“You are well enough to safely go home now”, said the panel.
“But I can’t! I need one more day to complete my church!”, said Di, who was being treated at Bexley hospital for Postnatal Depression in 1966. She had a brilliant occupational therapist who took them to the swimming pool, organised hair-dressing days and helped patients to make things. Di made a church with bits of shattered wind-screen glass, put together with resin but the spire wasn’t on yet. This beautifully tactile piece of art was named ‘Faith’ by Ruth, her daughter.
Ruth was a talented young lawyer. She was an actor and singer. She was kind, generous and gorgeous! She travelled extensively. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in her late 20s. She coped well with the help of health services, her friends and family but tragically lost her battle at the age of 47.
Di is in her second year of missing Ruth terribly. She has created the most beautiful garden in her memory. Some of the plants there are from Ruth’s house. Her mediterranean wall is stunning.
Being bereaved by suicide is a huge risk factor for suicide. Around 125 youth suicides a year occur soon after the person involved has experienced a bereavement. One in four (25%) of under-20s and 28% of 20 to 24-year-olds had lost a relative, partner, friend or acquaintance around a year or more beforehand. In 11% of suicides among under-20s, the person who those involved had lost had also taken their own life.
People who have been bereaved need greater support to reduce the risk of them killing themselves. Agencies who are meant to help are not good at recognising this risk and need to improve.
This morning I caught up with Di over a cup of tea. We both believe that if Saagar and Ruth have met each other wherever they are, they must get on famously. The link below is a conversation with Di. She talks about her insights on mental health services over 5 decades. Thanks a lot Di!
“If you had a carpet bag and an umbrella you could be mistaken for Mary Poppins” one of my colleagues commented as he stopped his car right next to me at a red signal while I waited there on my bike. I often wear a tunic dress with leather shoes to work. I enjoy watching other cyclists in their multi-coloured and multi-logoed breathable jerseys, elasticated and padded cycling shorts, grippy mitts, electric yellow socks, clickity-clop shoes, snazzy sporty eye-wear and fancy headgear. Most of them are very serious.
My cycle belongs to the category of ‘hybrid’. It’s black and silver. It’s heavy compared to some of the feather-weights on the road. The special thing about it is that it is wholly unremarkable. Saagar used to call it ‘old lady bike’. Its first name is Strawberry and second name, Hill.
Space on roads is negotiated between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Cyclists move in packs and sometimes have disagreements amongst themselves. It’s clear from the behaviour of a cyclist if he/she has ever been behind a wheel. Likewise, it is easy to say if a driver is cyclist-aware. Pedestrians are a law unto themselves.
Within 3 turns of my wheels as I start off from a red signal, at least 10 bikes go past me. It’s another matter that a hundred yards hence we find ourselves waiting at the next set of lights. Some attempt to squeeze through the narrowest crevice in the traffic. Being stuck behind a bus is a special treat in terms of the quality of air. Smoking is mandatory.
The morning ride to work is a dream – fresh air, fresh me, very few people out and about, the wind behind me and the way mostly flat or downhill. In the evening – smoky air, tired me, lots and lots of people, riding into the breeze on a steady uphill road. Both, leisure times. Excuses to be a child again. As my quads toil hard to get me home inch by inch, I visualise the tub of Green and Black’s Dark Chocolate ice-cream waiting for me in the freezer. It helps with the speed and puts a song in my heart.
Couldn’t believe that Saagar was gone on Day 1 or Day 10 or Day 100 … and soon it will be Day 1000. Still, life goes on. Still struggle with it. A lot!
Everything has changed – the world, me, my relationship with the world. I have been walking, sometimes crawling, up a steep learning mountain. Still am. Sometimes flattened by it. Many of you have been walking with me, keeping me fun, encouraging and comforting company. We have spent a lot of time together and there is so much more to do, share and learn.
This blog has been the hook on which I have hung my days. It has kept me from irretrievably crashing on the floor and getting decimated. It had held me together. It has been an ever-present friend, always willing to listen and receive, the stage on which I have shown Saagar off and poured my love for him, a rubbish bin into which I have chucked my pain, anger and regrets.
Coming up to Day 1000, I am filled with anticipation as I know it is time to loosen my grip, to place a little more faith in life and ride my bike with ‘no-hands’ for a bit. I feel the time is right. It is with trepidation that I make this proposal to myself that after Day 1000 I shall post a blog every Thursday. Or will it be Day 1001?
“You who walk, your footprintsare the road and nothing else There is no road, Walker. You made the road by walking. By walking you made the road And when you look backward you seethe path that you will never step on again. Walker, there is no road, Only wind-trails in the sea.”
‘Children and Young People’s Mental Health – Taking Early Action’ : title of a conference I attended today.
The hall was packed with 350-400 people, working for the well-being of kids as teachers, social workers, decision makers and others. Two speakers mentioned suicide in the passing – Rt. Hon. Norman Lamb MP, who lost his sister through this tragedy 2 years ago and Richard Andrews, who set up the charity Healios after experiencing serious difficulties in accessing support for friends and family affected by serious mental illness.
One of the professors spoke about the reasons for early deaths of people with mental ill-health. He attributed this mainly to physical problems such as hypertension, obesity and smoking related problems. Death by suicide wasn’t mentioned.
I learnt a lot, some of which I shall share in the next few days. A Green Paper is being drawn up to set out proposals for delivering better mental health support for children and young people. During one of the question times, I suggested that bearing in mind that suicide is the biggest killer of young people in this country, 2 things must be included in the Green Paper –
Suicide Prevention Training for all medical and nursing staff and students, just like CPR training, to bring parity of esteem between physical and mental ill-health.
Meaningful sharing of information about para-suicidal young people between medical teams, police, first-responders and families, in the best interest of the patient.
This remark was met with a stunned silence. The room froze. The chairperson mumbled something like ‘eloquent…’ and rapidly moved on to the next person.
Stigma lives here too. Inside the healthcare community.
In ancient Japan it was believed that God lived in the evergreens. That is why they used it as the tallest and the main component of their flower arrangements. God was the invisible line that passes vertically through the centre of the arrangements. So said a senior faculty of Ikebana, Prof. Kurata at his lecture/demonstration this morning.
Three hours of his talk equalled a year’s worth of learning. He went on to show how nature outdoors is depicted through flowers, leaves and stems indoors. This bamboo vase represents a cliff side and the alcove within it denotes a cave from where plants are emerging towards light, the spectator. Pictures don’t do any justice to the space and the movement created by the study.
He spoke of beauty. When hidden, it carries intrigue. When hidden, it allows for imagination to flow. When hidden, it can be the most beautiful thing in the world. This is an example.
The shape of the container and the simplicity of the materials combine to create elegance.
Rikka is a form that captures a landscape. Each part of it signifies something, like receiving, flowing, supporting and carrying. It has mountains and rivers within it. Find them if you can.
Clever use of angular shapes and bright contrasting colours to create an uplifting happy slanting mood.
I swear diagonally, Bro.
The world is sort of round and so is this. Rounds within rounds. Wheels within wheels. Keeping to the theme. Cheerful asymmetry.
Must be Spring
This last one was for the youngest member of the audience, a 3 year old girl. Playful bobbles and wires hanging out happily with an orchid in a blue bottle of gel balls.
Wonderful to see a true genius at work! It’s calming working with flowers, stems, branches, leaves, berries and grasses. Being with nature. Breathing. Learning. Smelling in the subtleness. Letting the imagination flow. Allowing the Self to heal. Letting go. Dissolving.
“Helping others is the way we help ourselves” -Oprah Winfrey
Simple ideas change the world. A Clinical Psychologist, Dr Charlie Howard was taking a walk around her area. Having recently had a child, she was looking for her next “thing”. She asked random people what would make a difference in their community. “A Problem-Solving Booth right here on my street” answered a young man in the queue in a sandwich shop. “A place where people can go with the stresses in their head and where we can help each other”. The idea was genius and Charlie’s head built on it quickly. “Maybe we could try one here?” Charlie suggested, “we could do it together”. The young man smiled at Charlie and said “yeah maybe” and then his phone rang and he ran off down the street. No one knows his name and no one has seen him since. He probably has no idea just what his throwaway words have since inspired.
Problem-Solving Booths are a great way to bring members of the community together to have conversations that they might not otherwise have, by helping each other with their problems. One chair is for the “Helper”, the person listening to the problems. The other is for the “Helped”, the person describing their concerns. The aim of the Booth is that people swap roles regularly as we all have both the potential to have problems as well as to offer help.
Thrive London is a citywide movement for better mental health for Londoners supported by the Mayor of London and the London Health Board. Problem-Solving Booths have become the local arm of Thrive and we’re working out what they are, what they do and what they can do, with everyone we meet from street to street, borough to borough and organisation to organisation. It’s cool.
This is a point worth making again and again and again and again and as many times as it takes. Few excerpts:
Hamish Elvidge, father of Mathew – “Before my son took his own life, he had only just been discharged as a low-risk patient, despite coming in as a high-risk patient that very same day after a suicide attempt. At no point were his family involved in any part of the process. There is a chance that, had the hospital decided to share information with his family, our son would still be here today.”
“Confidentiality is far too embedded within the medical profession. The default position has to be one where you have to explain why you haven’t involved the family.”
Prof. Appleby said: “Psychiatrists should feel able to use their clinical judgment on where the balance of patient safety and confidentiality lies. Families are devastated when they discover too late that their loved ones had been talking to professionals about suicide.”
Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “In my experience, if doctors make well- justified, well-recorded decisions to share information in the best interest of a patient who is in suicidal crisis, consistent with their professional codes of practice, this will be understood, respected and upheld in courts of law.”