Today

Today, as very few of you will I’m sure be aware (hey, I wasn’t until a few minutes ago) is World Mental Health Day. I have touched on my own personal experiences of mental health problems before, having spent the last few years suffering from depression, but I feel today is a suitably appropriate time to bring it up again, because this is an issue that, in the modern world, cannot be talked about enough.

Y’see, conservative estimates claim at least 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in our lives, be it a relatively temporary one such as post-natal depression or a lifelong battle with the likes of manic depressive disorder or schizophrenia. Mental health is also in the top five biggest killers in the developed world, through a mixture of suicide, drug usage, self-harming or self-negligence, and as such there is next to zero chance that you will go through your life without somebody you know very closely suffering or even dying as a result of what’s going on in their upstairs. If mental health disorders were a disease in the traditional sense, this would be labelled a red alert, emergency level pandemic.

However, despite the prevalence and danger associated with mental health, the majority of sufferers do so in silence. Some have argued that the two correlate due to the mindset of sufferers, but this claim does not change the fact 9 out of 10 people suffering from a mental health problem say that they feel a degree of social stigma and discrimination against their disability (and yes that description is appropriate; a damaged mind is surely just as debilitating, if not more so, than a damaged body), and this prevents them from coming out to their friends about their suffering.

The reason for this is an all too human one; we humans rely heavily, perhaps more so than any other species, on our sense of sight to formulate our mental picture of the world around us, from the obviously there to the unsaid subtext. We are, therefore, easily able to identify with and relate to physical injuries and obvious behaviours that suggest something is ‘broken’ with another’s body and general being, and that they are injured or disabled is clear to us. However, a mental problem is confined to the unseen recesses of our brain, hiding away from the physical world and making it hard for us to identify with as a problem. We may see people acting down a lot, hanging their head and giving other hints through their body language that something’s up, but everybody looks that way from time to time and it is generally considered a regrettable but normal part of being human. If we see someone acting like that every day, our sympathy for what we perceive as a short-term issue may often turn into annoyance that people aren’t resolving it, creating a sense that they are in the wrong for being so unhappy the whole time and not taking a positive outlook on life.

Then we must also consider the fact that mental health problems tend to place a lot of emphasis on the self, rather than one’s surroundings. With a physical disability, such as a broken leg, the source of our problems, and our worry, is centred on the physical world around us; how can I get up that flight of stairs, will I be able to keep up with everyone, what if I slip or get knocked over, and so on. However, when one suffers from depression, anxiety or whatever, the source of our worry is generally to do with our own personal failings or problems, and less on the world around us. We might continually beat ourselves up over the most microscopic of failings and tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, or be filled by an overbearing, unidentifiable sense of dread that we can only identify as emanating from within ourselves. Thus, when suffering from mental issues we tend to focus our attention inwards, creating a barrier between our suffering and the outside world and making it hard to break through the wall and let others know of our suffering.

All this creates an environment surrounding mental health that it is a subject not to be broached in general conversation, that it just doesn’t get talked about; not so much because it is a taboo of any kind but more due to a sense that it will not fit into the real world that well. This is even a problem in the environment of counselling  specifically designed to try and address such issues, as people are naturally reluctant to let it out or even to ‘give in’ and admit there is something wrong. Many people who take a break from counselling, me included, confident that we’ve come a long way towards solving our various issues, are for this reason resistive to the idea of going back if things take a turn for the worse again.

And it’s not as simple as making people go to counselling either, because quite frequently that’s not the answer. For some people, they go to the wrong place and find their counsellor is not good at relating to and helping them; others may need medication or some such rather than words to get them through the worst times, and for others counselling just plain doesn’t work. But this does not detract from the fact that no mental health condition in no person, however serious, is so bad as to be untreatable, and the best treatment I’ve ever found for my depression has been those moments when people are just nice to me, and make me feel like I belong.

This then, is the two-part message of today, of World Mental Health Day, and of every day and every person across the world; if you have a mental health problem, talk. Get it out there, let people know. Tell your friends, tell your family, find a therapist and tell them, but break the walls of your own mental imprisonment and let the message out. This is not something that should be forever bottled up inside us.

And for the rest of you, those of us who do not suffer or are not at the moment, your task is perhaps even more important; be there. Be prepared to hear that someone has a mental health problem, be ready to offer them support, a shoulder to lean on, but most importantly, just be a nice human being. Share a little love wherever and to whoever you can, and help to make the world a better place for every silent sufferer out there.

Kony 2012 in hindsight

Yesterday, April 20th, marked two at least reasonably significant events. The first of these was it being 4/20, which is to cannabis smokers what Easter is to Christians- the major festival of the year, where everyone gathers together to smoke, relax and make their collective will felt (this is, I feel I should point out, speaking only from what I can pick up online- I don’t actually smoke pot). This is an annual tradition, and has grown into something of a political event for pro-legalisation groups.

The other event is specific to this year (probably, anyway), and just about marks the conclusion of one of the 21st century’s most startling (and tumultuous) events- the Kony 2012 campaign’s ‘cover the night’ event.

Since going from an almost unknown organisation to the creators of the fastest-spreading viral video of all time, Kony 2012’s founders Invisible Children have found their organisation changed forever. For most of the last decade the charity has existed, but only now has it gone from being a medium-sized organisation relying on brute zealotry for support to a internationally known about group. Similarly, the target of their campaign, warlord and wanted human rights criminal Joseph Kony, has gone from a man known only in the local area and by politicians nobody’s ever heard of, to a worldwide hate figure inspiring discussion in the world’s governments (albeit one with more than his fair share of lighthearted memes- in fact he is increasingly reminding me of Osama Bin Laden in terms of status).

Invisible Children’s meteoric rise has not been without backlash- they have come under intense scrutiny for both their less-than-transparent finances, and the fact that only around a third of their turnover goes to supporting their African projects. Then there was the now-infamous ‘Bony 2012’ incident, where co-founder Jason Russell was found making a public nuisance of himself, and masturbating in public, after a week of constant stress and exhaustion, and rather too much to drink.

Not only that, but the campaign’s supporters have come under attack. This is partly because the internet always loves to have a go at committed Christians, as Russell and many of his followers are, but there are several recurring issues people appear to have with the campaign in general. One of the most common is the idea that ‘rich white kids’ sticking up posters and watching a video, and then claiming that they’ve helped change something is both ridiculous and wrong. Another concerns the current situation in the Uganda/CAR/South Sudan/Congo area- this is one of hideously bloody political strife, and Joseph Kony is not the only one with a poor human rights record. Eastern Congo is still recovering from a major civil war that officially ended in 2003 but still exists in some local, and extremely bloody, conflicts, the Central African Republic is one of the poorest countries in the world with a history of political strife, South Sudan has only just emerged as independent from a constant civil war and the bloody, oppressive dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir, and Uganda has an incredibly poor record for war and corruption, and has even been accused of using child soldiers in much the same way as Kony’s organisation, the Lord’s Resistance Army. Then there have been the accusations that Invisible Children have overexaggerated and oversimplified the issue, misleading the general public, and the argument that, with the LRA numbering less than a thousand, Kony isn’t too much of an issue anyway- certainly not when compared to the thousands of children who die every day from malnourishment and disease in the area.  Finally, some take issue with the aim of the Kony 2012 campaign- to get governments to listen and to step up the level of involvement in their attempts to capture Kony, which is an aim disliked by those who feel that the USA doesn’t need any more encouragement to invade somewhere, and disliked even more by those who claim Kony died 5 years ago.

All of these are completely valid, true and important arguments to consider (well, apart from the one about him being dead, which is probably not true). And I have one answer to every single one of them:

IT. DOESN’T. MATTER.

Put it this way- what slogan does the Kony 2012 video say is it’s aim? Answer- to make Kony famous, and in that regard Invisible Children have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Most  of the world (well, most of it with an internet connection at least), now knows about one of the worst perpetrators of human rights violators in the world, and a major humanitarian issue is now being forced upon governments worldwide.  It doesn’t matter that Invisible Children has some dodgy finances, it doesn’t matter that Kony is by no means the biggest problem in the area, and it certainly doesn’t matter that Jason Russell managed to give the world’s media a field day. All that matters is that people know about a serious issue, because if nobody knows about it nobody cares, and if nobody cares then nothing can be done about it.

There is, in fact, one criticism levelled at Invisible Children supporters that I take major issue with, and that is the idea that its efforts at spreading awareness do not matter. This could not be more untrue. There is only one force on this earth that will ever have the power to potentially find and bring to justice Joseph Kony, and that is the effort of the world’s governments- armies, advisors, police, whatever. But governments simply do not get involved in stuff if it doesn’t matter to them, and the only way to get something (that doesn’t concern oil, power or money) to matter to a government is to make sure people know and care about it. In modern politics, awareness is absolutely everything- without that, nothing matters.

Anyone can stand and level criticisms at the Kony campaign all day if they wanted to. I myself have not given Invisible Children any money, and don’t agree with a lot of the charity’s activities. But I am still able to admire what they have done, and realise what a great service they have done to the world at large. In the grand scheme of things, their flaws don’t really matter one jot. Because everyone will agree that Kony is most definitely a bad guy, and most definitely needs to be brought to justice- until now, the chances of that happening were minimal. Until Kony 2012.

 

 

 

Also… WOO 50 POSTS!!!!!

Willkommen, 2012…

Hello and happy New Year to whoever may or may not be reading this- for those who are not, please consult reality and try again. I was considering taking this opportunity to look forward and pontificate on what the new year may bring, but I eventually decided that since I don’t have a sodding clue what interesting stuff’s going to happen (bar the Olympics, which everyone knows about already), I have decided instead to give you a list of random facts to give some new stuff to confuse people with in 2012 conversations*. Read and enjoy:

The only sound Seahorses make is a small clicking or popping sound during feeding or courtship

Krispy Kreme make five million doughnuts a day

There were no red colored M&Ms from 1976 to 1987

In Belgium, there is a museum that is just for strawberries

Tomatoes were once referred to as “love apples.” This is because their was a superstition that people would fall in love by eating them

Over 90% of diseases are caused or complicated by stress

An average person uses the toilet 2500 times a year

Approximately 97.35618329% of all statistics are made up

Michael Jordan makes more money from Nike annually than all of the Nike factory workers in Malaysia combined

Pentagon estimates their computer network is hacked about 250,000 times annually

Marilyn Monroe had six toes

On a Canadian two dollar bill, the flag flying over the Parliament building is an American flag

Most heart attacks occur between the hours of 8 and 9 am

There is a town in Norway called “Hell”

The electric chair was invented by a dentist

The word “nerd” was first coined by Dr. Suess in the book “If I Ran to the Zoo.”

For every human in the world there are one million ants

After being picked an orange cannot ripen

There are more pigs than humans in Denmark

Hockey pucks were originally made from frozen cow dung

Karate actually originated in India, but was developed further in China

A group of tigers is called a streak

The average ear grows 0.01 inches in length every year

The same careers advisor dismissed both Mark Knopfler and Alan Shearer’s ambitions (to be a musician and footballer respectively), saying to Knopfler “you’ll never get anywhere playing that kind of stuff”. Shearer broke the world record in transfer fees when he signed for Newcastle, and Knopfler went on to make over £50 million and played at Live Aid

The most exclusive aftershave in the world is named after a Welsh winger and rugby captain

A bank in Paraguay was once held up by two sets of bank robbers simultaneously

A South Korean woman failed her driving test 959 times, and when she finally passed was given a car worth nearly $17,000 by Hyundai, as well as an advertising deal

The biggest defeat in a game of football is held by a team from Madagascar, who lost 149-0 in a match in October 2002

In a 2008 council election in North Dakota, absolutely nobody voted, not even the candidates

A news reporter in Swaziland once spent a month delivering reports from a broom cupboard whilst pretending to be in Baghdad

Elvis Presley once came third in an Elvis Presley impersonator contest in Tennessee

A South African effort to promote condom usage, that included the distribution of a free government condom, ended in failure when it was noticed that the condoms had been stapled to the packaging, puncturing two holes in each of them in the process

*I make no claim to have sourced any of these- the first half come from a friend who used to post these things on Facebook, and the second half are from one of my favourite books- The Ultimate Book of Heroic Failures by Stephen Pile. The ones I have done are just the easiest to paraphrase from the first two chapters- if you want a good source of laughs for the upcoming year, buy yourself a copy and enjoy the rest