Austerity is bad for your mental health.
Do you feel alone? Depressed? Stressed? You may be suffering from austerity or the more recent strain of austerity fatigue. Both are bad for your mental health. Bad for all of us.
Let’s start with the root causes. I’d like to tell you how to light candles and attend some sensory stimulation classes but what we need to do here is to deal with the root causes.
I present the news and host shows on the One Love Breakfast on BCFM radio. Over the last few years I’ve seen many people come in to the studio to tell tales of how bad austerity has affected them and I hope to share some of that with you. Their individual responses include a huge strain on their mental wellbeing as more and more of the basic services they rely upon are being taken away. Connections they rely upon are being severed. People, I am told, are dying of austerity. Taking their own lives. Or even being asked whilst in fragile states in cubicles inside community buildings whether they have considered killing themselves. Just an hour of mental health awareness training and that question would be seen for what it is. Damaging.
And that’s what I see. People who have had their mental health damaged with no sign of support to repair it.
While we mostly get people who are tirelessly working with ever dwindling resources to satisfy that human instinct to help those who need support, it is the tales of stress that worry me most. Tales of people choosing between food or heating in the winter. Mothers who cannot afford to feed their children during the school holidays whilst the free school dinners are not available. Stories of care workers whose hands are tied to spending such short time with clients that they say it does not allow them to do their job. To care. All these stories have one thing in common. They reduce self worth, health and are generally damaging to more than just the ‘service user’ as there are dependents often involved effected indirectly. So the effects of austerity and the cuts is a huge pyramid of suffering.
We are a collection of societies that need to interact, to be communal and it is the access to and the running of these communal spaces which is threatened now. How bad will it get down the line after all those youth services are taken away. I can already imagine headlines about youth and their behaviour but the root causes are not discussed. Not by mainstream media. Not looking back to those missing school meals and no where to hang out and interact with wider society, no place to know their own self worth. And the more austerity bites the more headlines will react to people’s reactions and eventually that killer second stage…
Maybe you have seen “I, Daniel Blake”? Well, the narrative is being played out and, as Ken Loach told an audience in Bristol last year, “there were so many stories we could have used…”
But austerity fatigue means that you don’t really connect to the issue Daniel faces any more out of self defence for your own mental wellbeing. How damaging is this long term. Even people who are facing terrible hardship directly are feeling this. Something switches off because it’s just so horrible. We, at the show, had a man who wanted to talk to us about how sanctions had affected him and his wellbeing but after several emails and conversations he simply said it was all too much and did not get back in contact. We tried so carefully to make sure he could speak anonymously and in confidence. But it was not something he could do.
Because ignoring the root causes goes against everything we are as human beings. With the exception perhaps of a few highly individualistic MPs I can think of, mostly in the cabinet.
We need to fix things. We need to make things right. Maybe you are giving a few hours here or there to a charity or group? That is making a difference. That doesn’t just change the mental wellbeing of the people you’re helping, but yours too.
We, it seems to me, are forming new ways to tell ourselves stories about how we are and what defines us. What we value is shifting. This is good. Good for mental health.
There is no money and cuts are getting harder, but people who were forced to cooperate to survive are reaching out to those who need it and it may just save us all. Connected and united we are strong and it feels like I’m laying down new connections in my brain the more I engage with people, new groups, new activities.
So if you feel like you have austerity fatigue or are on the receiving end of some of that original hurtful austerity then reach out to those around you. Look out for people in your community. Attend the Freedom of Mind Festival. Develop some new ways of thinking that might improve your mental health. You won’t do it alone.
We’ve got a long way to go and people are suffering in horrendous isolation still but people are starting to talk about their mental state now openly, and this once begun takes us on a journey unlike any I can think of being on before.
Our society will change from the mind up if we get this right. A society with strong mental health is unstoppable. And maybe one day a politician will have the audacity to stand up in parliament and praise austerity for how it kick started a social revolution of positive change towards strong mental health.
So come to the Freedom of Mind Festival and start a journey. One that will start in your head but take your body on a path you had no idea existed.
If you have something you want to say about mental health send us a pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep your pitches to less than 150 words and tell us what content you want to make and why you want to make it. It can be anything, from a poem, to an article, to a video, to a piece of artwork – we’re just after stories to tell. We can keep things anonymous if you’d like and we’ll help you to edit your piece then get it up on the blog in the lead up to the 2017 festival.