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Why questioning Trump’s mental health has set us back years

Trump mental health

Psychiatrists in the US are questioning Donald Trump’s mental and emotional stability. By doing so they have broken a long-standing rule that experts shouldn’t ‘diagnose’ someone – including a public figure – unless they have evaluated them in person. They certainly shouldn’t announce it in public. It’s the latest big gun to be rolled out to attack a controversial president, but it is in danger of setting perceptions of mental health back several years.

Campaigners have long been trying to break the taboo surrounding mental health issues. Most people suffer problems with varying degrees at some point in their lives. After all, who and what is ‘normal’? In reality, struggles with mental health are the norm and the challenge has been to stop it being defined as ‘sick’, ‘peculiar’ or ‘mad’. We seemed to be getting there and then along came Trump.

A clown. A madman. A DANGEROUS madman. A power-crazed narcissist unfit to run a country. It’s very easy to call someone you don’t like names. But with this latest onslaught on Trump comes the label of ‘mental illness’. Labels are very neat and stick easily. They’re also very convenient for applying not just to one person but to a large group of people – the process of tarring with the same unsubtle brush. If you suffer from mental health issues then you’re now as ‘bonkers’ as Trump. You shouldn’t be trusted because you are unhinged. You might not be President of the United States but are you sure you can handle the responsibility of your desk job? Should your employers be worried? Maybe you should be sacked.

The trouble is that Trump has never had the world’s sympathy or affection. If Barack Obama had been perceived as displaying signs of mental illness then would it have been treated sensitively? I suspect so. If a man like Obama could suffer then anyone could – it’s normal and we could all have opened up about our own struggles without fear of judgement. But if Trump is now the poster boy of poor mental health then for god’s sake keep your mouth shut or you’ll be carted off with him.

I have no sympathy for Trump. He’s a disaster as a President because he’s not a politician. This is not about feeling sorry for him. What this is about is witnessing the giant leap backwards as psychiatrists and the media sling mental illness at someone as an insult, as a way to bring them down.

The worst thing US psychiatrists have done is not to break with their principles – it’s to forget their responsibility to everyone who suffers from mental issues to not perpetuate the stigma. And that is far more unethical.

So long hygge, hello lagom!

Hygge

Hold on to your woolly hats, there’s another trend on its way from our friends in Scandinavia. Conveniently, it arrives to coincide with everyone worrying about how to carry off cosy hygge when the weather warms up. Now there’s no need to sweat out the summer in furry blankets with your hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot chocolate. Out with the (c)old, in with the new. Say hello to lagom.

Translated from the Swedish, lagom means ‘just the right amount’. Not too much, not too little. It’s all about balance, self-restraint and living simply and sustainably. Clever people in the know describe it as a way of living, compared to hygge which is about creating and feeling moments in time. Lagom may be an easier, more universal concept to grasp than its snuggly, subjective counterpart. One person’s experience of hygge as they pull on woolly socks might be another person’s itchy, rash-inducing nightmare.

If you’ve bought into hygge (and I mean literally bought into – Scandi chic adds pounds to the price of any product), then how can you embrace lagom without breaking the bank? Here are some straightforward steps to help bring lagom into your life simply by de-hyggering the sh*t out of it.

Blankets

You won’t need faux reindeer skins in the summer and, let’s face it, hygge will have made a Brexit by next winter so don’t even bother storing them. Embrace sustainable lagom living and limit your impact on the environment. If you can’t turn your unwanted blankets into costumes for school Viking history days then – fleas permitting – your local cats’ home willingly accept them. (Forget the Danes, we all know that cats really invented hygge – let’s give it back to them.)

Nordic deer / moose / reindeer

Put anything with antlers out to pasture. If you can’t manage that then at least take the fairy lights off their horns. Think simple – these magnificent beasts were not created to bear the weight of the Blackpool illuminations. And remember, Christmas decorations are for Christmas, not just for life.

Quality time with friends

Ah, hygge, the ‘art of creating intimacy’. Throughout 2016 you have welcomed your friends into your home to sit on your white-washed wooden bench and share your expensive hot chocolate. If they’re not as middle class as you or tend to follow their own path rather than buy into expensive trends then they may not have returned the favour. Now’s the time to get your own back. Lagom is about moderation, so if your guests outstay their welcome then go ahead, tell them that you’ve had ‘just enough’ of them. It may mean setting aside your self-restraint but it will make everyone happy.

Candles

Burn them! Burn them all! When every candle is gone they will no longer drain precious oxygen and the equilibrium of the atmosphere in your home will be restored.

Be comforted – some things won’t change

Whether you go Swedish with lagom or Danish with hygge, you are without doubt destined for great happiness (although where was hygge when Hamlet needed it?). It seems that all our troubles can be solved with a dash of Scandi. Thankfully, lagom presents precisely the same opportunities to be smug as hygge did. You’re just doing it in a less wintery way.

Of course, as with hygge inspired products, you can also expect to pay over the odds for anything giving off a mere hint of lagom. Warning: following a trend of moderation can be expensive and involve a lot of indulgent props if you want to do it right and really impress your friends. There’s just about the right amount of irony in that.

Period policies : a woman’s friend or foe?

Period policy at work

It seems that a forward-thinking company in Bristol is planning to put in place a ‘period policy’. It would to allow women to take time off work during their period, thus boosting  overall productivity and efficiency. The director of the company claims it will help synchronise work with the body’s natural cycles.

*splutters tea over laptop*

It’s all very admirable. Unless you think it’s just plain balls.

Whatever next? Paid leave for bouts of hysteria? Pregnant women being turned away from the office and forced into confinement until their child is delivered into the arms of a wet nurse? Tying underperforming female colleagues to a ducking stool? Well goodbye 21st century and hello Dark Ages.

I have several problems with something that proposes “a radically new model of the menstrual cycle as an asset for your entire organisation”. (Just imagine if that popped up as the title of a Powerpoint presentation at work!)

1. Yawn, another stigmatising nod to de-stigmatisation

Yes, periods can bloody hurt. They can leave you doubled up, nauseous and feeling like you’re at death’s door. Of course they’re not an illness and we all know how women can still roller skate, swim, ride bikes and dance in tight-fitting white lycra when the decorators are in, don’t we? Far from de-stigmatising periods, the special treatment proposed by the ‘period policy’ is just that: special treatment – and not in the positive sense. It seems to be yet another way to demarcate women and highlight their ‘difference’ in the workplace.

Please let’s not lumber women with another ‘weakness’ that sets them one step behind their non-menstruating, non-child-bearing colleagues. But, I hear you cry, the article says that the “spring section of the cycle immediately after a period is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual” – surely we can harness that? In reality, would a business really wait for your period to pass?

“Oh, don’t talk to Beryl – she’s got her period. Give that important client to someone else. Beryl’s just not that creative when she’s on the blob … No, the client won’t wait. But don’t worry, there will be another less important client for Beryl when she’s back to her normal self. Bless her.”

2. Isn’t this unfair on men and anyone else who regularly feels a bit yucky?

Most men don’t do the period thing (and obviously not in the literal sense). I can clear my husband from a room by tossing an unused, wrapped tampon at him – they’re like kryptonite to his Spider-Man. Integrating menstruation into the workplace (another Powerpoint title for you there) isn’t going to happen. Why expect men to suddenly start feeling comfortable talking about menstruation around the water cooler? From a woman’s perspective, I wouldn’t want everyone knowing or assuming I’d got my period. Not because of any stigma but because it’s personal. In the same way I wouldn’t want the whole office knowing if my bowel movements had been a bit loose that morning. Most importantly, I’d hate for people to feel they had to treat me differently.

Interestingly, an article in the Telegraph last year reported on a study which found than 25% of British men believe they have a monthly ‘man period’. Should they be let in on the ‘period policy’ too then? Whilst we’re at it, I’d also like to put my hand up for a ‘migraine policy’ please. And perhaps a ‘my kids have been up all night puking policy’. It’s only fair.

3. Shouldn’t it be about better workplace policies generally?

This shouldn’t be about new-fangled workplace policies. If someone feels they cannot take some time off when they feel genuinely unable to perform at work, then there is a problem with the culture of their company. If “when women are having their periods they are in a winter state, … they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies” then sort out flexible working policies and let them work from home beneath a humongous hot water bottle. If employers treat their employees well and meet needs where they can, then they will be rewarded with loyalty, productivity and creativity – it doesn’t matter one jot whether the employee is male or female.

I’m sure some women would say I’ve completely missed the point. Perhaps the article caught me at the wrong time of the month. Maybe my body temperature was 0.5 degrees too high to be able to appreciate how truly bloody brilliant the idea of a ‘period policy’ is. I hope for the sake of that business in Bristol that their female employees aren’t all on the same cycle. As the tumbleweed blows through the office they’ll have time to discuss the wisdom of the policy, if they can make themselves heard over the sound of men rubbing their hands together in glee.

Confessions of a spanking good half term

Chips photo

As I get more and more school holidays under my belt, I feel less of a need to justify why we didn’t conquer Mount Everest or deliver newborn lambs in half term week. Bloggers write an awful lot about their guilt in order to seek reassurance from their peers and be a Better Parent. Mostly it’s self-flagellation. It’s not about the well-being of the kids: it’s about measuring yourself on the yardstick of perfection that is waved in our faces by the internet and social media. It’s time to grab that yardstick and snap it in half.

Let me tell you this: what you’re about to read wasn’t written to make myself feel better. It was written to make you feel better – to let you know that it’s okay. Really, it’s alright if you didn’t take a photo of your kids frolicking in snowdrops and apply Instagram’s Vintage filter with a smidgeon of a vignette. (Vintage because that makes life look retro and kids were so much happier in the olden days when they could race across open fields and only return home for tea, etc, etc, blah blah blah.)

It’s time to stop using other people’s Facebook timelines as a must-do-or-I’ve-failed guide to activities to cram into the school holidays. Your children will not be disadvantaged in their future life if you choose iPad time over roller skating the Inca Trail. Another episode of Paw Patrol will not cast them onto the educational scrapheap. (Many apps are highly educational and played alongside Candy Crush and Panda Pop will balance your child out as comfortably mediocre.)

Here’s a fancy infographic for you. It’s the first time I’ve done one and I can reassure you that no children were harmed in the time it took me to do it. They were not knocking over pans of boiling water or sticking their fingers in plug sockets as they revelled unsupervised.

half-term-infographic-copy

There you have it. I’ve done my little bit to make parents feel moderately better. (And that’s only half term – just think of what you won’t achieve in the summer holidays!) If I were to now fall off the sofa and die, the old Cheerio in the rug that I inhale with my last breath would be utterly worth it.

The Syria crisis: just imagine if it was you – #SaveSyriasChildren

refugee crisis

Surely no one can fail to be affected by recent images in the media of the desperate plight of refugees trying to reach Europe and safety. Terrible as these images are to see, they force the rest of the world to recognise that this isn’t only a political or economic issue – it is about real people. Ordinary people who had homes, families and livelihoods are at the heart of this terrible situation. If you think about it then, yes, it could have been you. And if it was, how would you feel if those who could help hesitated or simply didn’t help?

For me, the crisis in Syria isn’t just about a foreign country. It is about the people I met there. In 2002 I spent two weeks in Syria visiting the major cities and towns and, of course, ancient Palmyra. It is a country I rate as one of my favourites, where the constant refrain of “You must come back when you have children!” led me to believe that one day I would return. Sadly, it is now unlikely that this will be possible in my lifetime and if my children ever get there it will be a very different place.

What strikes home when I watch the news is that the lives of the Syrians I met have been turned upside down. Sadly, I have no idea if they are alive or dead. Is the hotel where we stayed in Aleppo still standing? Most likely not. But what happened to the hotel owner whose sideline in pharmacy I will be forever grateful for after I fell ill and he supplied the drugs that brought me back from what felt like the brink of death? Or the hotel staff who brought me rice and potatoes for days when I couldn’t get out of bed? These were people who didn’t hesitate to help me when I needed it.

At every stop we encountered people who made our visit special. There was the family in Hama who welcomed us to their table and shared a feast of pomegranates. What happened to them? Hama had already experienced a terrible massacre in 1982 when an uprising against the government was quashed by the then president Hafez al-Assad. Some sources put the death toll at as many as 40,000. It was something no one dared speak of in Hama and there was no evidence or recognition of it ever having happened. Back in 2002, the men in the photograph must have thought that they had already seen their fair share of bloodshed.

Syria crisis

What happened to the amazing guide who showed us around the funerary towers in Palmyra? Was he there to witness the devastation when IS blew them up today?

Syria crisis

Then there are of course the children who in 2002 thought they had their whole life ahead of them. Despite living under a dictatorship it was at least a time of peace with the prospect of a future. It is horrific to consider what these children must have seen in the last few years and the fear they have endured. Are they still there? Have they ended up in the camps in the countries bordering Syria? Are they currently trying to board a train in Budapest?

Syria crisis

As an individual it may feel as if there’s little you can do. However, there is lots that you can do from the comfort of your own home. Please don’t turn a blind eye. Do something to help. Anything. Whatever you decide, don’t choose apathy.

You can donate to Save the Children’s Syria Crisis Appeal online here or to donate £5 simply text SYRIA to 70008. (You can find Save the Children’s terms and conditions here.)