Mental health

The pandemic from further back

Since the start of the pandemic there have been almost daily warnings of the effects that this natural disaster will have on our mental health. The impending mental health crisis has even been given a name: the “shadow pandemic”. However, beneath the headlines, there is surprisingly little hard evidence. Many surveys have found people increased levels of stress and anxiety, but that is not the same as mental illness. Some papers have predicted a big spike in mental illness based on patterns from previous natural disasters and economic crises. However the workings of the human mind are complex...

Children, parents, school workers: stand together!

The education unions are right to say schools should not accept further mass return of pupils until the five tests are met. We should fully support any school workers who will take action on health and safety grounds from 1 June to keep their workplaces open only to vulnerable and key workers’ children. That does not mean we, or school workers, are oblivious to how difficult school closures have been on families. Solidarity has covered, and will continue to cover, the increased risk of domestic violence and neglect in a stressful period with less contact between the household and the outside...

Deaths in custody

Under the emergency powers of the Coronavirus Act, unless a medical professional deems it necessary, death certificates for people that die in custody will not have to be signed by a coroner. Yet the law was passed with little debate and with almost no opposition to these provisions from the Labour leadership. Inquest reported that in the financial year 2018-19, there were 276 deaths during or following police contact, 16 in or following police custody. Of those 16 deaths, 10 people were identified as having “mental health concerns” and 13 were known to have a link to alcohol or drugs. Six of...

Diary of an engineer: You’ll probably deserve it?

On Mondays my cohort attends college. The building is made of slick modern metal and glass, and built on the site of the battle of Orgreave. The Economist magazine described its construction as “a promising attempt… to tackle an ancient and ridiculous class divide” by getting Boeing and Rolls Royce to invest in working-class children’s education. Over the road is the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre, hosting buildings dedicated to factory automation and nuclear research. My class is twelve men and three women, aged 17-30. Our Health and Safety Trainer is a 30-40 year old Brummy called “P...

Labour Campaigns Together

A coalition of grassroots Labour Party campaigns has launched a website, Labour Campaigns Together. Its aim is to press the Labour leadership to include left-wing policies voted through at the 21-25 September Labour conference in Brighton in its manifesto and in the actions of a Labour government. The key policies are: • A just transition to a decarbonised economy by 2030 • Build 100,000 social rented council homes a year • Transition to a 32-hour working week with no loss of pay • Protect and extend the rights of migrants • End all forms of criminalisation of rough sleeping • Free our unions...

Against “exam factories”!

The National Education Union (NEU) is balloting its primary school members between 4 June and 12 July over whether to boycott high stakes summative testing (HSST) in primary schools. What is HSST? “Summative” means that the main purpose is to attach a score to what has been learnt, not to inform future learning and teaching. “High stakes” means that the school and school workers are measured by that score. The tests are used to compile league tables of schools, and those in turn play in to the marketisation of education. Testing is also big business: companies make a lot of money selling tests...

Letters

Inequality and the super-ego If my review of The Inner Level left readers thinking that it presented a narrow, economistic view of mental illness, then I apologise for writing a poor review. Thanks to Ian Townson for prompting me to write this correction. Wilkinson and Pickett stress that their research is not a “theory of everything” and do not claim that income inequality is the only driver of mental distress. They describe a broad statistical trend within which our human drama plays out. There are outliers in the data where there must be powerful countervailing factors. For example, Italy...

Why the working class needs libraries

Close to 650 libraries have closed in the UK since 2010. Some that remain “open” rely on volunteers, have no paid staff, and need grants and donations to run. In 2018 alone 130 libraries were shut down. More than 700 staff lost their jobs; the number of volunteers is now over 50,000. The concept of the public library, free at the point of use, was pushed by The Free Library Movement, Victorian philanthropists aided by sections of the Chartist movement who worked for “improvement of the public”. The Libraries Act of 1850, put forward by Liberal MPs, and backed by a free libraries pioneer Edward...

Why students are depressed

A recent survey of university students has found alarming rates of anxiety, self harm and substance abuse. Of the 38,000 students surveyed by the Insight Network, 87.7% said they struggle with anxiety, 50.3% have thoughts of self-harm, and 44.7% use alcohol or drugs to deal with their problems. Rates of mental distress are highest among second and third year students. There are some reasons that we can rule out as being the cause of this mental distress. Students are under pressure, but not any more so than students in other countries. In fact, British universities tend to be generous with...

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