Michael Fallon’s plan to introduce cadet units into state schools isn’t a real solution to the UK’s education crisis

After seven years of Tory rule and the brutal ravages of austerity, we are a country in desperate need of a clear programme to boost social mobility. Fallon’s laughable plan is not the answer to our deeply segregated school system.

First published by the Independent

Today’s announcement from Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon that 31 new cadet units have been approved in state schools is yet another example of the Conservative Party’s short-sighted and disingenuous approach to tackling inequality in Britain.

After seven years of Tory rule and the brutal ravages of austerity, we are a country in desperate need of a clear programme to boost social mobility. Fallon’s laughable plan is not the answer to our deeply segregated school system.

Speaking at the Albion Academy, Fallon said: “Cadets help instil values of discipline and loyalty. They develop leadership skills and confidence. For too long cadet units have been the preserve of independent schools but thanks to this Conservative Government more children in state schools will reap the benefits.”

t might be news to Fallon, but children who attend independent schools are not 2.5 times as likely to go to a top university than their state school counterparts simply because they had access to a cadet unit.

Surely if the Conservative government was truly committed to matching the advantages of a private education, the conversation would be around reducing class sizes, ensuring access to nutritious breakfasts and lunches, raising aspirations and preparing children for Russell Group universities.

In the UK, our education system is one of the most socially divided in the developed world. The reading age of children from disadvantaged backgrounds lags a shocking three years behind that of their wealthier peers. While only 7 per cent of the general population went to a private school, fee-paying school leavers are vastly overrepresented in top professions including law, politics, media and the financial sector.

Private institutions are finishing schools for our future MPs and CEOs, and while a private school education isn’t an indicator of intelligence or academic prowess, attendees are five times as likely to attend Oxbridge as those who didn’t attend a fee-paying school. And I would bet my bank balance that this isn’t because they can enjoy a weekend of mountain biking or archery with their cadet unit.

As more middle class parents decide that local state schools are “undesirable” after poor Ofsted results, (Ofsted is a highly-politicised, Tory-introduced and controversial departmental process in itself), they ensure that their offspring are accepted into the nearest grammar or business-backed academy, or pay to go private.

Every parent wants the best for their child, but those with the money for school fees or private coaching ahead of the 11+ are automatically able to place their kids in a more advantageous position. As children from better-off families are “skimmed” out of state schools, we see a lack of socio-economic diversity in many comprehensives up and down the country.

To boost social mobility and help disadvantaged children reach their full potential, we should address the Tory cuts that have widened the chasm of inequality in our schools. Cuts to Sure Start centres, cuts that force parents to crowdfund for whiteboards, computers and crossing attendants, and cuts that leave comprehensives with no choice but to make their school days shorter must be reversed as a matter of priority.

Perhaps private schools, raking vast amounts of money in yearly fees, should be forced to give up their charitable status and be expected to pay the full rate of tax? Just an idea.

The Conservative Party is incapable of clearing up the mess they’ve made of education. Even their summer election pledge to inject £4bn into education was found by the National Audit Office to actually result in 9,000 more schools facing extreme cuts.

Fallon’s plan to introduce cadet units into state schools isn’t a real solution, or even a flimsy sticking plaster. It’s just another example of the Tories’ inability to recognise the true causes of educational inequality.

Illumination 13 – Jasmine York

“I overheard a conversation about domestic abuse which was quite triggering for me. I left the room and wrote a poem in 3 minutes. It’s my favourite poem I’ve ever written.”

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Jasmine York, as told to Harriet Williamson.

My name is Jasmine, I’m a graduate and I’m currently spending time adjusting to post-student life. I’m blogging quite frequently now, mainly about what it’s like to live with a physical chronic illness, but also touching on other things like mental health and relationships.

I’m driven by empathy. I openly write about my mental and physical health and the responses are so enlightening and empowering. The awareness I’m spreading allows others in my situation to feel less alone, but it’s so therapeutic for me to be able to vent and for someone to engage in that.

I’ve recently explored illustration and painting, mainly because I’ve realised I need more outlets for my emotions. I’m struggling, but trying nonetheless, to find multiple creative outlets that can be calming, diffusing but also engaging. Sometimes I want these outlets to be private and others public. I’m experimenting at the moment and I’m viewing this experimentation as an act of self-care

I’m struggling with depression and anxiety, and a psychiatrist I met with has flirted with the idea of saying I have a mild personality disorder. I suffer from intrusive thoughts very regularly, and often have battles with myself about self-harm. This is where my creative outlets come in. I need them to be as fulfilling, relentless and distracting as self-harm.

I feel emotions intensely and this is the main thing I struggle with. There is no grey area. Either I’m unequivocally happy or inconsolably sad, so when I switch from one mood to the other, which can happen quite rapidly, I end up undermining and invalidating both sensations.

This happens mainly when I’m happy. If I experience a rush of happiness – because that’s how it is, it’s never just contentment, it’s always a rush – then I talk myself down. I try to calm it to a manageable level of happiness in order to control the inevitable crash. It never works.

I need to do something productive every day. It’s easy for me to get into a cycle of depression, spend days in bed and function on auto-pilot. But this is dysfunctional and usually allows tasks and errands to pile up, and this only adds fuel to the fire. Making lists to keep a track of things that needs to be done helps a lot. Talking to myself and ensuring that I’m allowed to make mistakes is also very encouraging.

Things like blogging help me a lot, mainly because the support I receive from it can be encouraging. I also reflect on my behaviour a lot. It’s easy to stay in bed all day and tell myself, “it’s ok, this is self-care.” But sometimes it isn’t. This awareness of the subtlety of depression is very important to me, and challenging it helps my recovery.

Summoning this awareness can be very powerful, even if I don’t act on it. Just the realisation that I’m going through a tough time, or a relapse, empowers my mind, and shows me that I have some level of control.

Another thing that’s helpful for me is trying to understand the problem. What is making me upset today? Is it because I am fed up of being chronically ill? Is it because I have to live at home, depending on my family? These questions are loaded, but they are helpful on two levels.

Firstly, identifying the problem can be reassuring. This helps my anxiety – “it’s ok, brain, I’ve found the problem” sort of thing. The second level follows this. Once I’ve figured out what the matter is, I can then try to think of solutions. Maybe I won’t act on it immediately. Maybe I’ll understand what’s making me sad but I don’t have the strength to confront it that day. But one day I will.

 

My mental health definitely has an impact on my creative process. Sometimes when I’m overcome with emotion I can get on my laptop and furiously bash out a blog post about how I’m feeling. I overheard a conversation about domestic abuse which was quite triggering for me. I left the room and wrote a poem in 3 minutes. It’s my favourite poem I’ve ever written.

I think depression, depending on how you look at it, it either slips up or grants you access to some of your most suppressed emotions. I’ve said it before, depression can be an unstoppable force for creativity. It can be such a drive.

A lot of my anxiety is unexplained. I genuinely have days where I’m so on edge I can’t leave the house. I’ve missed shifts at work. I would get so close too, sometimes right to the front door, and then collapse. Sometimes it’s like a hidden trapdoor beneath me opens up and if I’m lucky, the magic door leads me into a long and lovely creative process. My friend often says “it’s a story” when something crazy/upsetting/challenging thing happens to me. It’s true. “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”

Don’t stop creating. Don’t listen to that voice in your head that tells you your creativity is invalid, or that you aren’t good enough. Harness what you’re battling, utilise that intense emotion and try to express that somehow.

It doesn’t have to be something you’re proud of, but whatever you create when your mental health is suffering, is an example of strength. Be proud of your creativity and what you can achieve. And most importantly, be creative for you. You deserve it.

gardenofjasmine.co.uk // @junoyork

How to help a friend who’s going through a shit time with their mental health

Compassion and understanding are key. Go forth, help your friends and don’t be a dick.   

Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Unfortunately, mental health is still surrounded by a great deal of stigma and misinformation. Poor understanding of mental health problems leaves sufferers feeling isolated and too embarrassed or apprehensive to seek help.

Statistically, every single one of us will know someone who suffers from a mental illness. If you’ve got a friend who’s having a hard time with their mental health, it’s often difficult to know what the best thing to do is.

I’ve created this list in the hope that it could be helpful because I’ve been let down and abandoned by friends, bullied by a group of people I thought were my friends and I’ve felt completely alone with my mental illness. There are ways you can help a friend who’s struggling without putting your life on hold or inadvertently making things worse for them.

Listen to them

This really is the biggest thing you can do to help. Sit down with your friend, open your ears and listen. If they want to talk about how they feel, listen without judgement or blame. Mental health is not the fault of anyone. It doesn’t matter if they make what you consider to be ‘bad choices’ or they use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate. No one brings a mental illness upon themselves.

Ask them what you can do for them. This is important because they might have specific things they need help with that you may not have considered. It’s often better to ask them if they want you to offer them advice, rather than coming out with unsolicited suggestions that they might already considered.

Preaching, rehashing mistakes you think they’ve made or saying ‘I told you so’ are all very unhelpful.

Don’t leave them alone unless that’s what they’ve specifically asked you to do 

This can be a tricky one, but as a general rule of thumb, if your friend feels abandoned or like you’re punishing them for struggling with their mental health, it’s going to make the situation indescribably worse. If you don’t know what to say, just listen. If you don’t know what to do, ask them. Feeling awkward or confused or scared is totally normal, but if you end up giving someone who’s suffering the cold shoulder because you feel a bit weird about the situation, it’s not going to help anyone.

Obviously, a lot depends on how much you can personally cope with and whether you feel that being there for your friend is negatively impacting on your own mental health. This is particularly pertinent if you also suffer from mental health issues.

Boundaries are important in any healthy relationship but you should be clear about these. For example, if you can’t take a day off work to look after a friend, tell them so, tell them why and arrange to see them in the evening once work has finished. You’re still being there for them, but you can’t be available 24/7.

Suggest low-risk activities.

Whether it’s watching a happy film (a comedy or a kids film is often a good choice), getting a takeaway delivered and eating together or sitting down with a cup of tea, ask them whether any of those options take their fancy.

It’s probably a good idea to avoid crowded places and alcohol. However, some people find it easier to open up about what’s been bothering them over a drink. It really depends on the situation, your friend’s mental health history and the severity of the crisis they’re having.

Make yourself available for errands and boring household tasks

One of the most helpful things when people are struggling is to offer to do a couple of chores for them. This can be washing up and wiping their kitchen surfaces, walking their dog or going to Tesco and picking up comfort food if they’re not feeling up to leaving the house. If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, the prospect of blitzing your home or doing a shop can seem like an insurmountable obstacle.

I ended up hand-washing a bath full of my friend’s clothes because her washing machine was broken and she was having a really tough couple of days. Chores and responsibilities were piling up and seemed completely overwhelming, but because I was able to get the washing out of the way for her, the other tasks she had to complete seemed more manageable.

It always helps to have a living space that’s not completely cluttered or full of takeaway boxes – for many people, a messy environment just reminds them of how they’re not coping at full capacity and reflects their headspace.

Don’t gossip about their mental health or the situation they’re in to other friends 

It’s tempting to do this if you want advice or need support. Try asking your friend first. If they’re comfortable with you seeking advice from one other person, that’s great. But if they’re not, don’t tell your mates about what they’re going through.

No one wants to feel like they’re being talked about, and if you’re really struggling, your mind can go to dark places imagining what people are saying about you.

There are lots of great online and phone resources you can access if you’re caring for someone else, including Mind, YoungMinds, the 111 number, Rethink and the Samaritans.

If the situation becomes more serious and your friend is threatening to harm themselves, has self-harmed or is planning to commit suicide, ringing an ambulance, the NHS crisis team or the 111 number is often the only thing you can do.

Encourage them to seek professional help

Most of us (myself included) are absolutely not trained in mental health support. We’re just trying to do our best in the situation that presents itself. You should always encourage a friend to access mental health services, whether that’s making an appointment with their GP, making an emergency GP appointment, going to an out-of-hours GP service, attending a therapist, ringing the Samaritans or the crisis team or, in extreme situations, going to A&E.

Don’t tell them to ‘just get over it’

If it was that easy, they already would be over it! Mental health problems don’t have quick fix solutions. You don’t decide to me mentally ill and you don’t decide to not be mentally ill anymore. Directives like ‘pull yourself together’ and ‘snap out of it’ are useless and damaging. They really won’t help, as much as you might want someone to change their mindset and stop feeling so bad.

Remember that they’re still the same person

There’s nothing weak or weird about someone who’s struggling with a mental health problem. Your friend hasn’t become a different person. You still share your good times, your memories, your in-jokes and your experiences. Treat them as your friend. Don’t ‘other’ them.

By bringing normality into this situation, you show the person that you still value them as the friend they are and that their mental health problems don’t make them an outcast or a stranger to you.

Compassion and understanding are key. Go forth, help your friends and don’t be a dick.

Two years on from his election, I support Jeremy Corbyn because he continues to voice inconvenient truths

Like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally altered the discourse of British politics. In 2015, he stood for Labour leader on a clear anti-austerity platform. He tore the wool from our eyes regarding the supposed “inevitability” of brutal welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

First published by The Independent, 12th September 2017

Two years ago today, Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. He won a landslide victory with 59.9 per cent of first-preference votes in the first round of voting, despite securing the lowest number of nominations from fellow MPs. Corbyn received more votes than any of the other candidates (Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall) put together.

Since then, Corbyn has been transformed from an unkempt backbencher, quietly voting on the right side of history over Iraq, LGBT marriage, climate change and tuition fees, into a true statesman. He has proved himself more than worthy as Leader of the Opposition, combating the jeering and bullying behaviour of Tory MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions with his characteristic dignity and control.

During the election campaign, he managed to clearly highlight Theresa May’s contempt for the public she’s expected to serve, simply by doing what he does best – connecting with people. On each campaign stop, he spent time talking to people of all ages, from all backgrounds and walks of life, unfiltered and with clarity and compassion.

As Theresa May’s presidential-style election campaign descended into an embarrassing farce during the general election she promised not to call and then did, and as she refused to even debate Corbyn face-to-face, young people and first-time voters gained a renewed sense of purpose and energy. The disillusioned and the disinterested were revitalised by the prospect of a Labour government. The tireless campaigning of Labour activists all over Britain saw Labour take back historically Conservative seats like Canterbury and gain 40 per cent of the popular vote.

The next morning, many seasoned political pundits were forced to acknowledge that they hadn’t been listening to voters and they hadn’t been listening to the alternative Jeremy Corbyn offered. They’d been stuck in the past, insisting that there was no way Corbyn could be elected while ignoring the basic facts about actual voters in 2017.

In the aftermath of the devastating terror attacks in Manchester and London this year, Corbyn was brave and principled enough to acknowledge the inconvenient truth that Britain’s support of foreign wars is inextricably linked to the rise in terrorism at home. His sobering assessment that Conservative cuts to policing have left us vulnerable was worth more than any empty platitudes from Theresa May, who presided over these cuts as Home Secretary.

Like it or not, Jeremy Corbyn has fundamentally altered the discourse of British politics. In 2015, he stood for Labour leader on a clear anti-austerity platform. He tore the wool from our eyes regarding the supposed “inevitability” of brutal welfare cuts and benefit sanctions.

Theresa May: Corbyn continually asks for money to be spent on “this, that and the other”

He exposed austerity as the ideological decision to place the burden of the global banking crisis and subsequent recession on the shoulders of the most vulnerable people in our society, and presented a fully costed, economically viable manifesto in the 2017 general election that would eradicate the need for cruel and unjust austerity measures.

Jeremy Corbyn might not be in Number 10 yet, but I’m proud to have voted for him in two leadership elections and for a Labour government under him in this year’s general election. Britain needs a leader with Corbyn’s principles, his vision and his unwavering sense of compassion.

Forget bigoted throwbacks like Jacob Rees-Mogg, who uses Catholicism to justify the idea that women who have been raped shouldn’t get abortions.

Corbyn is our Prime Minister in waiting. Bring on the next general election.

“These issues are high up Corbyn’s agenda”: Maxine Peake on the crisis in social housing

“We need to start valuing people who live on estates and valuing the estates themselves. Bricks and concrete don’t cause societal problems – they’re caused by inequality.”

First published by New Statesman, 25th August 2017

“I believe that a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn could go some way towards solving this issue. That’s one of the reasons we’re behind him, he’s a viable option and these issues are high up on his agenda.”

Maxine Peake is discussing the housing crisis, and in particular the decimation of social housing that is the subject of a new documentary she is narrating.

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle tackles the causes of Britain’s social housing crisis and gives a voice to tenants whose homes are threatened by action from local councils and private developers.

The stats are starkly revealing. In 1980, 40 per cent of Britain’s population lived in social housing. Today, less than 8 per cent do, and around 1.7 million people are stuck on waiting lists.

“Areas in London have just become full of Airbnb rentals,” says Peake. “There’s no community because people don’t actually live there, they just stay for two weeks, four weeks, a couple of days.

“People think, ‘I can make some money here’ and that just feeds into the sense that housing is about ‘oh, what can I gain?’ The whole purpose of the home becomes lost if it’s seen as an assert to trade on.”

Directed by Paul Sng (Sleaford Mods: Invisible Britain), Dispossession takes the viewer on a whistlestop tour of housing policy from the end of the Second World War right up to the present day. It lays the blame for the depletion of social housing stock at the door of both Conservative and New Labour governments.

“Margaret Thatcher’s a major part of why this country’s in the terrible state that it is, but you can also blame Tony Blair,” says Sng. “In the 13 years of New Labour, fewer houses were built than under Thatcher’s government, because Blair and Gordon Brown ran with Thatcher’s policy.

“It’s now obvious that the market economics that Thatcher forcefully pushed through, the absolute faith in the market to deliver housing – it hasn’t worked.”

Perhaps most disturbingly, Dispossession highlights a deliberate strategy on the part of local councils to allow social housing stock to fall into disrepair, so they can embark on costly “regeneration” projects with private developers. These have seen estates bulldozed and tenants forced from their homes.

Communities are broken apart and people are moved out of the area they may have lived in their whole lives, away from family, friends and support networks. For vulnerable people, this can be an act of terrible cruelty.

Sng spent many years of his young life in social housing, and says “poverty porn” programmes such as Benefits Street are created to make viewers “feel good about themselves” – and to reinforce negative perceptions of council tenants. Dispossession includes interviews with social housing tenants in London, Glasgow and Nottingham.

Eileen and Micheal O’Keeffe have lived on the Cressingham Gardens estate in Tulse Hill for 41 years, but their home is now under threat from Lambeth Council. They describe attending the weddings of their neighbours’ children, leaving the viewer in no doubt that the sense of community and relationships they’ve built have been formed organically over many, many years. These community bonds can’t be quickly rebuilt elsewhere, should (as they fear) Lambeth raze the estate and sell the highly lucrative land to private developers. (Lambeth Council say that the proposal for Cressingham Gardens is for the estate to be regenerated by Homes for Lambeth, which will be wholly-owned by Lambeth Council and any plans would replace all council properties on Cressingham Gardens, with new homes at council-level rents.)

Dispossession feels very necessary, particularly in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It approaches the national scandal of social housing with extraordinary precision and compassion. With an estimated 4,134 people living on the streets in Britain – while 200,000 properties have stood empty for more than six months – it’s clear that our approach to housing needs a radical overhaul.

“I’m supposedly a successful actress and I couldn’t buy until I was 32, and I had to move back up north, because I wanted a house,” says Peake. “This is over 11 years ago, and the situation has become so much worse since then. It’s the younger generation I really feel for.

“Everyone needs to see this film. It’s a documentary about where were are socially and it’s as important as I, Daniel Blake.”

According to Sng, his film is about value. “Not about property values, but about who is valued. If Grenfell can tell us anything, it’s that the people who lived there were not valued by the council, but that’s not a phenomenon that’s just confined to Kensington and Chelsea.

“We need to start valuing people who live on estates and valuing the estates themselves. Bricks and concrete don’t cause societal problems – they’re caused by inequality.”

Dispossession: The Great Social Housing Swindle will be screening in selected theatres from August to November.

Illumination 12 – Carl Rosier Jones

“PTSD sufferers are normally strong-willed individuals who would never want to show any weakness. This is why military and front line emergency services professionals try to hide or ignore it for fear of ruining careers.”

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Carl Rosier Jones, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m a serving Detective, and my creative side comes from my writing. Back in 2011, I was shot at 6 times whilst at work. I managed to bury it for 3 years, but since 2014 I have been diagnosed as suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

My drive to help others in a similar position has inspired me write about my experiences, and I’ve published a book called “The Caveman Principles” which explores how to understand and deal with stress.

PTSD is a condition that can catch anyone out, regardless of their profession or mental strength. As everyone is been brought up in a different way with different life experiences, the way we react to life events can vary greatly from person to person.

PTSD normally happens when someone has experienced a life-changing experience (normally it is a life-threatening one because it makes us think we are no longer safe). For me I was doing my job and making what I thought was a straightforward arrest but the man pulled out a gun and shot at me 6 times. I was not expecting that!

My PTSD is linked to this incident, and every time I see a gun used in the commission of a criminal offence, my PTSD asserts itself. Guns as a rule do not bother me, seeing them in the hands of military or police officers is fine, but add the criminal element and I go to pieces.

It might be good to explain how PTSD affects me (everyone has slightly different ways symptoms). When my PTSD is triggered (even writing this is causing me some discomfort), it hits me in the chest first. It starts like an ice cold drop then it quickly spreads and spreads, and once I feel this there is nothing I can do.

I lose concentration, stumbling over words and unable to focus. I’m forgetful and unable to hold a complex conversation. My stomach starts churning, getting more and more upset and very loud. The shakes come in like waves, gentle tremors until my hands need to be sat on. These are just some of the obvious physical ones, but no one can see the things going on in the mind. I have traumatic flashbacks to the (or an associated) incident. I get a feeling of not being in my own body and of numbness.

All of this is exhausting and after an attack, I’m wiped out and have nothing left in the tank. Over the last few years, I’ve seen my alcohol consumption increase, I’ve had no interest in looking after myself, with no control of any food intake and no interest in personal fitness.

Most of the time sufferers don’t want to own up to our condition, and we get deluded about what’s happening to our bodies and minds. Ignoring the issue means that we don’t have to deal with the trauma, and that’s a very human response – to hope that something will go away if we ignore it.

I’d been like a zombie, ignoring the issue and believing there was nothing wrong. PTSD sufferers are normally strong-willed individuals who would never want to show any weakness. This is why military and front line emergency services professionals try to hide or ignore it for fear of ruining careers.

After a few emotional breakdowns I had to take action, admit to myself that I was not ‘alright’ and tell people about it. That was the scary part, managers saying: “I don’t get it” helped like a punch in the gut. These first few steps were the hardest and most upsetting.

I needed to understand the condition so I looked, researched and trained in a few therapies; CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) and a few others, but in my opinion they were a ‘one size fits all’ solution and did not work for me.

With my PTSD, if I try to control everything, it only makes the condition worse. I had to make myself relax about it, accept help and take a less operational role so I could get my mind back. I tried counselling but everyone wanted to use CBT, and I’d already found out that it didn’t work for me. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) and re-living techniques all failed as well.

I’m still working through things but I know now that I need to take time for myself and try to avoid my triggers. As a Detective it can be hard, but who said life was easy?

There are good days where I can focus and write and others when all I want to do is ‘other’ things. The ability to lose yourself in doing nothing for an entire day is part of the condition.

Because of the person I am, everything that I’ve learnt and experienced I want to use to help others. I wanted to find a way to explain and guide people when they needed it. I knew from my own experience what I needed and when I couldn’t find it. So I decided to plug the gap, by writing my own book to help others. The Caveman Principles are simple, straightforward and use characters and metaphors to get the message over, without it being preachy or heavy. Reading it shouldn’t be a chore, and I’ve purposely included humour and left out any ‘big words’.

I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to fit in writing my book and running a personal business around my work, by working shifts and only accepting commitments for my business when I’m free. If I’m honest, without writing the book and being booked to speak at seminars and events, I don’t think I’d be as far along the road to recovery as I am.

Speaking is my biggest passion and being able to tell my story, letting people know that PTSD and trauma aren’t so bad and asking them to accept it as part of everyday life is really rewarding. I introduce my Caveman Principles and market myself as the Caveman Speaker, which brings a smile to everyone’s face and ensures that they don’t forget me or my message.

Don’t fight it and never ignore it. If you do managed to accept PTSD, make sure that you can stand in the mirror, looking at yourself and see a smile.

carlrosierjones.com // Facebook author page // Amazon

Illumination 11 – Kate Sawyer

“I think it’s difficult sometimes to see that extroverts are struggling with mental illness, possibly that is why hidden mental health issues are so rife for those in the creative industries.”

‘Illumination’ is a new series that explores the relationship between mental illness and creativity. I’m interviewing people engaged in art, music, theatre and many more creative avenues and inviting them to open up about their mental wellbeing and the way their struggles with mental health may inform their work. 

If any of the issues discussed in this interview affect you, there are lots of online resources that can help. Visit Mind or the Mental Health Foundation for more information. Alternatively, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123 at any time of the day or night.

Words by Kate Sawyer, as told to Harriet Williamson.

I’m Kate Sawyer, an actor and producer who has recently revived her writing and directing pursuits too. So I guess you could say I have a portfolio career- yuk! I just do lots of creative things putting one foot in front of the other and if that doesn’t make me enough money to live in London I also waitress!

I was about five years out of my acting training at Webber Douglas (yes, I went to Webber Douglas before it closed, I am fully aware that means you can calculate my age..!) before I realised my deep dissatisfaction with the progress I was making in my career could be relieved with making my own work. I set up The Curious Room, my production company, exactly a decade ago and adapted, directed and produced my first show. This was adaptation of Anglea Carter’s radio play ‘Vampirella’ for the stage. I say stage – I found a back room of a pub in Brixton that I had read used to be one of Brixton’s many music halls, sweet talked the bar manager, got myself some builder’s uplighters, fold out chairs then hired some talented actors and went for it. It was a success and I caught the bug of making my own work.

Over the last ten years I have produced in Edinburgh and re-established Open Air Shakespeare in Brockwell Park with The Curious Room, before finding creative companions in another theatre company The Faction, of which I have been an ensemble member since their first production and produced for until 2012.

My work as The Curious Room developed (as I had always had an inkling it would) to encompass film as well as theatre last year. In the past year I have written, produced, directed and performed in three short films. I think it’s safe to say that after a period of concentrating on my craft as solely an actress, the fire in my belly for creating my own work has been well and truly stoked once again!

I have struggled with my mental health since I was a teenager. From talking therapy I think I’ve identified a couple of formative incidents that could have been the origin of self-esteem issues that developed into cyclical bouts of depression but I am sure there are chemicals in action there too.

I have always found that circumstances are what instigates a period of low mood or depression but I find it so difficult to navigate my way out. Once circumstances (nearly always beyond my control) have initiated a downward spiral mastering my thoughts and feelings become almost impossible. I feel out of control and at the mercy of impossible sadness that I can’t see my way out of.

Late last spring, I found myself as depressed as I have ever been. On the surface, everything was pretty good. I was working in my chosen career, I was living with my best friend in a lovely house, my friends and family were all healthy but my mind was dark. I was so sad. So lonely. That’s how it feels. It feels so deeply lonely. Because no one can understand how sad I feel. And I feel selfish. Really selfish for feeling that way because I am one of the lucky ones in this world.

Thinking about that makes me feel even worse. A few weeks into this sadness (having ruined what should have been a lovely weekend with my family, struggled with the social aspect of rehearsal and a nuclear falling out with my best friend, who moved out) one night for the first time ever, I thought: “Fuck this. I don’t want to live in this place anymore”. And it scared me, because those moments of wanting to annihilate myself completely started slipping into my thoughts more and more often. Thankfully there was still a small sentient part of me that remembered the repercussions of a dear friend’s suicide when I was barely 20 years old and I decided that I needed to seek some help.

In the past I have tried all manner of things. Talking therapies, nutrition and supplementation, yoga  meditation, journaling and general self-care. All have provided some temporary and sometimes prolonged relief. But I had never had suicidal thoughts before and I knew I needed to take some decisive action. I booked a doctor’s appointment (for which I had to wait two weeks) and also found a local hypnotherapist that I managed to negotiate an ‘artists’ rate with.

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I saw the hypnotherapist at the end of  week and by the time I saw the doctor three weeks later my suicidal thoughts had almost entirely dissipated so I decided, on the doctor’s advice, to continue with the therapy before being prescribed any medication.

The hypnotherapy was bizarre. It was not easy, each session though conducted in hypnosis was profoundly emotional and physically quite draining yet a few hours after each session I found myself more hopeful, less sad and slowly more driven.

After 12 weeks of sessions, my therapist advised me to try a week without her support and I found that I was actually feeling pretty buoyant. Little in my circumstances had changed but my perspective on it had shifted unrecognisably.

I returned to my self-care routine of daily journaling (ideally at breakfast but sometimes I do it on the tube or take 15 minutes with a coffee in between work or auditions) which helps give me perspective on events and my emotions towards them, and allows me to give myself a bit of time off. The problem with being freelance is that we don’t have set hours, it is very easy to keep trying to achieve, but sometimes you just need to have a bath or go to the pub or watch a totally mindless rom-com!

Obviously a year of fairly stable mental health doesn’t mean I am cured for life. But it is good to know the warning signs and stay vigilant knowing I have a pretty extensive proven tool kit for dealing with it now at my disposal.

There is no doubt that my experiences of wrestling with my mental health have always been reflected in and part of my acting process. I also know that the recent surge in developing and making my own work has been part and parcel of emerging from the depression I experienced last year. Indeed, two of the three shorts I have written and produced are on themes of mental health.

‘Not Waving’, a short silent film that I have written, directed and perform in, is inspired by my experiences with my mental health. It’s about feeling alone even when you are surrounded by people, how perspective plays so much of a part in our dealing with our feelings and how being part of something (in the film’s case a group of strangers come together to celebrate a drowning man being saved at the beach, a metaphor for a company of actors in a production, using actors I was in a production with at the time to really highlight that!) can ease that loneliness, sadness for a while but how really that is only temporary.

I’ve borrowed the title of the film from Stevie Smith’s beautiful poem about depression because it has always resonated with me, particularly the line “I was much too far out all my life, and not waving but drowning.” I think it’s difficult sometimes to see that extroverts are struggling with mental illness and possibly that’s why hidden mental health issues are so rife for those in the creative industries. I hope it might be helpful as well as entertaining to those who see it and create a dialogue on perspective in mental health.

‘Lawnmower’, a comedy short that is also in post-production deals with mental health issues, and the effects of paranoia and self-sabotage. From personal experience these are warning signs and symptoms of a deterioration in mental health. If start to get too involved in my projections of what others think of me, or more crucially, *might* think of me if I do something, then I know I’m on a slippery slope and I need to give myself a bit of a break and do something nice for myself.

Both the shorts have been made on a shoestring budget with a lot of care and love from all involved and are in post-production and will be out for festival selection in October with hopes for a 2018-19 festival run.

I think the most important thing is that you feel comfortable to name how you feel and feel no shame about it. Talk about it. If you feel sad, name it. Name it in public and  in your creative circles.

The most amazing thing that I’ve discovered since being more open about what I have experienced myself is that often someone else in the conversation will say: “Me too!” and so the conversation opens up and it stops being a subject surrounded in shame. All attempts I have every made to hide how I am feeling only ever seem to end in confusion and distrust, when I am honest people seem to understand, feel sympathetic or relieved that they can share their own issues safely. It takes a bit of bravery to speak openly but it is always worth doing.

Money is always an issue if you work in the creative industries so if you are seeking therapy of some sort, it’s worth explaining your financial situation to a potential therapist. Most are self-employed themselves and so will often offer a discount or a package reduction, so shop around and don’t assume the ‘labelled’ price means it is not available to someone in your financial situation

For me basic self-care things help even if it can be difficult to be motivated to do them; getting outside to walk or cycle or run, a bit of yoga and meditation, eating fresh food with lots of nutrients and plenty of protein, taking an Omega 3 supplement, enjoying warm baths with delicious scented oil, the odd indulgence of a massage (if I can afford it) and the cheapest but most effective tool: writing a journal.

I’ve been writing my journal pretty much daily since I was 16. It’d be awfully boring for anyone to read as it is mainly my airing my daily worries and hurts. But getting them out on the page diminishes them and stops me obsessing over them. These little practices free me up to create and so hopefully help others and myself both the process and the product of those creations.

@katesawyer // @the_curiousroom // mskatesawyer.com // thecuriousroom.co.uk