Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Mental Health Crisis in our Teens - are we deflecting our own insecurities?

As a parent of four, not least of a young man with mental health problems, I have read recent headlines with interest, concern and despair.
But not for the reasons you might think.

We are facing a crisis in child - and particularly teen - mental health in the UK. A recent Guardian article stated:-

"Children and teenagers are facing an “intolerable” mental health crisis and an urgent cash injection is needed in schools to prevent a lifetime of damage, teachers, doctors and MPs have warned.”
But what actually IS the mental health reality in our young people, and what can we do about it? Is the “Mental Health Crisis” a recognition of pre-existent, long-standing issues, or a new phenomenon? Are we failing our children, or struggling to respond to a new, previously unseen problem which is escalating in our society? Should schools be doing more - or are parents the root cause? Or is Social Media to blame?

The reality may surprise you.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Truth or Dare? Why fake news might be the end product of democratic society.

Now available on "Musings", my article in full on "Fake News" from Open Thoughts.

As I scroll through my Twitter feed, I truly despair. In a week when Jeremy Corbyn has apparently won the Nobel Peace Prize it would seem soundbite-friendly fake news has finally triumphed over informed and verifiable information. We are hurtling towards a Brexit it seems none of us really wants, a manipulated result of "fake news" generated and sustained by bots filling echo chambers we cannot escape from. If this isn't some dystopian parody of "Brave New World" I don't know what is. We have a President of the Free World who self selects his truths and our media is fighting for its right to free speech. It's a long way from our imagined past, and I am reminded of a favourite history quote- 
"Fact is sacred, opinion is free."    C.P. Scott
Yet this assumes a fact is an objective thing, verifiable and incontrovertible. This is in fact rarely the case. As E.H.Carr eloquently explains in "What is History?" certain raw data such as dates of famous battles are difficult to dispute, but the vast majority of "factual" data with which historians grapple  is less certain. Some need justification, as Pirandello wrote, 
"A fact is like a sack, it won't stand up until you put something in it."
Facts are also subject to observation, interpretation and not least, manipulation and they are no more reliable than statistics. Facts rarely speak for themselves and are open to selection and arrangement to suit the purposes of historian, writer and commentator. 

The nineteenth century was perhaps the great age of "facts", with historians attempting to chronicle the events of the past in total denial that by selecting events and themes, imposing their own education and philosophy on their work and neglecting vast areas of the past they were in fact being entirely subjective. Men like Macaulay and Trevelyan made sweeping generalisations to facilitate their seemingly impossible task of chronicling History to portray the bigger picture. As an historian myself I abhorred the obvious neglect of the less important individual, of social and economic trends and the use of the past to justify the present but undoubtedly without their brave attempts to achieve so much we would have been deprived of the fascinating stories which contributed so much to the understanding and appreciation of our shared past. Inadvertently perhaps, these men were using past "facts" for a political purpose - the justification of British world supremacy and the growth of our Empire. Nothing new, this was the use of facts for a purpose, for propaganda.

Photo by Jingda Chen on Unsplash

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Writer for Open Thoughts

I've just joined the team at Open Thoughts, and my first post is now live over there! Do go over and visit, Open Thoughts is a new venture offering a new narrative on today's problems with contributions from new up and coming thinkers - and some older ones, like me!

Truth or Dare? 

Why fake news might be the end product of democratic society.

Friday, 11 May 2018

And so it begins...

So next Monday is D Day for son #2. Or rather, GCSE day. The first day of his GCSE exams which continue for the next calendar month. But not so very long ago, I didn't believe we would get to this point. That this would not be his future, and we needed to consider "alternative options" as advised by so many professionals. But our son is testament to the fact that you can never - and should never let a diagnosis, multiple diagnoses, a previous reality and complex difficulties define you. As a mother, I have learned more from my second son than my other three children combined. I've learned patience (!), resilience, that a glass of wine on Friday night can solve a multitude of problems... but most of all I've learned to believe in my kids. I have faith; faith that you can only do so much, and that actually - it really will be OK.

To give you an idea of the significance of Monday, here is a reminder of where we've come from...

Never one to subscribe to a predicted trajectory, our ever-so-unique, exquisitely frustrating and unbelievably resilient young man has outdone every single prediction of progress. And some. I only hope his primary school teachers get to read this.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Great Ormond Street : The Child First and Always?

Last night we waited for the ITV programme on Great Ormond Street with trepidation. So many families I know feel violated all over again by the articles over on The Bureau of Investigative Journalism which although ground breaking in many respects fall short of holding the Gastro department at GOSH to account.  They - and we - have had to endure years of poor care/no care/false accusations whilst being kept in the dark about what was really happening at the hospital. For some it's cathartic that some of the truth is coming out at last, but for many it's opening old wounds.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

A Post Fact Era

- or how Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children managed to avoid the factual information of their damning Investigative Review in 2015 from going public whilst parents took the blame.

So today, you have probably read The Guardian article on over diagnosis and over treatment of EGID at Great Ormond Street Hospital over the past seven years. Having been in the middle of this for all of those seven years, I can assure you there is MUCH more to the story. There is more info here, sadly the Syrian situation meant the Guardian article was cut down. It's STILL not the whole story though. 

Warning: This is super long. The events at Great Ormond Street over the past few years have left many of my friends and I reeling, collateral damage as the Gastro department attempted to extricate themselves from a hugely damning - and damaging, had it been made public - investigation by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. What followed their investigation in 2015 should make you angry. Very angry. This hospital persistently campaigns for charitable funding over and above any other hospital in the UK. Many departments are centres of excellence, but not Gastro. The RCPCH identified considerable failings, but in an attempt to restore order the proverbial baby went out with the bath water. Good doctors were scapegoated along with parents and the biggest losers of all were the patients. 


Wednesday, 7 March 2018

"Identity" Politics and the cost of feminism today

So another "International Women's Day" rolls round and Twitter is awash with discussions and comments on "feminism" - whatever that is or may be. But as a woman, I feel the elephant in the room is not any of the topics being discussed under the umbrella of feminism.

The biggest issue facing women in the West is loneliness.

If we are really going to change the world for women in the 21st Century, it is vital we address the silent majority of women - often older women - who are as concealed in our society as those shrouded in hijab. We are largely invisible, ostensibly superfluous, and yet without the veritable army of middle aged women the country would pretty much grind to a halt. This week BBC Radio Suffolk have aired an excellent discussion about women in the workplace going through the menopause, and how their needs need to be met. With an ageing population and the elevated age of retirement we *need* older women to fill job vacancies, and must recognise their needs. But I would venture as a tentative start before this can happen their existence and daily reality needs to be acknowledged.

Historically older women held a senior social position in communities - and still do in traditional cultures. But in the West we seem to have liberated younger women, at the expense of their mothers. Feminism has been hijacked by the young, who have redefined and liberated it to make it "fit for purpose" today. Or perhaps have they merely rebranded it to meet acceptable, liberal norms that metropolitan society find acceptable?

Gay rights - a hugely important movement - gained mainstream credibility and acceptance during the 1980s and 90s at the same time as women were raising their profile in the workplace, staking their claim to traditional male roles and trying to "prove" their worth as mothers and professionals. It seems to me that this was a useful train that feminists unconsciously boarded more recently to further their cause and raise their profile, but in doing so real feminism, the practical focus on the role of women in society has been tossed aside as a worthwhile sacrifice whilst concepts of gender are discussed ad infinitum. Meanwhile, the fundamental position of women in society beyond those groups goes under the radar. But feminism is not a closed box of discussion and debate, it is alive and kicking in 2018 and should embrace the older generation of women.

Today we live in a society where little girls can be boys, boys can be girls and both can be parents and professionals. But it's a world where too many older women are invisible carers, feeling disconnected from society and lacking a sense of self worth with little sense of identity. An historic social casualty of the modernisation of the role of women, the irony of the feminist tradition is the blow it's dealt the older generation.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Bittersweet Birthdays - from my Recipe Blog

This post is shared with my Recipe Blog , it marks the tentative first steps back to writing and I thought I would share it here. More soon!

Unbelievably, my twins turned twelve yesterday. TWELVE!!! Scarcely seems possible. And yet, in so many ways they are proving extremely mature and sensible beyond their years. 

Well, sometimes

Their birthdays are always a little bittersweet. Usually when the children reach a milestone, or celebrate a birthday we think back on their early years, and I invariably fish out an older photo (or two) to post on social media. How cute they were! Except with the twins. They were so, so unwell for weeks - months - that their early photos bring pain and sadness, and not a little anger. 

Despite a strong family history of reflux, despite suffering myself, my father also, despite knowing EXACTLY WHAT I WAS TALKING ABOUT when I took them to the GP at 3 weeks old, *nothing* was done for SIX MONTHS. Nothing. Just weekly weights, the odd blood test, the usual fobbing off - and the ward social worker visiting me to see "how she could help me" and "what I could change" to help feed them more/help them gain weight. Because of course, it had to be my fault - how could I be so naive to try and continue breastfeeding twins?!

But it stands to reason if you regurgitate every feed until it's time for the next one, you are not going to gain much weight. And if you are in awful discomfort from burning acid reflux which is so bad you develop a hoarse cry and torticolis, go rigid and display symptoms of Sandifer's that you may very well not want to feed. Because it HURTS. 

Eventually, we had to go private, and the twins were given medication. We had tried an elemental feed but it was so thin that until the inflammation had been reduced, and their reflux slightly improved it wasn't going to stay down. So I embarked on a strict maternal exclusion diet and breastfed them, on new medications until such time as they were well enough to take the formula as a top up - and guess what. They started gaining weight. 

It's really not rocket science.
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