strange times where we’ve allowed prejudice and discrimination to be weaponised – we’re all too ready to dive on any sleight…or, more importantly, perceived sleight, to denigrate people who hold different beliefs from us.

Just as importantly, we’ve allowed ourselves to be weaponised to the point that millions – and I do mean millions – of folk are paralysed, terrified to say anything in case it’s WRONG!!

Brexiteer, Remainer, left or right – your views pale into insignificance when you consider the unheard third of folk who are completely disengaged from the whole system.

I’m talking about the people who don’t vote at all…

For example, in 2015, approximately 24% of those people eligible to vote, chose to vote conservative. At that same election 34% of people didn’t vote.

I’m not blaming our endless, at times petty, squabbling for this – but good God, it comes to something when the ‘Didn’t Vote’ party win elections and referendums time and again.

So, back to Rachel Riley and Owen Jones – both seemingly advocating the assault of people who disagree with them, at the same time fuelling hate by labelling them ‘Nazis’

Their behaviour here, and that of their followers/ antagonists on social media reminds me of an ill thought through game from my (long distant) childhood…

‘Pile On’ did exactly what it says on the tin – one person would jump on another, yelling, you guessed it, ‘Pile on!’ and before we knew it a load of people were lying on the squashed person below, with little consideration to why or to the damage they may be causing.

In my defence, Your Honour, I was 12…

What’s your excuse?

Walk A Mile


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