Friday, 23 February 2018

Academics called in to support students with mental health issues as support service struggle to cope.

It is supposed to be an exciting time when new opportunities open up yet for many students their university days are a time of stress and difficulty.

In a 2016 survey by YouGov many of the students polled said they had experienced a mental health problem whilst at university, 63% said this had interfered with their daily lives and 71% cited the pressures of work as a cause. Amongst the problems commonly reported were depression and anxiety with 77% of the students questioned saying they had a fear of failure.

There was a distinct gender split in the reporting of stress and other mental health issues with 34% of females being willing to disclose compared to only 19% of males. This despite 84% of the students who took part in the survey accepting mental health problems are as serious those connected to physical health and 74% saying they would be sympathetic towards people living with mental health issues.

(Source: YouGov)

In the general population between 4% and 10% of people experience a mental health problem during their lifetime, with depression and anxiety being the most common. People taking time off with mental health conditions is responsible for a fifth of the working days lost in the UK.

(Source: The Mental Health Foundation)

This week a report written by Gareth Hughes and Dr Nichola Byrom for the charity Student Minds reveals that academic staff are increasingly having to step into the breach as support services struggle to cope.

The report finds that supporting students’ mental wellbeing is becoming an ‘inevitable part of the academic role’, however it is one that frequently goes unrecognised because the ‘higher education sector does not have the appropriate structures or cultures to assist students’.

Amongst the recommendations made in the report are for the establishment of clear procedures for academics to follow when supporting the mental wellbeing of their students, better training for academics and more investment in student support services.

(Source: Mental Health Today/Student Minds)

Speaking to Mental Health Today Rose Tressler, CEO of Student Minds said that it was ‘inevitable’ that students would to whoever they feel most comfortable with for support, and that the report ‘throws light on how academics are a vital part of the support available to students’.

The charity is working with property company Unite Students to engage the 50,000 students it provides accommodation for to stage a University Mental Health Day on 1st March. At which bit will promote the need for a better understanding of the challenges students face in relation to mental wellbeing and the importance of engaging in the community.

In a press statement Rose Tressler said ‘we know that community is key to mental wellbeing’, adding that being part of a community can ‘reduce isolation and open up pathways to accessing support’.

Attending university is without doubt a major transition in the lives of many young, and not so young, people. One that brings both opportunities and significant levels of stress, if the latter issue is not addressed adequately the consequences can be serious.

It is also without question that a combination of tight budgets and the often unconscious stigma associated with mental illness mean support services don’t always get the funding they need to be effective.

The report highlights, as Rose Tressler told Mental Health Today, the need for institutions to respond to this issue on a ‘strategic level through a whole university approach to student mental health and wellbeing’.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The children of public sector workers are being driven into poverty.

An analysis carried out by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) has shown that 150,000 children with one or more parent working in the public sector are living in poverty.

The analysis is based on real wages having fallen since 2010 by 13.3% for health and education workers, and by 14.3% for people working in public administration. It includes changes to tax and welfare introduced by the coalition government and the roll out of Universal Credit.

A household is considered to be in poverty if its income is less than 60% of the national median.

The analysis shows that families where both parents work in the public sector are the biggest losers, with their income dropping by an average £83 a week, households where one parent is a public-sector worker lose out by an average £53 a week.
(Source: TUC)

Experiencing poverty during childhood can have long lasting effects with educational attainment at GCSE for children receiving free school meals being 28% lower than that of their more advantaged contemporaries. It also impacts on their physical and mental health.

Holding back public sector pay has, the analysis says, reduced household’s spending power in England alone by £8.5 billion, the cost to wider society of child poverty is estimated at £29 billion a year.
(Source: TUC/Child Poverty Action Group)

In a press statement TUC, general secretary Frances O'Grady said pay restrictions and cuts to in-work benefits were ‘causing needless hardship' for public sector workers.

Adding that public- sector workers ‘shouldn’t have to worry about feeding or clothing their kids, but many are struggling to afford even the basics'.

Welfare Weekly quotes shadow minister for employment Margaret Greenwood responding to the TUC analysis, saying the rise in child poverty was a ‘direct consequence’ of the failure of the government to deal with ‘the rising cost of living, stagnating wages' and its ‘slashing of social security support for families’.

Frances O'Grady concluded her statement by saying that ‘ministers must give public sector workers the pay rise they have earned', adding that if this doesn’t happen ‘more families will fall into poverty'.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Family life is buckling under the demands of overwork.

The UK has always had a long hour’s culture with workers putting in more hours than many of their European counterparts. Now a report published by two leading charities has shown the harm it us doing to family life.

According to the 2018 Modern Families Index compiled by work life charity Working Families and Bright Horizons the demands of the modern workplace are creating a ‘parenting penalty,’ to which many parents are responding by downshifting their careers.

Out of the cohort of parents surveyed 40% of those in full time work reported having to do extra hours, 34% of those on part time contracts were working hours equivalent to being full time. Even those parents working ‘flexibly’ many (31%) said they had little control over their hours and shift patterns.

This has an often-damaging effect on family life, with 39% if the parents questioned saying working prevented them from putting their children to bed; 47% reported not spending enough time together as a family because of work commitments.

Working long hours is impacting on the health of parents with 38% saying the hours they work prevent them from eating healthily and 42% reporting doing less exercise as a result. It also impacts on relationships with 28% citing overwork as a reason for arguing with their partner.

As a result, 18% of the parents questioned said they had deliberately stalled their careers, 11% said they had turned down a new job because of the hours involved and one in ten said they had refused a promotion for the same reason.

In a statement to the press Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families said that in the current work culture ‘parenthood looks like a bad career move', because the prevailing norm is to ‘show up early, leave late and be on email out of hours'.

In the sane statement James Tugendhat, managing director of Bright Horizons said, ‘the index highlights the UK's long hours culture is putting severe strain on family life'.

Responding to the Modern Families Index pressure group The Four Day Week Campaign tweeted that it showed again ‘the impact of long hours and a lack of control over working time' have on ‘employees’ mental health and resilience’.

The changing nature of work and the seemingly unstoppable march of micromanagement are piling pressure on working families, along with our traditional long hours culture this makes for a dangerous combination.

It is hardly surprising that a significant number of parents are deciding to downshift to prioritize the wellbeing of their children and relationship. The stress experienced by those not able to do so might, in part, explain why the UK persistently lags behind its competitors in terms of productivity.

Once radical alternatives like the introduction of a four-day week are starting to look like viable alternatives to a failing status quo.

Monday, 12 February 2018

A century on from winning the right to vote women are still getting a poor deal from the free market.

This year marks the centenary of women winning the right to vote under the Representation of the People Act, although sometimes you could he forgiven for thinking for how far things have moved on, too much has stayed the same.

From the ongoing revelations about sexual harassment in Hollywood and elsewhere to the battle for equal pay being fought by BBC journalists and Tesco shelf stackers inequality driven by patriarchy seems as entrenched as ever.

Figures published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) this month show that it is the, mostly part-time, Tesco staff who are getting the worst deal.

The report shows the hourly wage for women is on average 20% lower than that for men with the gender pay gap widening for workers from their late twenties onwards, part time working, it shows, shuts down opportunities for wage progression.

Reducing the gender wage gap is, the report says, ‘high on the political agenda', particularly as low pay rather than unemployment is increasingly a driver of poverty. Added to this is the lack of value attributed to part time working and stubbornly gendered social norms around issues like childcare.

In a blog written for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation Helen Barnard says that the jobs market has to be redesigned do that it works for everyone and that employers need to improve the quality of part time jobs available.

These are long term goals, in the short term she writes that the chancellor should ‘show he understands the pressures and ease the constraints facing low income part time workers and their families by lifting the benefits freeze and fixing Universal Credit so families can keep more of their earnings'.

In a wider context, the way market forces have driven political decision making in the UK for the past forty years has created huge inequalities. This has created a situation where a polarization exits between those who believe ‘the glories of unrestrained capitalism will win the day', and ‘dogmatic opponents' who want to ‘sweep markets away and replace them with state control', write James Kirkup and Campbell Robb in the Times this week.

The conclude that both positions fail to recognize the real experience of low paid workers, saying that ‘if you’re poor in modern Britain, every single market you rely on at the moment is failing you'.

Writing about the plight of part time workers Helen Barnard writes ‘it is just not right that we treat part time workers as if they are less valuable’, adding that society needs to give ‘full consideration’ to how family responsibilities and health constraints can prevent both men and women from being able to work full time.

In a world where the nature of work is changing more and more people are, often not by choice, working part time and facing the associated penalties. Amongst these low pay falls disproportionately on women.

As Helen Barnard concludes a century after they won the right to vote many women are now asking ‘why do we still tolerate a jobs market that penalizes women who try to balance work and taking care of children? We cannot wait another century before we make progress’.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

UK now the most unequal country in Europe apart from Estonia.

Nicholas Sowels, an associate professor at the Sorbonne makes the claim in a blog written for the London School of Economics that the UK is the most unequal country in Europe.

This is based on the amount of disposable income citizens have left after paying housing and other costs. By this measure the UK lags behind France, Germany, Poland and Spain, only Estonia is less equal.

The UK is also the most unequal English speaking country after the United States according to the OECD.

Neither fact is likely to make its way into the glossy brochures the government are preparing to send out with their trade envoys one Brexit is a done deal.

There are huge inequalities, Sowels writes, between the generations with the median income of the over sixties having risen by 11% between 2007 and 2015. Over the same period that of workers aged between 22 and 30 has fallen to 7% below where it was in 2008.

Inequality, along with cuts to public services and ‘reform' of the benefits system has been cited as a cause for the decline in life expectancy.

Data produced by the Office for National Statistics and analysed by Public Health England suggests that by 2041 the average life expectancy for a woman will be 86.2 years, for men it will be 83.4 years, a fall of one year since 2015, the last year for which figures are available.

In poor rural areas and former industrial towns, the decline in life expectancy has been even more dramatic. In Hartlepool, the average male lifespan is 76.4 years; for women in Derbyshire’s Amber Valley it is 82.4 years.

Inequality and cuts to public services have also been cited as contributing to the rise in children from disadvantaged families having emergency admissions to A&E units.

A report published by the Nuffield Trust last year shows that in 2005/06 children from deprived areas had twice the number of admissions to A&E with conditions like asthma compared to those living in more affluent areas. By 2015/16 this had risen to two and a half times as many, people in deprived social groups, the report found, are 55% more likely to have unplanned hospital admissions.

Cuts to school nurses and government benefit reforms have, again, been cited as contributing factors in the rise in unplanned admissions.

Speaking to the Guardian Nigel Edwards, chief executive if the Nuffield Trust said this was an ‘indictment of how we are looking after the most vulnerable people’.

Danny Dorling Professor of Human Geography at Oxford told the Independent ‘the fall in life expectancy in several geographic areas of England', was ‘most likely the result of the effects of public service cuts and austerity'.

Also speaking to the Independent Dr Wanda Wyporska executive director of the Equality Trust said, ‘in a country with high inequality, it is not surprising that we are seeing a decline in life expectancy’.


Sunday, 4 February 2018

An evening with the Up Men.

It’s a little after six o’clock on a cold February evening and I'm standing outside the Workspace, a block of rehearsal rooms behind the New Vic Theatre in Basford, waiting for someone to open the door. To say I feel nervous is an understatement, this will be my first contact with anything remotely theatrical since my last primary school nativity play.

The under twelves are wonderfully unselfconscious when it comes to performing, however badly, on stage. Adults with the sign marked fifty looming along their life course, not so much; not at all in fact. Before the evening is out my fears about looking foolish will be realized, surprisingly the sense of community I'll find with fellow participants will largely cancel them out.

What has brought me here is taking part in creating Man Up, a performance project about masculinity and mental health being planned by Restoke. As someone who has been an active member of two local mental health charities for several years this is an issue close to my heart, even if, like many men, I don’t wear that organ on my sleeve.

Restoke are a local arts organization who specialise in putting on theatrical events in abandoned spaces using a cast drawn from hard to reach communities. Last year they created ‘You Are Here' a dance and spoken word piece about immigration, identity and belonging.

Male mental illness is, perhaps, one of the few elephants left in the drawing room of things we don’t talk about. Even so it is a real and serious issue that sometimes wrecks lives.

The figures are stark, in 2013 out of 6233 recorded suicides 78% were males, and based on 2014 figures 16.8% of UK males showed symptoms of depression. Out of the 4% to 10% of people who experience depression at some stage in their life the majority of those who seek help are female. Male reporting of depression and mental health problems in general is stubbornly low thanks to entrenched social stigma.
(Source Mental Health Foundation)

Eventually someone opened the door and I made my way upstairs to where a group of men aged between thirty and seventy stood around drinking coffee and eating biscuits. The air was heavy with the unspoken awkwardness that overcomes British men when they fear they may be asked to step out of their comfort zone.

This feeling was to be proved correct because within ten minutes we were in a circle doing a warm up before embarking on some ‘movement exercises' involving throwing beanbags and then turning on the spot. Once we'd, sort of, mastered this it was time to have a go at making the same moves, this time without the beanbags in play.

Someone who didn’t want to frighten the horses might have called this dancing, the enthusiastic young man leading the session played safe by using the euphemism ‘moving to music’.

I'm not sure anyone would have described what I was doing in even those terms, I was moving and there was music in the background; but any relation between the two was purely tangential. At one point, someone asked me if my ‘mobility’ was OK, a question I didn’t expect to be answering for a couple of decades yet. I'd like to say that I replied Eric Morecambe style that I was making all the right moves, just not necessarily in the right order, but sadly that repost will have to go in the file marked ‘staircase wit'.

Despite the obvious awkwardness of most of the people taking part the atmosphere was relaxed. By the end if the session although I'm unlikely to be taking any work away from Wayne Sleep even I felt comfortable enough to spin round without wanting to drill my way to the earth’s core in the process.

All this dancing and throwing was, of course, only part of the evening, an extended warm up for the main event. Men talking to other men about their feelings and insecurities; their fears and their failings, and doing so without throwing off the chaff of macho posturing to fool the radar of embarrassment.

Honest statements about trying to negotiate the unwritten expectations of manhood like Steve's improvised rap about love list through stubbornness and Andy's story about learning to accepted difference as a good thing through sport. There was no shortage of honesty and enough humour to keep the awkwardness at bay.

This was what made the evening and, I'd hope the production it may have played a small part in creating worthwhile. An opportunity for men to be honest about being, sometimes, victims of confused societal expectations; and maybe agents of change without paddling about in the shallow pool of mawkish pretention.
Kevin, a former nurse who told me he'd given up a career in the mental health system because the demands had worn him out, summed up the mood of the evening best by saying the group should christen itself the ‘Up Men'. Up for being honest about their feelings, up for enjoying working together; up for a future that looks less limiting than their past.

The names used in this article have been changed in the interests of confidentiality.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Concern over world events is fuelling anxiety in young people.

In the age of rolling news, it is all but impossible for parents to shield their children from alarming world events, a survey conducted earlier this month shows the impact this is having on their wellbeing.

The survey was conducted by YouGov for the Mental Health Foundation using a sample group of 1800 parents with children aged between 5 and 18.

Amongst the things parents said their children were worried about were nuclear war (23%), the Trump presidency (33%) and global warming (32%). A quarter of the parents polled said their children had sought reassurance over issues relating to news stories and 4 in 10 said they felt their children were more anxious. Out of these 13% reported their children were avoiding public transport out of the fear of being involved in a terrorist incident and 8% said they had had nightmares.
(Source: YouGov/The Mental Health Foundation)

The mental health of Britain’s young people and the state of available support services are a cause of growing concern.

Around 1 in 10 children and young people living in the UK have some form of mental health condition, 70% of whom have not received an adequate level of support. Common problems include anxiety, depression and self harm, with causes ranging from traumatic life experiences to the consequences of living in poverty.
(Source: The Mental Health Foundation)

The waiting time for child and adolescent mental health services is six to ten weeks between diagnosis and treatment, 23% referrals made by GPs and other professionals are refused.

Only 0.7% of the NHS budget is spent on mental health services for young people, even though 1 in 4 show some sign of mental ill health. Suicide is currently the most common cause of death for boys aged between 5 and 19 and the second most common for girls in the same age group. It is estimated that 1 in 12 young people gave self -harmed, although the real figure could be higher.
(Source Younger Minds)

Commenting on the findings of the survey for the Mental Health Foundation Dr Camilla Rosen said, ‘we often forget that distressing events can have a significant impact on children’s mental health'.

Adding that parents can help their children cope by showing that it is ‘OK to talk about scary things, hopefully this will give them confidence to talk about things that might be playing on their mind at other times too'.