A man dressed as a clown who was fundraising for victims of terrorism found himself accosted by council workers who confiscated his donations bucket, SWNS news agency reported this Friday.
Pensioner Tommy Armstrong, from Greenock in Inverclyde, Scotland, had visited the city of Manchester in England to collect spare change for victims of the recent suicide bombing there, when employees of the Manchester city council approached him while he was about to collect donations for a special charity 10-kilometre fun run he was due to take part in. The council staff demanded to see Tommy’s fundraising permit, which he did not have. They then allegedly emptied his bucket and confiscated the donations. Armstrong was said to have been left ‘close to tears’ by the incident. At that time, he was dressed in full clown costume and face make-up.
Armstrong has raised nearly £200,000 for charity in a fundraising career spanning thirty years and has frequented the streets of Manchester for the past decade. He was renowned in his native city for his habit of dressing in complete clown regalia to entertain shoppers and tourists and gather money for charity. He had even appeared on a daytime TV show ‘This Morning’ with the ITV terrestrial station last year. He told SWNS:“My race didn’t start until 3pm, so I went to St Ann’s Square first to see the flowers that have been left there in tribute to the victims.
‘I was wearing my clown’s gear and pushing my usual pram with the bucket on it.’
‘I didn’t ask anyone for money at that stage, but many people had put notes and coins into the bucket.’
‘Two officials came up to me and asked if I had a permit to raise money for the fund.’
‘I told them I had been raising money at Manchester and other big races around the country like the London Marathon for years, and I had never heard anything about a permit.’
‘They took my bucket and counted all the money on a wall. People were walking past wondering what was going on.’
‘It was really embarrassing and made me feel like they thought I was trying to collect money for myself. They were very rude and treated me like a criminal.”
The donations confiscated by Manchester council was believed to be in the region of £44. Tommy Armstrong also told SWNS that he felt the council’s rough treatment of him was unwarranted and that they should offer an apology. He added: “They gave me a piece of paper with their names and a phone number for Manchester Council, asked for my name and address and said they would send a receipt, but I still haven’t received a thing.
‘These guys hounded me. I was really angry about it and close to tears. They even took my sign away from me.’
‘I travelled down there at my own expense on an overnight bus to try and help, but their attitude seemed to be that I was dressed as a clown so they would treat me like a clown. I think I should get an apology.”
Manchester City Council said that they had required fundraisers collecting money for victims of the Ariana Grande concert attack to carry officially issued permits after a number of fraudulent fundraising drives were reported to them in the days after the atrocity, in which local man Salman Abedi detonated an improvised shrapnel bomb at the Manchester Arena, killing himself and 22 concertgoers, many of whom were parents and children.
A spokesperson for the council told SWNS: “Difficult though it is to countenance, some unscrupulous individuals do exploit the name of charitable funds for their own personal gain.
‘To protect the public from these bogus collectors, people wishing to collect cash donations at public events need to apply for and carry an official permit.’
‘Members of our team spoke with Mr Armstrong to explain that because he did not have a permit, the money he had collected from the public would be taken and deposited with the We Love Manchester Emergency Fund on his behalf.’
‘There is no suggestion that Mr Armstrong’s motives were anything other than good, and we hope that he will understand that the permit process exists with the important aim of protecting the public from rogue collectors.’
‘The money he raised will help to support those who have been injured or bereaved by the attack.”
Poppy Appeal collectors in the English city of Malmesbury in Wiltshire county found themselves a small windfall after a ‘fake’ coin that was deposited in one of their charity collection boxes turned out to be a rare minting error that sold for £1,350 at a recent auction.
Volunteers working for the British Royal Legion were sifting through the takings from a street collection appeal for ex-service personnel when they stumbled across a 2-pence coin that was silver-coloured, instead of the usual copper. Convinced it was a badly-done fake or a joke, the Legion charity workers sent it to a bank to be destroyed.
The Royal Mint, which is responsible for minting the United Kingdom’s coinage, however confirmed that far from being a criminal mastermind’s idea of a bad joke, the silver 2-pence piece was in fact an unusual minting error, caused by a blank for a 10-pence piece, usually now made of nickel-clad steel, being mistakenly struck with a die intended for 2-pence coins, so in essence, this coin was a 10-pence in the ‘clothes’ of a 2-pence. The coin, due to its circumstantial appearance in circulation and the fact that the Royal Mint rarely make such money mistakes, meant it was a highly-prized talk of the town among numismatists.
Local Legion branch chairman Richard Tilney said of the coin’s sale “The Legion has a corporate partner who sells old medals and coins, and they are going to take it off our hands for a handsome price.
The Poppy Appeal is very dear to our hearts and it would be fantastic to get the money to the right place”
The rare item was sold at auction and purchased by coin collectors’ company The Westminster Collection for £1,350, of which the Royal British Legion received £1349.98 profit on a donation of only £0.02.
According to UK newspaper Daily Mail, a similar misstrike issued in 1988 was sold in 2014 for more than £1,350 and coinage error market experts say that similar errors can sell for up to £2,000 to niche coin collectors.
Kensington Primary School, which caters to pupils aged between 3 and 11 years, was a finalist in a competition run between Tesco and the Newham Recorder as part of Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme, which has a pot of £30,000 from sales of carrier bags which will be split into three grants of £8,000, £10,000 or £12,000. Members of the public will get to decide which school or organisation will benefit from the scheme. Shoppers will be able to vote for who gets which grant at their local Tesco supermarket from the 27th February to the 6th March 2016.
Staff at the primary school plan to overhaul the outdoor spaces in order to ‘provide a vibrant and educational outdoor environment’, the Newham Recorder commented. Kensington Primary’s business manager, Shazidur Rahman, spoke with the Recorder as to why his school needed the grant.
“Something we’ve found is that a lot of the kids don’t have a local park to go to,” Rahman said.
“We want to put lots of different flowers and plants in and teach the children about them.”
Kensington Primary has already identified a number of suitable places on its premises to redevelop in order to bring the outdoors to its pupils’ doorstep and give them valuable educational and recreational opportunities which are otherwise in short supply locally.
Rahman further commented “It depends when we get the money, but we hope to start work this spring,”
“We think the school holidays might be a good time to get people in and work on the garden.”
Other than overhauling the school’s open spaces, the primary also plans to purchase large planters for the playground, special signs to indicate different types of plants, learning trails and specially commissioned wall art, all of which are intended to improve the school environment and appearance, as well as help their young pupils learn about their natural world and surroundings.
“It’s fantastic that we’re one of the shortlisted organisations,” said Rahman.
“The more money we can get, the more we can develop the school.”
The Tesco Bags of Help scheme is run all across England and Wales and involves community groups bidding for shares of £30,000 grants allocated to 390 regions identified by the supermarket nationally as one of the UK’s largest grocery outlets. The grants come from the sale of 5-pence carrier bags by Tesco stores, which the retailer has been legally obliged to charge for since October 2015.
Employees of theLondonoffices of multinational conferences and events organisationInformaare being given a chance to get away from their office desks and meetings for a day and help volunteer with localcharitieshere in London to help those in greater need.
All Informa employees are offered an extra day off a year to use towardsvolunteeringwith a charitable organisation of their choice, and the company has partnered with several charities to offer volunteering experiences on afirst-come first-servedbasis to any employee interested in taking part.
Opportunity Number One is with the charity Providence Row, which provides warm and sustaining meals to homeless and vulnerable Londoners forced to spend their days on the streets. They tackle the root causes of homelessness to help people break the tough cycle of homelessness and access the services that will take them off the streets. Informa volunteers working with Providence Row will be assisting senior chef Marco at the charity’s Dellow Centre in Mile End to provide lunches to their clients. Lunchtime is one of the busiest times for Marco and his team of cooks and volunteers could serve as many as forty people needing a warm meal and a place to rest for a while. In addition, volunteers will be working alongside the chefs of the future. Marco also oversees several catering trainees working with Providence Row to develop their skills in the kitchen as well as people management.
Opportunity Two is with Malmesbury Primary School, also in Mile End. Volunteers who opt to work with the school will be helping plant flowers and shrubs in a new garden that Malmesbury is putting together to improve the play experiences of its pupils. At the moment, Malmesbury Primary School has only a few parents able to pitch in with their green fingers and spare time to renovate the garden. Volunteers at the school will not only be rewarded with making a difference to children, but there is also the added incentive of free tea and cakes after a long day’s pruning and planting.
The final opportunity is withTrinity Hospicein Balham, insouth London. The hospice, which provides services for those nearing the end of their lives, needs volunteers to assist them with stock and supplies in their office and warehouse, and this opportunity is ideal for anyone with experience or a desire to see what it is like to work in a retail or stocktaking environment. The hospice’s stock is high-value and collectable and much of it is donated by London designers and organisations and is brand new and given in bulk.
The large volume of donated items means Trinity Hospice is constantly on the go with its stock handling, and volunteers choosing this opportunity will have a very busy, active and hands-on experience. Possible tasks include researching and scanning books for sale on the e-retailer Amazon; organising and obtaining information and best prices for buyers interested in the company’s stock of fine antiques; listing pre-loved garments on Ebay; dressing mannequins; using special ‘turbo lister’ software to handle bulk sales; photographing items going on sale online, stocktaking; and helping keep the warehouse tidy and safe.
When: 16th July
Times: 10:00 – 16:00
Number of places: 10
The opportunities are only available toLondon-basedemployees ofInforma plc and are allocated on a first-come, first-served basis with limited vacancies available per location.
Informa, a company specialising in conferences, seminars, training/further education and corporate events for a variety of sectors, has a company-wide corporate responsibility strategy aimed at producing a ‘win-win situation for(their) communities, environment, business objectives and employees. This includes diverse matters as employee training and improvement, helping local communities, ethical business practices and environmental awareness.
DISCLAIMER: The writer is an employee of the company mentioned in the above article.
“Volunteering Opportunities: New in!” – Jill Symes, Informa – Maple House (12 June 2015) corporate email.
The colloquium is being organised in conjunction with the 12th ASEMForeign Ministers’ Meeting (ASEM FMM12), an important regional political meeting being held at the same time also in Luxembourg. A specially selected number of 25 practicing journalists from Asia and Europe to come together to discuss and learn different approaches, skills and tools used in crisis reporting from Asian and European perspectives.
From public health crises such as the E. Coli out breakout of 2011 in Germany, to environmental disasters such as the devastating 2013 cyclone Haiyan that struck the Philippines and this weekend’s earthquake in Nepal and India, the attendees will learn and build upon their understanding of the many issues these crises pose for Asian and European media. The recent terror attacks in places like France, and the ongoing war in Iraq and Syria also pose many challenges for reporters.
This colloquium will enable journalists to share their perspectives and best practices regarding international and regional challenges during crisis reporting from the different regional perspectives, as well as definitively understanding the role of the European and Asian media in reporting and witnessing such profound events. Journalists from ASEM countries (members of the Asia-Europe Meeting) can qualify to answer the call for applications. A list of participating ASEM nations can be found at http://www.aseminfoboard.org/members
Participating media professionals will see their recommendations and the event’s highlights published as the ASEF Media Handbook, which will be a ready reference for Asian and European journalists as well as for research and civil society organisations working in the field.
Founded in 1997, ASEF fosters understanding and dialogue between European and Asian countries through intellectual, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. This is with the goal to help encourage the growth of common development and stability, as well as contributing to world peace and prosperity. The Foundation particularly focusses on matters of concern such as war and famine in addition, and offers a range of collaborative events including seminars, workshops, conferences, lecture tours and exhibitions. In the past seventeen years, ASEF has seeded over 650 projects involving 17,000 direct participants over the two continents.
Interested journalists from ASEM countries can apply to take part at the colloquium. Application information can be found here: http://bit.ly/ASEFJC10
Travel (by economy class only) to and from Luxembourg and nearby hotel accommodation will be provided by the organisers for participants selected to attend this unique event. All applications should be submitted online by Tuesday, 12 May 2015, at the link above.
HEM NEPAL EARTHQUAKE APPEAL
As many of you are well aware, Nepal was struck yesterday by the worst earthquake to be witnessed in its recent history. More than 1,200 people have lost their lives, mainly in Nepal, but also in India and Bangladesh. Much of the tourism infrastructure in Nepal’s capital Kathmandu has been obliterated, and thousands more are injured and without homes, food, and blankets for the harsh cold nights there.
The Half-Eaten Mind has joined forces with the international development charity Oxfam to support them in their Emergency Appeal. The top of the sidebar has a special link to Oxfam Great Britain’s giving page, where you can make donations securely via credit and debit card or PayPal. I am not aware if givers from outside the U.K. can donate via this link, but if you cannot, then please support any charities helping Nepal in your country.
The charity, which helps procure and train up dogs to assist blind andpartially-sightedpeople in their day-to-day lives, is currently appealing for Newham residents to help give a temporary home to guide dogpuppies. This volunteering role, known as Puppy Walking, also involves training and socialising of the young dogs, so as to prepare them for new careers living in owners’ homes. They can also learn to be comfortable around people and carrying out activities like crossing the road. Puppy Walking enables the puppy to be socially well behaved, affectionate and responsive to their future owner’s needs.
Would-be Puppy Walkers are needed to provide full-time care and education to a puppy from the ages of seven weeks to between twelve and fourteen months, when they will be returned to the Guide Dogs Association for advanced training to graduate as fully fledged guide dogs.
One resident fromWest Ham, Jackie Palmer, who already is an experienced Puppy Walking volunteer, told the magazine: “I have enjoyed every minute with my guide dog puppy. He is a joy to have and the kids love him. I have met so many people since becoming a Puppy Walker and I have seen and heard first-hand the benefits a trained guide has in the life of a visually impaired person”. Ms Palmer is looking after a blackGolden Retrieverpuppy named Wolf.
Looking after a future guide dog requires a lot of time, commitment and love from volunteers and their families, but will result in a very special animal indeed, according to the Guide Dogs Association website. The charity advises volunteers to care for the puppy in much the same way as they would care for a young child, giving the puppy lots of love, affection and attention. Volunteers will need to be at least 18 years of age, due to the responsibility required. They must be able to commit the time needed to look after a puppy, with very young trainee guide dogs needing up to three hours of full-time care a day. Volunteers must also have suitable space in their homes including provision for a special hard-surfaced or gravelled toilet area, and be willing to take the puppy outside around busy places on a regular basis.
If you live in the United Kingdom, and you have what it takes to be a Puppy Walker, you can call the Guide Dogs hotline on 0845 371 7771. Alternatively email the charity at volunteer @ guidedogs.org.uk, visit the Puppy Walking information pages online at www.guidedogs.org.uk/puppywalking or visit the links listed under ‘Sources’ below this article.
“Help train guide dogs” – The Newham Mag <Issue 313>, Newham Council (10 April 2015)
Pupils from the Ellen WilkinsonPrimary School and Children’s Centre, off Tollgate Road in the south of the borough, got together with parents and teachers to collect old and unwanted clothes for the charity. Eleven children from the ‘We Day‘ citizenship group at the school took on the responsibility of going around classes and encouraging fellow students to rummage through their wardrobes and cellars for clothes they no longer wanted.
Charity Clothes Aid, who were also involved in the garments drive, then pooled all the clothes gathered from Ellen Wilkinson pupils and parents together and were able to net an impressive £285, which will be donated to the Tuberous Sclerosis Association, which was launched in 1977 to support sufferers of this genetic condition and their families. The TSA was chosen by the students to be the beneficiary of their clothes collection donations.
Lara, one pupil at the school said to the Newham Mag:“I have now learned what helping charities means and I would like to help others in future”. Her classmate Alexandra added: “I would really love to do this again because helping others makes you feel better”
Tuberous sclerosis is a rare genetic condition that causes benign tumours to develop in the body, especially in the brain, heart, eyes, kidneys and lungs. Although not fatal in itself, tuberous sclerosis can cause complications such as epilepsy, learning disabilities, kidney disease and heart problems, and there is currently no cure.
If you are residing in London, UK. and wish to set up your own clothes collections for charity, please call the Clothes Aid helpline on 020 7288 8545 or visit www.clothesaid.co.uk
“Rags to riches” – The Newham Mag <Issue 313>, Newham Council (10 April 2015)
“ALL SIDES IN ALL WARS NEED TO STOP KILLING/ TARGETING CHILDREN.
God bless the children in war zones …”
Today’s photo was shared on Facebook by my cousin. A devout Sikh man silently protests against the killing of children in wars across the globe. His placard, written in thick black marker pen on a piece of paper, reads: “Please STOP killing children in wars created by grown men!! – @Khalsa_Aid “
Khalsa Aid is an international non-profit organisation and humanitarian charity founded in 1999 according to the Sikh principle of ‘seva‘ or selfless service onto others. Drawing inspiration from one of the original ten holy gurus of Sikhism, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Khalsa Aid follows his teaching that Sikhs should “recognise the entire human race as one”. The charity first saw action during the Kosovo war of 1999, when a call was answered to send volunteers to the stricken ethnic Albanian population there who were being persecuted by the Yugoslav army under then president Slobodan Milosevic. Two trucks and a van with aid donated by the Sikh community in the UK were driven all the way to Kosovo.
Since then, Khalsa Aid have helped the victims of wars and disasters in places as diverse as Syria, Haiti, Libya, Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to war and disaster, the charity’s volunteers, who often offer their assistance with immediate short notice, also take part in anti-drug programmes, art therapy and helping on water purifications projects.
Currently the conflicts in Syria and in Palestine has seen children suffer inexorably. In Syria, where numerous rebel factions are fighting a protracted war against the government, it has been estimated by the Oxford Research Group think tank that 11,000 young Syrians have perished in the three years since hostilities began. The situation has seen thousands of families flee into neighbouring countries where children are crammed into makeshift refugee camps with little food or educational facilities. Many have been traumatised by the horrors they witnessed, seeing family members slaughtered in front of them or the relentless sounds of bombing and gunfire. The deliberate targeting and summary of Syrian children, especially young boys, has become so perverse in its frequency, that one BBC journalist described the targeted torturing and killing as “a war on childhood”.
Meanwhile the recent flare-up of tension between Israel and Palestine has already seen whole families wiped out by missiles, while the latest phase of the decades-long tension began when three Israeli seminary students were abducted by an unknown militant group and murdered. In a retaliatory attack, a Palestinian teenager was abducted and then set on fire alive. As Israel mounts operations against Hamas rocket launching sites with the Gaza Strip, their disproportionate approach has seen children in Gaza bear the brunt. A recent incident that saw widespread condemnation was the shelling of four boys from the same family who were playing a cops-and-robbers style game on a beach.While enjoying a moment of peace from the sounds of falling bombs, a warship positioned in the Mediterranean sea caught sight of them and began firing. All four died, while in the aftermath the Israel military claimed that it thought the boys were militants launching an attack on them.
There are hundred of armed conflicts still going on, where children pay the ultimate price. Raped, murdered, abused, and even enlisted as soldiers themselves, war becomes a very horrible and soul-destroying place. For tens of thousands of children across the world, childhood isn’t fun and games. What should have beeen an idyllic time of happiness and smiles instead becomes one of tears and pain. No war ever begun because of a child, but it is they who suffer the most.
The “What’s Stopping You?” event was held by the Prince’s Trust at its head office in central London and saw young people from all over east London converge to learn about effective jobhunting and support in building their confidence. The event was sponsored by Barclays bank, which has regular callouts for graduates and apprentices from the east London area, which covers boroughs such as Hackney, Newham and Tower Hamlets. These boroughs have some of the highest rates of youth and general unemployment in the country.
The event offered a special Prince’s Trust Team programme running for twelve weeks. One graduate from nearby Tower Hamlets, who had sent out hundreds of applications but failed to secure a single interview, found the programme was exactly what she needed. In an interview with the Newham Recorder local paper, she commended the event for helping councillors and other decision-makers get to grips with the barriers facing young people seeking work. The Prince’s Trust Team programme teaches valuable skills in CV writing, interview techniques, work presentation and other means to search for a life-changing career.
Another member of the programme had been unemployed for three years after leaving school at the age of sixteen. She has lost all confidence in herself and was fast shedding all her hopes for the future. Thanks to the Prince’s Trust, she is now on course to starting a university course in medicine and hopes to become a doctor.
Dermot Finch, a director with the Prince’s Trust, echoed concerns that the rising tide of youth unemployment is damaging the hopes and aspirations of a whole generation, as the British job economy licks its wounds from the impact of a triple-dip recession following the infamous credit crunch of 2008. He noted that it was a particular problem for east Londoners who have left school, college or university recently and that young people need all the support they can find to source a job. Meanwhile, Tower Hamlets councillor Shafiqul Haque, the cabinet member in Tower Hamlets for jobs and skills, added that Tower Hamlets council was committed to helping young people fulfill their potential through finding work or professional opportunities such as self-starting a business. The councillor also commended the Prince’s Trust event for highlighting the issues of youth joblessness so that councils and charities can work together to reverse the trend.
The Prince’s Trust is a charity set up by HRH Prince Charles of the United Kingdom. It offers practical and financial support to disadvantaged young people, giving them the confidence and key skills needed to help them find gainful employment. Their services are primarily aimed at 13-30 year olds who have been in care, are long-term unemployed, been excluded from school or who have been in trouble with the police. Since 1976, the Trust has helped over 750,000 young people, with an extra 100 helped every day. The charity offers events and trips out for its users, as well as engagement activities, progression support and peer mentoring. It helps young people gain qualifications and offers programmes designed by and for young people. The charity relies heavily on donations from the public and benefactors.
More than one in four young people in Newham are struggling to find a job – a total of 27 per cent – while in Tower Hamlets 21 per cent are struggling, according to the Office for National Statistics as cited by the Newham Recorder report today. The Prince’s Trust quotes figures on their website that “around one in five young people in the UK are not in work, education or training. Youth unemployment costs the UK economy £10 million a day in lost productivity, while youth crime costs £1 billion every year“. Youth unemployment has been exacerbated by the recession and government austerity cuts and young people have borne the brunt of massive job cuts and layoffs in the private sector.
My blog sports a very unusual name (although perhaps not so unusual as blog names go). The name “Half-Eaten Mind” is uncharacteristic, a mind half-devoured by life and filled up with information. Useless and useful. In real life my blog name is derived from the expression “to eat someone’s mind” – which means to annoy or frustrate a person enough to make their head hurt.
The brain is the most essential organ in the human body. This wrinkly clump of neurons and cells is the body’s control centre, which all other vital organs are wholly dependent on. Its duties include maintaining the heart’s beating rhythm, ensuring blood is kept continuously circulating around the body. It controls the senses, which enables me to see the words flash up on the Microsoft Word document as it moves my fingers across the laptop keyboard, and to feel the breeze of my desk fan as it hits the sensitive hairs on the back of my neck. The brain creates your emotional state, even releasing chemicals that can lift or dampen your mood. It is our brains that have enabled us to be on the summit of the animal kingdom through at least intelligence and creativity alone.
But brains also have to bear a lot of strain, and sometimes for various reasons, things can go wrong. Mental illness is an issue that is often poorly understood by ordinary people, yet it is one of the most significant that society and especially sufferers have to deal with, often for a lifetime. According to the UK charity Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 4 people (25% of the population) have or will experience some form of mental illness, disorder or condition. About 10% of children will also experience mental illness during their formative years. Mental illness is an umbrella term covering everything from extreme stress and depression, through to paranoid schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Mainstream thought also classifies conditions such as those in the autistic spectrum and Down’s syndrome in this health category, although increasingly mental health activists and families of people with these conditions want them recognised as simply different forms of mental health rather than negative ‘diseases’.
Mental illness not only impacts sufferers and their loved ones, but all of society. Britain’s suicide rate figures show that British men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. Self-harming as a result of depression and low self-esteem currently affects 400 per 100,000 people in the UK, the highest rate in Europe. Only 1 in every 10 prisoners held in this country’s jails is completely free from a mental disorder. Indeed mental illness, and the discrimination and stigma that accompanies it, can ruin a person’s physical health, employment prospects, relationships and family life. It is estimated that a third of British families have at least one member with a mental health condition, and mental health issues are responsible for half of absenteeism cases in the UK workforce. Yet the National Health Service in the United Kingdom is believed to spend only 13% of its total health service expenditure on treating or aiding patients with mental health matters, according to its own NHS Choices news portal.
People with mental illnesses can and do face much stigma. Whether it may be playground taunts aimed at a dyslexic child who struggles to read aloud in class, or the man with Asperger’s syndrome who is dismissed from his job for being considered ‘weird’ by his co-workers, discrimination can only further complicate a life already made difficult by experiencing mental illness. Slasher/horror movies like Silence of the Lambs, give viewers a very incorrect idea that people with mental health issues are all dangerous knife-wielding maniacs. A lot of this stigma comes from ignorance. A lack of understanding of mental health conditions means people are written off as ‘stupid’, ‘psycho’, ‘messed-in-the-head’ or ‘slow’. Unfortunately, mud sticks and the labels are near impossible to shake off.
Rethink, is the operating name and a public awareness initiative of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, based in London. Despite the charity’s name, Rethink deals with general mental health and in particular has the motivation to challenge discrimination and increase awareness around mental health issues. Rethink also act as an outreach service for people with mental health issues themselves, enabling them to have a better quality or more independent standard of life.
It began forty years ago, when a man named John Pringle penned a letter to the Times newspaper, which was duly published by its editor. The letter, dated May 9th 1970 is reproduced in part below:
“The word “schizophrenia” is flung about today with flip facility, bobbing up in films, television scripts, literary criticism, even political articles, mostly as some sort of modish synonym for indecisiveness. But no one who has seen the acute medical condition would ever want to use it except in its correct context.
Schizophrenia is a fragmentation or disintegration of the ego, that central “I” or “me” which we all take for granted, unaware of the delicate balance of the elements inside us. According to the severity of the attack, the effects may range from mild disassociation of personality to a total withdrawal from human contact. Virtually nothing is established about its aetiology or its genetic, environmental or other predisposing factors, so no means exist for either prevention or permanent cure. It may strike at any age or in any walk of life, but there is a distressingly high incidence among young adults, including those of beyond average intelligence. The symptoms may shade into those of many other conditions so diagnosis can be difficult.
My son succumbed to an alleged “depression of adolescence”. In his second year at Oxbridge, where he had gone with a major open scholarship. He began cutting lectures and tutorials, shutting himself off in his rooms, and avoiding his friends. It did not occur to the college authorities that this behaviour could be due to anything other than idleness. They neither sent him to a doctor nor told us, the parents, but first took away his scholarship – then as that had no effect, sent him down – with 24 hours’ notice to us. They admitted – afterwards – that suicide notes had been found.
A family suddenly faced with this situation has, in my experience, two problems, and it is hard to say which is worst. The first is how best to cope with this strange, new member of the household whose moods alternate impossibly between sullen lying on his bed in the dark to wild fits of aggression, with social manners regressed to an almost animal level. The second problem is how to penetrate the obfuscating fog of hospital vagueness and evasiveness to obtain intelligible guidance on the first set of problems.
It is understandable that psychiatrists are chary of affixing a dreaded label too quickly, and in fact it was more than two years, after a round of several hospitals and a disastrous second attempt at Oxbridge, before a positive diagnosis of schizophrenia was made in my son’s case. But looking back, were those long months in which we could get no practical sense out of anybody, really necessary?
On almost any specific point on which advice was desperately needed – should he be persuaded to get up, dress, keep himself clean, encouraged to work or study, or just be left alone, which course is best for him? – we grew used to receiving from the doctors’ weary platitudes about showing “patience” or, from the hospital “welfare” side, surprised counter-questions – “Didn’t you ask the doctor that?” Failures in co-ordination and communication, seem to hang about the administrative management of schizophrenia almost like a grim parody of the condition itself.
A personal experience of this kind is inevitably subjectively coloured, but it has persuaded me to look into other cases with which I have no emotional link, and into the general question, and my conclusions are disturbing, particularly about the community provision for the victims of the condition.
Some schizophrenics make a partial recovery. Some stay in hospital for keeps. But thousands more in Britain (the statistics are unreliable) level off like my son at a low level of adaptation, physically fit and normal-looking to a casual outsider, but without application or anything that can be called will-power, and finding most inter-personal relations almost impossibly difficult. Drugs exist which palliate the grosser behavioural disturbances. They make life more tolerable for the sufferer and those around him, but it is hard to hit on a dosage which will not produce a somnolence as inhibiting to normal living as the excess emotion the drugs are designed to suppress or mask. Cases vary, but the very success of the drugs may only make it harder for the outside world to understand that behind the resulting apparent and outward normality the mental fragmentation is still there….
The so-called halfway house set up by a wealthy county close to London is run on strict disciplinarian lines. New arrivals have it rubbed into them that their first duty is to get a job and get out. Use of the premises is forbidden during the day, almost as though intended to make the inmates feel rejected and walk the streets aimlessly, a favourite schizophrenic way of passing the time.
Pressure on schizophrenics to obtain occupation may be right for their own sakes and to prevent deterioration, but hectoring is counter-productive and the ambience which brings out their best is more that of an oversized family than an institution. For this reason the most successful halfway houses are those set up by such admirable voluntary bodies as the Richmond Fellowship whose staff must by now have as much experience of schizophrenic rehabilitation as anyone in the country. But there are tragically few of them.
When all is said and done a hard core will remain, possibly running well into five figures for the United Kingdom, who will never be capable of fending completely for themselves. No social provision exists for them, so their future is bleak. As parents die off and other relatives find it impossible to cope, the inevitable trend is for them to drift downwards to the welfare state’s bottomest sump. “
It was this factual and heartfelt letter on the state of Britain’s schizophrenics and the rampant discrimination and hatred displayed for them in general society that spurned Pringle to set up the NSF, which in turn conceived Rethink.
John Pringle’s brave letter, written at a time when mental illness was a hushed-up taboo spoken about behind closed doors, where sufferers were pitied or pilloried in equal measure, helped bring about a new way of looking at mental health. This turnaround in thinking meant that those affected were supported and also supported each other mutually. Today, the Rethink charity supports almost 60,000 people with varying mental health situations to get through their crises and afford them a better degree of life. Just as importantly, Rethink’s users know they always have a voice and there is someone to turn to.
Rethink are the United Kingdom’s largest voluntary provider of mental health services. They offer:
Free factsheets and webpages for everyone affected by mental health issues, including information and support materials for families, carers and mental health professionals.
Give advice to the media and government agencies on mental health policies and improving mental health services.
150 support groups covering the range of the mental health spectrum.
Online and phone-based support and advice line
Influential and intense campaigning to address prejudice and stigma around mental health and to change government policy and societal viewpoints.
Membership facilities – anyone can join
Fundraising – like most charities, Rethink depends on the generosity of supporters to continue their work.
Rethink also actively engage in research around mental health conditions, in order to further understand the causes and cures. They work with scientists, producing evidence to develop mental health policies that will actually benefit people with mental health conditions and ensure that their findings make an impact upon decision-makers.
Rethink have been instrumental in campaigning against outdated legislation that forbids anyone with a mental health issue from becoming a company director or be involved in politics, or even participate in jury service. A new Mental Health (Discrimination) Bill is currently working its way through Parliament. People are encouraged to write to their Member of Parliament to support the bill becoming law and therefore enabling those with mental health issues to participate fully in society.
Their ’20 Years Too Soon’ campaign aims to end the situation where sufferers live on average two decades less than non-sufferers due to often preventable physical diseases. This includes a ‘Physical Health Charter’ – a necessity to improve the physical health of sufferers who may have difficulty with matters such as exercise and healthy eating.
Rethink also push for agenda changes within British politics to bring mental health issues and services to the forefront of Government health policy through grassroots campaigning and face-to-face dialogue with MPs. Their ‘no decision about me without me’ campaign gives people with mental health conditions more say in how they are diagnosed, helped and treated – at the same level as other users of health services. The proposals forwarded by Rethink are now being considered by the UK Department of Health.
Along with many other mental health charities in the UK, Rethink are playing a very important and multi-dimensional role in assisting people with mental health issues, supporting their voices and opinions and combatting stigma and ignorance. But it will be a long struggle before there is no more intolerance and those with mental health issues are accepted instead of feared.