Mental health

We’ve become a nation of armchair psychiatrists

Are we becoming a nation of amateur psychoanalysts and armchair psychiatrists? We all speak the language of therapy and are quick to diagnose and label friends, strangers and even loved ones. Prince Harry does it to his wife Meghan Markle in a forthcoming five-part series on mental health for Apple TV that he’s co-produced with Oprah Winfrey. Discussing his wife’s suicidal state of mind during her pregnancy Prince Harry offers this diagnosis: ‘The thing that stopped her from seeing it through was how unfair it would be on me after everything that had happened to my mum, and now to be put in the position of losing another woman in

Letters: China has peaked

China has peaked Sir: Niall Ferguson makes some good points about the nature of Xi Jinping’s imperial aspirations but misses two important parts of the picture (‘The China model’, 8 May). First, the Chinese Academy of Science predicts that China’s population will peak at 1.4 billion in 2029, drop to 1.36 billion by 2050, and shrink to as few as 1.17 billion people by 2065. They even forecast that China’s population might be reduced by about 50 per cent by the turn of the next century. And second, China’s economic rise is stalling. Rather than being on track to displace the United States as the next economic superpower, China now

The problem with Britain’s mental health

Experts tell us that we are facing a mental health ‘time bomb’ in the UK, partly as a consequence of Covid restrictions and partly because we have a Conservative government which has as its apparent main priority a malevolent desire to see people go insane and, hopefully, kill themselves. I am paraphrasing the experts here, all of whom hate the Tories and want more money spent on their area of expertise, i.e. mental health. In January the Daily Mail quoted still more experts telling us that this mental health time bomb was actually ‘ticking’, in an ominous manner, suggesting to me that this was a very old make of time

Demi Lovato makes Taylor Swift resemble Dostoevsky

Grade: Z If you wish to experience the full hideousness of Now, of our current age, condensed into one awful hour, then you should invest in this bucket of infected expectorant streaked with blood. It’s all there. The depthless self-absorption and introspection, the me me me. The self-aggrandising, the wallowing in victimhood, the complete lack of personal responsibility for her very bad decisions in life, the lack of discernible talent, the mawkishness, the stupidity, the facile political ‘awareness’. This is Demi Lovato, recent subject of an emetic four-part documentary on ‘her life’. Of course she is bulimic and bi-polar. Of course she nearly died of a skag (fentanyl) overdose and

Mary Wakefield

Our mental health is going up in smoke

As we creep back into the open, as the Covid wards empty and the mental health clinics fill up, how are we going to tell what’s driven people crazy: lockdown, or what seems to have been a favourite lockdown hobby — smoking weed? Last week Sadiq Khan, London’s goblin mayor, announced that if re-elected he’ll set up a commission to look into the case for decriminalising cannabis. It’s not in Khan’s gift to decriminalise anything — Downing Street has already issued a response which amounted to: ‘Decriminalise dope? You must be high.’ But Khan doesn’t care. This isn’t about the policy, it’s about the posturing. The race for City Hall

Covid has forced ministers to reassess mental health

Has the pandemic really been good for the way the NHS treats mental health? That’s the rather startling claim I report on today in my i paper column. Ministers have started to talk — equally surprisingly, it has to be said — about the possibility that they are close to reaching parity of esteem between the treatment of mental and physical health, and that the chaos of Covid is partly responsible. Covid has certainly made it harder for the government to just offer talk and no cash on mental health Now, it slightly depends on what your definition of ‘parity of esteem’ is. If it’s just that party strategists and purse-string-holders

Why I’ve gone right off the police

‘Welcome to Victims First. Please leave your name and number and we will return your call. Beeeeeeeeeeeep!’ I had rung the number given to me by the police to pay my fixed penalty fine for not having an MOT. This £100 I was trying to pay was coming out of an increasingly tight household budget, incidentally, so I decided that the fairest thing to do was to claw it back from the state. I had, of course, deeply apologised to the officer who pulled me over for forgetting the MOT after the Covid extension period ran out. And I begged him to let me drive straight home, park off road,

Surrey county council has abolished night time

An everlasting lightbulb brighter than the Dog Star was installed in the street lamp outside my house one morning as I watched the two engineers being lifted up on a crane. I knew it was trouble as they took out the soft yellow bulb from the antique holder and installed a bright-white LED. I had been dreading this, but when it finally happened the result was worse than I could have imagined, because they didn’t put it on a timer, like the old one. They switched it on and left it on. All day and all night it blasts out its blinding white light. It is never night time. What

The horrifying toll of lockdown on the poor and mentally ill

I start the week with someone throwing faeces at me. I thought people were supposed to clap for doctors these days, not hurl poo at them? Never mind. Thankfully I’m fast on my feet despite it being the early hours of the morning, and dodge the mess, which hits the wall behind me. I’m working a week of nights covering A&E for mental health and this kind of mayhem is not as unusual as you might expect. The naked man, covered in excrement, runs around screaming. The nurse with me doesn’t even flinch. I love A&E nurses. They’ve seen and heard it all. I’m sure if there were a nuclear

Trauma has become as American as apple pie

Gstaad Lord Belhaven and Stenton, a wonderful man and the quintessential English gentleman, died at 93 just before the end of the crappiest of years. But Robin was lucky in a way: no tubes, no hospital beds, not another virus statistic. His widow, Lady Belhaven, gave me the bad news over the telephone, and although she was devastated after a very long and happy marriage, she is very smart and realises that it was a perfect death. He asked for a gin and tonic, went to bed, and never woke up. Acknowledging the death of others is one thing, accepting one’s own demise quite another. That’s why old men send

Join me for weekly Scream If You’re Going Round The Bend

Never mind Clap for Carers, I’m trying to start a new weekly morale booster called Scream If You’re Going Round The Bend. The idea is you come out on to your doorstep once a week and stand there screaming until you’ve got it all out. It could be fantastically cathartic and do much to help the growing mental health problems caused by lockdown. Let’s make it every Friday at 8 p.m. I don’t want to clash with the key worker hero worship, so Thursday night is out, and doing it on Wednesday would only make it look as though I was trying to upstage Our Wonderful NHS. If we make

Is it time to ban New Year fireworks?

When I was 11, Iraqi scud missiles exploded next to our home, collapsing part of our roof while I huddled together with my younger siblings on my parents’ bed wearing gas masks. This was in 1991, during the Gulf War when Israel was under attacks for the better part of January and February. I lived with my family near Tel Aviv, in an area designated ‘Zone A’ – the most likely to be hit by missiles. This wasn’t the only time I’ve experienced bombings: as an operations sergeant in the IDF, I was stationed on the border with Lebanon at a time of fierce and frequent fighting with Hezbollah; and

Does Rishi Sunak understand the scale of the mental health crisis?

Unsurprisingly, health spending will be a key part of Rishi Sunak’s spending review announcements this afternoon, with the Chancellor expected to pledge £3 billion for the NHS as it recovers from the pandemic. Part of that will be a £500 million boost for mental health, which accompanies a ‘winter care plan’ that was published earlier this week. Ministers are very keen to say they recognise the pressure that the pandemic has put on services and people who may be developing mental health problems for the first time, as a result of the strain they have found themselves under this year. But this money won’t go very far. The Strategy Unit

How to be content

The Covid-19 pandemic is apparently causing a large number of mental health problems. On that subject, one could do a lot worse than read the Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC). An attractive feature of Horace’s views about man’s efforts (including his own) to enjoy the good life is that you have to laugh about it all. He reflects that everyone thinks others better off than they are and envies their good fortune, but if a god told them to swap jobs, they would all refuse, thus (apparently) giving up their chance to be happy. And what would Zeus think of that — no more answers to your prayers! ‘Harvest the

The importance of the Natural Health Service

Most people consider going for a walk or a run as a sort of optional leisure activity, something you get round to once you’ve been to the shops. But when the government announced its coronavirus restrictions, there it was in its own category of ‘essential activities’: daily exercise. Yes, there have been rows about whether sunbathing or sitting on a bench to eat a snack are acceptable, but by and large the message has been clear: we need to get outside to stay well. But it’s not just exercise that’s essential to our lives, it’s nature too. We have become used to thinking of nature as something we need to

I like Brassic but the reason it’s getting such glowing notices is depressing

Brassic (Sky One) feels like the sort of TV comedy drama they last made about 15 years ago but would never get commissioned now, certainly not by the BBC. Almost all of the main characters — apart from love interest Michelle Keegan — are white, male and heterosexual. And it’s set in the kind of Lancashire market town surrounded by rolling sheep country where the opportunities for plausible diversity casting are really quite limited. So how come it has been getting such glowing notices from all the previewers and reviewers? You’ll be depressed when I tell you. Well, it has depressed me anyway. The main character Vinnie — played by

What I’ve learned from five months sleeping on the streets

Over the years, I have spent around five months sleeping rough on the streets of London, Birmingham and New York, making undercover TV programmes. Matthew, who works in my Westminster office, spent last summer involuntarily homeless after he was cheated by his business partner. I suspect we are the only people within the Palace of Westminster who have been through the unpleasant experience of sleeping rough, and we both have come to the same conclusion. Street homelessness (as opposed to the homelessness of temporary accommodation) is, for the most part, a symptom or consequence of a different problem: addiction to drink or drugs, or mental illness. If politicians want to

Hard lines

As if in defiance of the BBC’s current obsession with programming designed to entice in that elusive young and modish audience, Radio 4 has set us an Easter challenge. Each afternoon over the weekend Jeremy Irons is reading a chunk from The Psalms for half an hour, without illustration (except a bit of music), explication or deviation. It’s a discomfiting listen, at times harsh, unrelenting. The supple but rigorous language of the King James Version of the Bible is both daunting and uplifting. ‘Keep me as the apple of the eye’ is one of my favourite images, and ‘hide me under the shadow of thy wings’ has helped me through

Literary therapy

Is there anyone left who’d still be mortified to have it known that they’d purchased, or maybe even benefited from, a self-help book? In recent years, the genre’s gone mainstream: Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life bestrides the bestseller lists, alongside titles on the Danish, Finnish and Japanese secrets to health and happiness, and the life-changing magic of tidying up; Alain de Botton embraces the label, while most ‘big ideas’ books, from Malcolm Gladwell to Yuval Noah Harari, are at least partly self-help in disguise. This is all to the good: we shouldn’t mourn the era when the key signifier of a book’s merit was that it should be impossible

Mad about Claire Foy

Steven Soderbergh’s latest film, Unsane, is a psychological thriller about a woman who is incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital even though she claims to be perfectly sane. But is she? It was filmed fast, on an iPhone 7, and some aspects are worryingly thoughtless — its treatment of mental-health patients, for example, is remarkably Unsensitive. And it does descend into a plainly ridiculous, sub-par farce. But it is also, in parts, deliciously schlocky and it stars the wonderful Claire Foy, whom one hopes was paid decently. So shocking that she earned less than Matt Smith for The Crown, but as a positive person who likes to look on the bright