Perhaps because it’s the biggest killer of men under 50 talking about suicide has become less taboo but there’s still a lot of stigma and fear when it comes to actually talking about suicidal feelings. People fear that talking about these feelings will result in panic and chaos, that a counsellor will call the police or prevent them from leaving the room until an ambulance arrives with a mental health team and a straight jacket. Some suicidal people want something like that to happen, for someone to relieve them of all responsibility, to take control and let them rest but anxiety about how that may happen prevents them from taking a first step.
My contract has four clauses that limit confidentiality and one of them is if the client is seriously suicidal, but what does ‘seriously’ actually mean?
If a client tells me that within the last few hours they’ve taken an overdose then I’ll call an ambulance whether the client says they want me to or not – the fact that they’ve told me at all suggests that some part of them wants my intervention. So far that’s never happened to me. What has happened is that a client has told me enough to make me concerned that they may actively try to kill themselves within the next few days. I’ve asked their permission to contact their GP to get them involved. I’ve done this twice, both times with the client and me in the same room and with the speakerphone on. It’s important for the client to know precisely what is happening. Both times the client saw the GP within 4 hours. They weren’t sectioned or coerced into anything and continued to come to therapy.
Huge numbers of people feel more or less suicidal every day. When things seem too overwhelming, when you’re too tired and worn down, when there are too many demands and nowhere near enough resources suicide can seem to be a rational choice. The vast majority of people who feel this way don’t want to die, they dearly want to live, but to live differently from the life that they are trapped in. Poverty, pain, violence, shame, discrimination, fear, exhaustion and a long list of other circumstances can make life anguished and hopeless, compounded by the wretched fashion of positivity that boils down to ‘You are always failing.’
Suicidal feelings can be comforting, they offer a semblance of control when everything else seems frighteningly out of control. If the pain or other struggles become too much then suicide simplifies everything. It’s why prisoners are kept on suicide watch: to stop them having any control whatsoever over their own life. To remove that final aspect of control from a person who sees suicide as their last resort is a form of torture.
Feelings of despair and suicidality are more than worthy of being heard, they are the heart of the matter. Sometimes they are a howl from the past when events took over and swept you away. Sometimes the present is unbearable. You know that no one ever gets over the death of a child or another dearly loved person and the idea of living with this pain seems impossible at the same time as beginning to come to terms with it can seem like a betrayal. Moving into the liminal space between life and death can be caused by cumulative smaller events: being subjected to ‘regeneration’ or being made redundant; the end of another relationship or many long years of a violent one; workplace insults and misery can wear a person down to nothing. Living with suicidal feelings can become habitual, the neurological pathways between anxiety, a sad thought, a difficult event and the solution of death become well worn and more swiftly travelled without us even realising it.
Whatever the case examining these feelings and thoughts is the work of therapy. Bringing a light into these places can make them less mysterious, less alarming. Looking at them squarely can diminish their power and witnessing them honours what may have been longing to be seen for many years.
No counsellor can stop a person who is determined to kill themselves. For some people life is genuinely too complex and painful to endure and no amount of care, trust, relationship, medication, voluntary or involuntary hospitalisation or anything else will ultimately prevent it. Yes, suicide often bequeathes more pain and misery, no one denies that, and there are often ways out of present agony other than death.
If you can choose to die at any time, take the time to share your truth with someone who can bear it.
Maytree - 020 7263 7070
Samaritans 116 123
There comes a point when you have to take stock and say, “Things are bad.”
The beginning of the economic downturn saw a tedious increase in ‘experts’ telling us that positivity would make everything better. Thinking about what is good rather than bad and focusing on the good stuff really can build new neural pathways and change your attitude for the better. But it won't help if you want to walk across the road with your eyes shut.
Very quickly the suggestion that positivity can be helpful has turned into a demand. We live in a country where therapists are working with the DWP to make unemployed people go back to paid employment and where paid employment is suddenly perceived as a ‘positive health outcome.’ If you think that’s wonderful then you don’t care about evidence.
It is unethical, counterproductive and has no basis in fact. It speaks volumes about the desperation that many therapists are feeling.
Because you’re reading this it’s probable that you’re all too aware that things have been falling apart for some time. Many businesses can’t afford the materials and staff they need and so existing staff are working at the edges of their ability and capacity. Public services - the services we all use when we travel, get ill, expect an educated population or want our elderly relatives to have some kind of dignity – have been amputated. Things are falling apart. The most vulnerable amongst us have been telling us this for years. And now ordinary people who are not vulnerable are feeling it.
Cognitive dissonance is
“the mental stress experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values; when performing an action that contradicts existing beliefs, ideas, or values; or when confronted with new information that contradicts existing beliefs, ideas, and values.”
We all experience it from time to time but many of us are finding a home in this unbearable environment.
Demands for positivity have become authoritarian, insisting that we cut a smile into our face and do little dances of joy to demonstrate team spirit or something. Anyone saying, “My life is hard” is a shirker. Anyone suggesting that motivational speeches don’t put food on the table is dismissed as unenthusiastic. People who want to care for a sick child are told that they must ‘arrange alternative childcare.’
How do you discern whether positivity indicates confidence or stupidity? Intelligence, good business strategy and the ability to avoid danger involves knowing when to cut our losses. The alternative is to continue staring at the sun, borrow unsustainable amounts of money, time and good will and crash disastrously.
Things are bad for most of us right now and, as adults, we need to look at facts rather than allow our prejudices and desires to rule us. Sterling is falling and the trend is downward. A 60-hour week is no longer unusual. (If you don’t work a 60 hour week that’s a good thing not an indication that you’re lazy.) Anxiety is twice as prevalent as depression. Our children are becoming more and more distressed.
If you’ve read my blog for a while you know I don’t like inspirational quotes and the pretence that everything will improve if we all just pull together and think happy thoughts. Now I’m saying that if you’re an ordinary person and you’re not feeling a bit crap that it’s likely that you’re ignoring something.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.”
― Matsuo Bashō
The cherry blossom is at its absolute peak. For centuries, Japanese people have made a special event of hanami, of going to view the blossom and contemplate their ephemeral beauty.
I invite you to take the time to stand - better still, sit - under a cherry tree and just observe this ravishing event. Not for an embarrassed 5 seconds but a luxurious 10 minutes or more, allowing your mind to wander all over this sensuous and pleasing tree as bees, grateful for nectar, browse all over the flowers. Listen: can you hear their wings? Smell the fresh, clean perfume of the flowers. Feel the polished bark and know that a gigantic industrial process is occurring under your hand, sap rising, nutrients moving from root and leaf to stamen and stigma, anther and ovule.
This happens without anyone demanding a unique 9 character password or the permission of a funder or a position statement. It does not require a level 5 qualification or a DBS certificate and you will not receive a CPD certificate after fulfilling this experiential practice. All that you will gain is the reminder that you are a human being, whether you're professional, high status and lavishly remunerated or unqualified in anything and on the dole. You can both experience this extraordinary event as equals.
The point is, make the time.
Mindful In May begins in 7 days. Register now, and catch up on the very positive effects of being still for 10 minutes a day.
Depression has been under the spotlight this week after Robin Williams’ suicide. It’s great that despair – lets call it what it is rather than a medicalised euphemism - and mental ill-health are finally coming out of the dingy little spare room closet for an airing and wonderful that people who are suffering depression are having their voices heard. Talking about how mental ill-health can feel shameful, that there is little parity of esteem (a nice, tight, catchphrase) between the care offered to people with physical illness and people with mental illness is temporarily refreshing. Politicians and policy makers are saying worthy things about how dreadful this and that are and how they’ll make things better.
They're being economical with the truth.
People with chronic illnesses, physical and emotional, are being driven to suicide by the same ministers now saying how awful depression is, something that was recognised by the DWP back in 2012. It's only going to get worse.
It’s not just people at the end of their financial tether that are killing themselves. Successful men, you are killing yourselves at a catastrophic rate.
“We have a series of assumptions about suicide that are explicit and implicit, and they make a toxic mix,” Powell says. “One is that suicide is undertaken by failures: people who have no friends, who spend all their time in their room, who have something wrong with them. Are you going to talk about people close to you who might have taken their own lives if that is what others are thinking? If you say your son has taken his own life, then that means saying he’s a failure too. But when you look at the people who do this it’s quite the reverse - it’s often true that they are admired, well-loved and talented - though they might push themselves extremely hard.”
Take a look at this article:
"The most deadly criticism one could make of modern civilization is that apart from its man-made crises and catastrophes, is not humanly interesting. . . . In the end, such a civilization can produce only a mass man: incapable of spontaneous, self-directed activities: at best patient, docile, disciplined to monotonous work to an almost pathetic degree." Lewis Mumford, 1951
Unhappy women generally medicate and endure, unhappy men kill themselves.
I’m no fan of the Good Old Days when we all lived in each others pockets and did our socialising at the communal launderette or men-only club, but when as a nation we took the decision to vote for personal prosperity people began getting more sad. Now we're reaping that whirlwind. People who bought their council houses find their adult children have nowhere to live. When we all demanded cheap washing machines it was inevitable that manufacturing was going to go abroad. When we decided to treat each other as economic units it can’t come as too much of a surprise when we are also treated not as individual people but as things that make other things function. Like a widget.
Counselling falls into this trap too. Far too many counsellors join in the scroungers and strivers nonsense. Too many believe that success is a client returning to work, even in the face of a foundational belief that our job is to support the client in discovering their own meaning for their own life.
For a great many people depression is a sign that your life has lost any meaning. A lot of people believe that having a high status job title, two posh cars, a big house and garden owned by the bank, and some nice clothes will mean their life is complete, but if they ever attain all that life remains just as hollow and meaningless as ever.
Look to the US which is 5 or so years ahead of us. If you want that life then do nothing, it’s on its way. You may be interested to learn that the American Dream has been totally debunked: if it were true then immigrant women would be sipping champagne in a swimming pool on a Learjet.
If you’re depressed take yourself seriously. As well as going to the GP and doing all the stuff you already know helps depression, think about what you want to do with your life. It may be that you want to spend more or less time with your children. You might want to spend more time awake, relaxed and communicating with your partner or you might want to get far away from them. You might regret having got on your bike like you were told to at 18, to move far away from your family, who are getting old. You may have to sell your house and move somewhere smaller (If you move out of London this won't be a problem.) you may have to take a significant wage cut. But you really are more than your job title and bank balance.
You don’t need to come to counselling to discover this – though it can be helpful to get some support as you explore your fears, desires and options. But you do need to recognise that something is wrong, understand that you don’t have to do what’s expected of you – even if it’s just you who’s putting you under pressure – and then dare to think of what you genuinely want to do with the rest of your life.
Campaign Against Living Miserably is a charity specifically for men under pressure.
Psychiatry has often been used as a tool of state control. People who have been inconvenient or low status or cost too much to care for have been brutalised for centuries, so last weeks 'kite flying' announcement that people who are unemployed and mentally ill may be forced to attend some kind of therapy or have their benefits stopped has precedent.
Throwing an idea out without a formed policy behind it is called 'kite flying' because the people proposing it want to see how such an idea might fly. Will we rejoice that unemployed people are being further required to perform more hoop jumping or will we boggle at what a ludicrous bit of nonsense this is?
Ethically, it's a non-starter. When we begin compelling adults to have medical procedures we enter the world of ethical committees and High Courts: particularly because psychiatry has been used to abuse people compulsion in it is treated with enormous caution. This is not to say that it doesn't occur but when it's used it's almost always in a situation that is considered life threatening. People who are not sectioned but who are so depressed or anxious that they cannot work are not a threat to themselves or others.
We have evidence of what happens when we put a government agency - ATOS - between a patient and their GP. The suicide rate increases and the financial cost of appeals outweighs any savings made. The emotional cost to patients and their families is often catastrophic. There's no reason to believe this new scheme will be any different.
Therapeutically, counsellors know that a person who has been sent to therapy by a spouse, employer or parent is unlikely to do well. Therapy should never be a punishment or way of controlling someone, it has to be freely chosen. Yes, offenders are often compelled to attend therapy and what happens is that a majority learn the language of contrition rather than positively learning much about their motivations and their effect on victims.
So we know that compelled therapy is ineffective. We can also add that if this dreadful idea was ever to be implemented it would be limited to six or so sessions, which is barely enough for someone who is mildly unhappy let alone someone with a mental health diagnosis. The waiting list - already enormous for NHS and most agency therapy - would make it unmanageable and we can guess that, just as with CBT, many of the people trained for this project would not actually be therapists at all, but technicians on a budget and under pressure.
So what might the purpose of this dreadful scheme be? Would people compelled to have therapy be removed from the official numbers of the unemployed? This is what happens to people who are compelled to join other unemployment schemes so that the numbers of unemployed and particularly long term unemployed fall, on paper. If ministers wanted to help people with mental illness back to work they need to give appropriate funding to existing mental health services and reopen the services that closed because of reduced funding.
But we live in a period of time when it's not quite acceptable to throw stones at the mentally ill, yet we are encouraged to pour scorn on them if they are also unemployed. If the public mood likes the idea of punishing people who are so profoundly unwell that they have resigned themselves to living on around £100 a week then this will no doubt happen. At the very best, it will offer therapy to people who have not been able to access it. At worst it will offer dreadful non-therapy from ill-trained, ill-motivated non-therapists.
This idea slunk off in shame in 2009: there's no good reason why, 5 years later, it shouldn't slink off to die.
I had to sit down to listen carefully to a radio programme this morning, discussing this news. A growing number of school age children are still wearing nappies.
The assumption is that that it is underclass parents, people who can barely drag themselves from their filthy pits to tend to their almost-inhuman offspring, who are responsible for this epic neglect. Those people who called in to the radio programme to talk about their personal experience of this phenomenon felt they don’t have enough time because they're at work. The research suggests their attitude isn't limited to people who call radio programmes.
They work all week and on their days off they don’t have the energy to commit to this very basic task. They can’t bear the thought of having to clean up the inevitable and quite normal mistakes that occur during toilet training so they don’t bother. Helping their child move from an infant stage to that of an appropriately independent and capable child takes a couple of weeks, and these parents can't spare that time.
Quite obviously, the majority of parents from every background manage to toilet train their children. I’d propose that a parent who cannot manage to care for their children should have Social Service involvement whatever their background – the excuse that you’re too tired after work to bother with your own children is preposterous.
There are any number of employers who would happily work their employees into the ground and resent any workplace legislation that gets in the way of making a profit. I’m suggesting that if an employee feels under such profound pressure that they cannot take time off work to toilet train their child then something is dangerously out of balance. Dangerously. Even the DWP doesn’t insist that a lone parent work until their youngest child is 7 years old.
But there’s so much greater status in being employed rather than being a single parent on the dole. At what point does caring about your status become more important than caring for your child?
Therapy has been criticised for encouraging solipsism. We focus on the needs of the individual in front of us often to a greater degree than anyone ever before, including parents. Counsellors know that if we create a place of boundaried safety, understanding and respect the client is likely to flourish.
Paradoxically, when a person is given total positive individual attention for 50 minutes a week as well as becoming more understanding of themselves they become better able to understand wider relationships. In some sense, a person in therapy needs to become child-like; to have their feelings valued so that they can value those feelings themselves; next to examine their situation with curiosity and respect; then to formulate some kind of plan for the future; and then go out and live it.
In many ways, therapy is a kind of parenting, allowing the client to move from distress, confusion and retreat from the world to understanding and renewed relationship with the world. Relationship is the be all and end all of therapy and ultimately of life.
Once or twice a week I spend a couple of hours listening to a local talk radio station to get a flavour of what people are thinking. Today’s debate was about the proposed tax break for parents, £2000 for every child under 12 where both parents work. Any number of childless people phoned in to ask why they should fund parents, their reasoning being, “If you can’t afford kids you shouldn’t have them.” Never mind that the rebate includes households with a joint income of up to £300,000. When asked who they expected to care for them when they were elderly, to maintain every part of society from midwives and schools to hospices and graveyards, they didn’t see the connection. They were only interested in their own income and didn’t want to support anyone other than themselves.
Last century, Communism was condemned for offering childcare. A mothers place was in the home taking care of her husband and children and often elderly relatives who had previously helped with housework, cooking and caring for children. Now, children live far from elderly parents who are maintained by strangers, childcare has taken the place of parenting and both parents are expected to work. It takes a lot of thought and strength to organise a family so that children spend more than 24 waking hours a week with their parents, a decision that almost always incurs a drop in status and a greater amount of personal satisfaction and contentment within the family.
Therapy gives a person the space and time to move from the infant position of memememe (where we all go when we’re distressed, confused and threatened) to the more adult viewpoint of how others affect us, how we affect others and the most healthy ways of engaging with that reality. We can pretend that other people don’t matter only as long as we accept that other people shouldn’t give a damn about us.
4 senior bankers have killed themselves in the last week.
As a Bloomberg article says,
Though the reasons are not clear in either case, the coincident deaths will feed the discussion of excessive stress levels in the financial industry, not just for the young interns working 100-hour weeks but also for accomplished executives. Stress-related resignations, heart attacks and suicides may be par for the course in a high-octane, risky businesses, but the public does not really want finance to be one of these: Its money is at stake.
That sounds callous but it’s what all employers, including yours, are ultimately concerned about. If you are self-employed then you are likely to be even less caring about your own wellbeing than the average money-focused, gimlet-eyed employer.
Enough now. These men were amongst the most high-status, intelligent and wealthy people in society and they killed themselves. If they can find themselves locked into a despairing panic state then any of us can.
I don’t think it’s possible to say these 6 things too often:
There are a great many techniques that will help you manage your time and your attitude towards work but working a consistent 50 hour week is just not sustainable. Don’t swallow the rhetoric about Hard Working Taxpayers. With unemployment down, why is productivity also down? Economists are baffled but for a small fee I'll tell them why this is: Everyone is outrageously hacked off, largely for excellent reasons. Don’t wait until you want to jump out of a window before you address it.
The Sales are on and every year the news shows us scampering masses plunging into Selfridges to buy a handbag.
There’s nothing wrong with getting something you’ve always wanted but couldn’t usually afford, especially if it’s something you need. But our reasons for buying are often less rational.
Private therapy can be expensive, but it’s more of an investment than buying things that make you feel elated and then make you feel guilty. Corporate employers recognise the value of counselling to their profits by offering free, confidential therapy to their employees via Employee Assistance Programmes.
Normally, I charge £80 to £120 per session (find out more about why I have a sliding scale here) but in the spirit of the times, I’m having a sale of my own. Rather than you paying £480 to £720 I’m charging £360 for 6 pre-paid sessions. This offer is open until the end of January. To offer professional care I limit how many hours I work per week, and if those hours are filled when you call to take advantage of this offer I can put you on my waiting list.
If you’re not sure how counselling can help have a look at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website.
Feel free to phone to ask any questions and have a great 2014.
The majority of my clients come to me with very similar stories: “I have too much work, my boss is either very nice but doesn’t support me or is unpleasant and doesn’t support me. I’m working way over my contracted hours and achieving very little of actual value, but as long as all the boxes are ticked that’s all that matters. I like my work but the kind of stuff I’m expected to do now has really worn me down. I don’t see my family. Secretly, my children have become a burden, they get in the way of my work.”
In some cases coaching helps the client to break down what looks like an enormous pile of never ending demands into smaller, more manageable tasks and attention to relationships, and whilst this can be very valuable it is not the whole answer.
Whether we like it or not the UK is now in the grip of a fantasy approach to life where a lack of hard work is the only thing keeping you from success and the unemployed are all workshy scroungers. I read an article in Forbes yesterday that partly drove me to write this blog entry: “Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Avoid.” What really chilled me were the comments, 65 pages of “Thank you so much, this really made my day, this is so amazing and I can see where I need to do more work on myself.”
So many clients are being told that they have ‘the wrong attitude’. Almost always what this means is “You’re not doing what you’re told to do fast enough and you ask too many questions.”
Our concept of success makes us all feel like failures. It may be that a person has to be single-minded to increase their income but the actual facts show us, again and again, that being male, remaining in full time employment and the income of the family you're born into are better determinants of not living in poverty than either hard work or ‘attitude’.
While some of the points in the first article are valid and good advice, for a moment let's turn the rhetoric on its head. Emotionally Damaged People: 5 ways to understand them.
1. Emotionally Damaged People don’t seek insight. They have learned that their feelings – and the feelings of others – are unimportant and they're disinterested in concepts of fairness or integrity. They have been trained to ignore their feelings and to treat harsh life lessons as something to be grateful for, as a matter of personal survival in an incredibly brutal environment. When a situation turns out badly they cannot bear to examine why, or who may have been affected.
2. Emotionally Damaged People don’t care about people who are less powerful than them. They couldn’t care less about criticism or advice from people they perceive to be beneath them. If the criticism comes from people they believe to be more important than them they are trained to be grateful, even if that criticism is persecutory. They can only function in a hierarchy. And they strive to be as high up as possible in that hierarchy, whatever the cost to their family or to themselves.
3. Emotionally Damaged People ignore the costs that instability have on them and on others. Emotionally Damaged people are not interested in how bereavement, low pay, illness, children, elderly parents or anything else affects anyone. They perceive themselves and especially other people as things.
4. Emotionally Damaged People are not interested in the causes of problems or how to alter anything for the better, other than the manner in which their betters perceive them.
5. Emotionally Damaged people are desperately lonely. They've been told from childhood that they are entirely alone in the world. They know that they will not be supported by anyone and they’re not interested in supporting anyone else. If their culture includes being seen to be supporting others via charity or mentoring they will become involved in these activities in order to be seen to be compliant. They have learned that human nature punishes failure and non-compliance, even if that’s the failure to be born in a prosperous family, and the emotionally damaged person is resigned to this situation. They have learned that it is better to stand on other people than to be trodden on.
Genuinely successful people know that relationships are what matter, not status or income. Having enough money to remain healthy, pay the bills, eat and sleep well, spend time outdoors for pleasure and relaxation and with people who contribute positively to their wellbeing is important – having more is nice but not necessary.
Here’s another piece of research: 1 in 5 British workers have taken time off due to stress.
“According to the study difficult deadlines, management pressure and a lack of support are the main reasons for workplace stress and 6% and 3% of stressed workers resort to unhealthy practices to cope, smoking and drinking alcohol respectively.”
Look at your attitude. See who you're trying to please, and why, and what you genuinely want from life.
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