Respect the Culture of the Internet

An incident still annoys me and it is probably ten years since it happened. I was studying Sociology and doing one of the how to courses, which had its bit on ethics and the need to anonymise. One guy did a bit on exploring internet culture and the thing that rankles is that he totally disregarded this advice, so much so I am sure I know and can get in touch with one of his informants.

He took a bit of conversation from a chat room. It was a short exchange between two people using nom de plumes. It looked to him as if people were using pen names and therefore he thought he did not need to anonymise. What is more the name was short and not a recognaisable name in any language. Surely this name was not a give-away. It is, it belongs to one specific person who has used it for the best part of twenty years or more. If I see that name anywhere on the internet I assume it is her who typed that. What is more the personna she portrays in the interaction is typical of her personna elsewhere where I do know her.

Lets go back to the beginning and to usenet boards and maybe even earlier. Names were limited, the maximum length was eight characters if you were lucky. So you could not have JohnSmith as your name. The challenge in those days was to find an eight letter code that was both memorable and not taken. Once found people tended to stick with it. In a very real sense they developed an ownership of that code. Towards the end of those days a six letters in a search engine would have got you most of my internet activity except work stuff (there it was five). Now you’d have to go down half a page to find something that relates to me as others use that code. However some have stuck with their name or code and some of those are very short.Therefore when people move from forum to forum you can look out for the same names and find the same people.

So despite what the social scientists like to think, the internet was never a lot of nameless geeks rampaging around having careless fun. The geeks from fairly early on established a culture that maintained identity across bulletin boards, message boards and discussion rooms. There was no policing except the more codes you used the more names and codes you had to do, sock puppetry (having multiple codes on a single discussion board, was looked down upon). In a stuation where discussion boards appeared and disappeared pretty frequently by doing so people often knew who they were talking to or at least knew what previous interaction they could recall.

Now with something like twenty years of being on the internet (alright so I was technically on one of its precursors in 1984 and I have very rarely been off since but using really started around 1992 with the present job). I can say that on the internet it is possible to fool everyone sometimes and some people all the time but it isn’t possible to fool everyone all the time. It is simply too much effort for most people to keep two or more different consistent personas going. They normally make one of two mistakes:

  1. The actually create two very similar personnas, and then some adminy type does the checking on the logs and all are revealled
  2. The go for the spectacular, with heightened stories or crusading for a particular perspective (Kierkegaard the first internet troll?). These draw attention, almost certainly as much suspicious attention as any others. Such people are either unmasked or are asked to leave as they are causing problems.

To do it successfully you must keep a low key, everyday persona who is distinct from yourself for long periods of time. Its not easy, imagine trying to write fiction that is as boring to yourself as paint drying and you get some idea of what they have to do. My suspicion is the vast majority of people who try that get bored. What is the point of being , clever if no-one knows about it and if anyone knows then your game is up and you are no longer clever.

So when you investigate social behaviour on the internet, please do not fall for the simplistic assumption that pen-names are anonymous. They may be or they may be the way that individual is most widely known.

Fair Fuel: fair to whom?

I am begining to wonder if some people understand what joined up thinking is. Low tax on fuel may not be a good idea and here is why:

  1. Oil is a limited resource, the consensus is that we are over dependent on it in the west and if the oil producing countries suddenly stop producing oil for some reason our own supplies are even more limited. We are an oil consuming; while not really an oil producing nation, Europe’s supplies are due to run out in two years and I suspect most of those are in Eastern Europe. Some oil producing countries are very volatile politically. So long term oil will run out, short term we are rather dependent on friends where perhaps we would be wise not to be. So anything that means we should use less, being more cautious about what we use may be for our own long term health. What is more my Chemistry teacher argued that oil is such a valuable substance it should not just be burnt up and that goes back to 1980s. It seems to me it is pay now or pay more later.
  2. You have heard of global warming, the theory suggests that to some extent it is related to increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The bi-product of burning oil in a combustion engine is carbon dioxide which is put out into the atmosphere. Given the effects that can cause I suspect we should be trying to minimize rather than increase the risk for the sake of the whole planet.
  3. Finally we will talk about how high oil prices makes UK industry uncompetitive with other industry. Keeping oil prices relatively low in the developed world has often been a method of enabling UK industry to out compete local industry in third world countries, sometimes the need to do this had led to quite drastic situations such as Ogoniland Oil Spill

Need I point out that if paying more for our petrol, food and other goods now, weans us off our culturally high dependency on it, it may well be good for the whole planet. It seems to me that much of the present outcry is about preserving our present lifestyle at the expense of the poor and the future. Some how that seems selfish.

Christmas thoughts from visits to my hairdresser

I have been to have a haircut today and for the second time on the trot my hairdresser and I got talking about Christmas. No not the “What are you doing at Christmas talk”, well we did briefly, but as she is off to Australia just after and I am just doing the usual it is neither of ours hot topic of conversation.

No what we have been talking is about excess that surrounds Christmas. Last time it was the commercials asking people to go into debt in order to get people the right present. Yes that is right, there are commercials that advertise going into debt as a positive solution! It seemed over the top to me and to her.

Today the topic was on excess drinking. A student has been knocked down and seriously injured after a “Christmas Day” event at the Students Union. You can check it out at Sheffield if you prefer but that reporting is far more sensible in my opinion than what is available at Sheffield.  The quotations marks around “Christmas Day” are deliberate since it was held on 15th December and secondly its main attraction seemed to be cut price drinks. The carol service happened on 14th for instance and I did not hear of anywhere serving turkey sandwiches cheap. Is Christmas really seen by those student age as really being about getting drunk, probably very drunk?

It makes you wonder if all our festivities at this time of year are well and truly fucked up. Maybe we would be better off in a world where the story did not end with Scrooges conversion to the Christmas Spirit and we all had to be in work on Christmas day. Maybe we could do with having to get a certificate from our cleric to say that we were active Christians in order to have Christmas day off as a religious festival. I wonder if church attendance would go up if that was the case. Give any religion three days a year, to be specified by the authority of the group (maybe we would have to specify three for atheists: maybe Human Rights Day, Workers Day and Earth Day as they don’t seem to require any religious attachment. If you want other days, than those, you have to find you religious person to certify you as practising whatever belief. It would mean the withdrawal of Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday as general bank holidays. Maybe Boxing day could be attached to New Year as in Scotland.

It sounds good in principle but I just expect the excess would be spread over to New Year.

Now I am also sure the Students Union was playing to what attracts students. Cheap alcohol has long been a tool for attracting students to use the Union and I am pretty sure that if the Union lost its license it would pretty quickly be in financial difficulties despite the money the University puts in and its other enterprises. I am pretty sure as well that the encouragement to go into further debt was because in part the economy runs on debt. We have become dependent on people behaving excessively to survive as a culture. I want to suggest our culture is sick.

I tell you we have lost two things  is desire and appreciation. What we have is gratification. The thing is that without desire, gratification looses it savour. Desire is the practice of developing  a want, of understanding the wanting in itself to be good and a proper preparation for gratification. It is about imagining what we want, thinking it through, planning for it, finding the money, denying ourselves other things so we are ready for it. This sort of practice does not diminish the gratification but increases it and can itself be pleasurable.

Appreciation is the mirror image of desire, it comes after the gratification, when you appreciate what is given not because it means a want but for what it is. It is the looking back and enjoying memories (try doing that after a night when you are blind drunk), it is knowing not that you got anything for your desire but you chose the right one and it is the feeling of no longer having to do without. Instant gratification never gives you the sense of something truly desired being gratified, you never fully appreciate the part it plays in your life unless you have truly experienced being without it. It is savouring the flavours in the drink not just knocking it back for the fussy feelings it gives you. It is about caring for something, looking after it, because it is desired even though you have it.

From where does good self image come?

I am on holiday staying with close friends, last Sunday morning my friend applied for a job working with alcohol and drug abusers. Her reason for taking it rather than staying with a current job was partly pay, although it is even shorter term than her current one, partly status as it is ‘proper’ social work  although it is no more secure than her current job (both have short term contracts) and that means that her clients have to see her.

I challenged her on this, my dealings with addicts suggest that it takes lots of self discipline to stay off what you are addicted to. That it is a niggle that wears away at a person. She then made the comment that for most addicts accessing services meant they had to acknowledge their addiction and to do this was to undermine their already poor self esteem. This is wronger than a wrong thing that is mistaken (Erin:Ship-of-fools).

The thing is there are two things that build real self esteem in my book and the first has to come first. According to Jurgen Wolff, Brian Tracy when stuck in the desert with a friends and a broken down landrover, faced the first. That is if life is to be worthwhile, it is up to us to take responsibility for what is going on in it at the moment.  Not seek to blame but in the same way a treasurer is responsible for a clubs money. Circumstances can be someone-else’s fault and nearly always we are co-creators of them with others, but on the whole the finding of blame is pretty pointless. Rather the question that is useful is “What am I going to do about it?” Doing something to try and improve the situation, in Brian Tracy’s case help fix the Landrover, is the crucial step. It changes one from victim to active player. There is no guarantee of success but you have made failure less likely.

It is recorded that most addicts don’t believe they are addicted. They believe they can give it up at any time and because they never try they never fail at that! The fact that the addiction is controlling more and more of their lives is not taken into consideration. They will justify doing it, even telling themselves lies. I have seen it, it is not pretty. Keeping the addiction going becomes a method to avoid dealing with other things. It eventually becomes the overarching organising principle of their lives and in doing so it saps their self esteem. Until someone in this situation faces up to the fact that they are responsible for their lives including their addiction nothing will change. So much as my friend may like to spare them that step until they do, there is no future and there will be no growth in self esteem.

The second part is altogether pleasanter and that is to find a non-judgemental accountable community. This is difficult, I suspect that for at least the first few years the person needs daily contact with the community. That is asking a lot of any group of people.  It certainly isn’t a one off thing. I suspect that it is not accidental that where such communities have existed they have had religious overtones (from Alcoholics Anonymous “higher power” to Evangelical Christian missions in Russia). The real good news as far as alcoholics go, is that when they are going sober, they often are some of the best and most skilled people at doing this. I do not know whether this is the case for drug users. I do know that other groups such as writers groups and so forth can form a similar function for parts of a persons life.

I suspect that for a few individuals of exceptional character the second may not be necessary, but it certainly eases the struggle. Unfortunately if the second happens without the first you can well end up supporting someone’s self delusion. If that is addiction that could well make the situation worse.

Please note I am not saying addiction is solely a self-esteem issue, it isn’t. It has many other facets, not least of which is craving, which is almost certainly due to brain chemistry and is very unlike other desires in that it is very close to compulsive.

They say that Love is blind

It is a well known saying that “Love is blind” but I say that love is no more blind than I was born in England.

Let me put that in context, I am white British, I have pale skin, blue eyes, and brown hair with a reddish tint. I speak with an educated Northern English accent and I was educated in state school. In other words if you met me, you’d assume that was English born and bred. The fact is you would be wrong although English bred. I was born in East London South Africa. In other words first appearance are misleading.

So why do I think on first acquaintance love appears blind and yet on  closer inspection turns out to be clearer sighted than many more objective standards.

Firstly let me be clear, many things closely associated with love are blind, or blinding. Infatuation blinds one, sexual attraction often leads to one over looking faults and admiration can deceive both the admirer and the person admired, idolisation most definitely does. As far as love is mixed in with these there will always be some blindness.

However to the extent that this blindness is a matter of deliberately or by emotion overlooking something that is part and parcel of the beloved object, then it also fails as love, because there is that in the beloved that is not loved.

Love rather sees clearly. I have a friend, Stephen  who has problems with alcohol. Basically he is capable of not drinking, but once he starts drinking he cannot control it. There are reasons why being this way is difficult for him, he comes from a culture where drinking is part of socialising, it is the way he has always  relaxed and I suspect he does enjoy it to a certain extent. If you add in the idea common in today’s society that if you don’t drink you are a prude, you get a fairly clear picture what sort of a mess he easily gets himself into.

Now Stephen is fussy over his appearance, if there is one thing he is more fond of it is his job. He has a good degree, is affable and a genuine person. In other words for most of the time, he fools most of the people, who don’t think he has a problem. I actually was going out with Stephen when I first realised he had a problem, yes I got him home and safe after that incident. No we did not break up over that, but did a few weeks later at his request. I was becoming a distraction from drinking (he would hate me saying this but I suspect that is the truth).

Do I reject Stephen, no I don’t. Do I pretend he doesn’t have problems with alcohol? no that is not an option either. I do keep some space between us, and probably need to be stronger about that, but that is because we have split up and both of us need that space to get our heads sorted. What is clear is that being close to him, caring about him, far from hiding his problems with alcohol made me have to face up to them.

To some it might appear I am turning a blind eye to those problems. Particularly the weeks when he came around on a Friday night with a bottle of wine to share, and we talked about life, including his drinking patterns. At that stage both me and his doctor were in damage limitation mode. I suspect if I have refused to have a drink with him it would have set me up in a position where he would not have been honest with me about his struggles and as I was supporting him through them, it was a price I paid, and yes I did not enjoy that wine. I knew what I was doing, I knew in many books it was wrong and yet it seemed the only possible way forward.

That is the problem a person from love will often take action which appear to be “blind” when in fact they are very clear sighted. They know the risks and this seems to best path for them and the individual. Their love is not despite the bad things, but including the bad things. I do not like alcoholism, I have lost friends to it, I have seen decent people ruined and that someone I care for is going through it is painful. I will keep trying to help him fight against it, because each small victory is worth it because I care about him.

I struggle equally with being honest, I can’t support him, if he starts to presume our friendship is something other than it is. He can’t substitute me for the alcohol nor expect me to pick up the pieces every time. He has to take responsibility for himself. So there are boundaries on what I can do and in the end if the only way to be fair is to walk away I will but that does not stop me caring.

So at one level I see more clearly than others, on another at times I act in ways that to someone outside would assume I was blind to the reality. At its core love has the acceptance of who someone is for who they are.  It means risking being hurt, when you know there is high chance you will be hurt.

Therefore in some ways I see God’s love shown more in the resurrection than in the crucifixion. In the crucifixion God faces the worst reality of what humanity is; in the resurrection he comes back to stay in relationship with us. No doubt he could have walked away, gone and sat up in heaven away from all the mess that we are making here. He did not, he came back and dwelt once again amongst us.

Regression towards the mean, the scientific publishing culture and the lack of repeatability

A recent exchange on twitter the Thesiswhisperer wondered about why effects were disappearing. The feeling is this should not happen with the modern scientific culture, and yet I suspect modern academic scientific culture is partly to blame. To explain why I have to introduce a little known but rather simple statistical fact which may be called Regression towards the mean.

Let me do it by given a common example used in teaching regression towards the mean. The lecturer tells a class that he has the ability to improve people psychic ability. He then writes on a piece of paper a number between 1 and 100 without showing the class. He then asks the class to write down what they think the number is. He then reveals the number and asks to class to tell him how well they did.

Now the experiment starts. He takes a sample from the class of people who got furthest from his value, say the worst half. He points out these are obviously the less psychic to show the effect. With these he performs some ritual, perhaps to stand up turn round three times and say “esn-esn-on” (“nonsense” backwards).

Then he repeats the experiment but this time with only this worst half and low and behold, they perform better. That is there average guess is closer to his value than they were in the previous study.

The lecturer then admits there is no psychic ability involved in this, so what is going on. The trick is in the selection. Indeed if he looked at the Standard deviation for the whole class at the start and the standard deviation for the sample in the second they should be of approximately the same size. People are pretty randomly choosing their number, those who guess badly at first do that pretty randomly and actually if he had taken the full class the performance would have been much the same as before, only the ones who did better would have differed.

Regression to the mean basically means that if there is a selection bias in a distribution as fresh data is produced this will tend to go back towards the mean.

So what has this to do with non-repeatability. For starters I am not belittling this phenomena I have been involved in studies which aimed to replicate a previously carried out study. The prior study reported a huge effect so the power calculation required a small sample size, indeed so small we upped the numbers just to persuade the ethics committee that this was a genuine attempt to replicate. This only to find when we have the data collected that there is no effect visible in the data. So I have experienced non-repeatability.
Nor am I accusing researchers of bad practice. They are honestly reporting the results they get. It is the ability to report the results, i.e. the selection process by journals that produces the phenomena!

Published results and accepted results aren’t just a random sample of all results. They are selected for the results that demonstrate a genuine effect. They particularly like those results that are significant at p=.05 level. However gaining a p-value of less than .05 (or any value) is no guarantee that you have a true effect. For a start off with p=.05, one in twenty of results where there is genuinely no effect get reported as having an effect. Now that isn’t one in twenty of reported results (it might be lots higher or lower) but one in twenty of results where there is NOTHING is genuinely happening. Unfortunately we don’t know where these one in twenty are. It looks like a result even though it there isn’t an effect. We know there are type 1 error, our selection for criteria for publication reports allows one in twenty papers through where there is genuinely no effect.

But what if there is an effect? Well we are more likely to detect it if our sample happens to over-estimate the effect than if it under estimates the effect. In other words there are studies out there where there was a genuine effect but it did not get published because they drew a sample that performed badly. On the other hand on well designed experiments all the studies that draw fortunate samples are likely to significant. So the tendency is to over estimate actual effects because the selection criteria for publication favours those who draw fortunate samples.

This is not news, I have not suddenly found this inspiration, look there are learned reviews exploring this very topic. There are approaches when results start behaving in this way, one is to look at the sample size it would take to detect a difference between the original results and the fresh results, and if that is larger than the two studies then it may well be just the result of regression to the mean. It is also why clinicians are moving towards Meta Analysis rather than the results from just one study, but meta-analysis itself is hampered by the publishing bias.

I also want to sound a warning, skewed data (data where a few people produce very high scores) can quite easily produce odd ball results. This causes problems when sampling, there are statistical methods for analysing this but I have rarely seen them applied out side the statistical class room.

So yes I would expect the published results of effects on the whole to be over-estimates. The over-estimation is a product of the current scientific publishing culture. There are some approaches to alleviate this problem but at present no cure because the cure involves a change of culture.

Drinking – who should moderate drinking be aimed at?

I have a former boyfriend called S, he has had drink problems, I would not mention this if work and a whole host of other people did not know this already. or at least I would not refer to him so directly if this was not the case. He has brought this largely under control over the last six months and needs a lot of praise for doing that.

Most of this has been done by a principles of alcohol reduction. So he learnt how to tell if something was a weak or strong wine and choose a weak one, he learnt to alternate glasses of wine and water, he taught himself it was possible to go into a pub and order pineapple juice and that actually he quite liked sparkling mineral water. He learnt to have days off completely from drinking. This cut his consumption substantially, each skill was introduce separately so as not to over burden his as he was under pressure at work as he need to complete a course.

On Thursday evening I rang Stuart, as I had cancelled quite a bit of weekend activity due to the cold and say that whereas before I had not been able now if he wanted too he was welcome to come around. He comes around to chat and talk how things are going we normally share a bottle of wine and some garlic bread. He told me his news, basically that he has gone teetotal. That was a surprise as actually no-one has put any pressure on him to go teetotal.

I think the doctor thought that having completed the course and done this reduction policy so successfully the next stage was to get him to adopt a moderate drinking policy. This was for him a complete turn off, trying to manage his drinking in such a way was to re apply the pressure he drinks to escape. Therefore he decided this was too much hassle. You can guess how he spent the evening and anyway he gave me no details.

However when he went into work the next day he met one of the Broomhall Breakfast guys already plastered (the miracle is not I think that the guy was drunk but that he was up at that time), then being called on his drinking by another former drinker who works at the Museum and the also realising he was jeopardising the progress he has made. In the last six months he has come to a better level of financial security, he generally feels better in work and is able to cope better. Faced with that he felt he really had only two choices to loose what he had gained in the last six months and go back on a downward spiral or to give up drinking completely. He chose to give up completely.

I think moderate drinking is a good message for your average drinker. You want such people to understand what their bodies can take and to drink sensibly. Most people who drink recreationally are able to understand about safe limits and are not stressed by the accountancy work of the sensible drinking message.

However I suspect for a number of people with problems with alcohol like S, such a message can be counter productive. The fact is they drink to escape pressure. If the safe drinking message produces pressure, then the either will ignore it and go back to drinking heavily or a few like S may give up completely. I don’t think without the six month building of alcohol reduction Stuart would have done it, he need the tangible benefits of those six months to build the knowledge of what alcohol was costing him.

I also suspect that concentrating solely on the drinking is not a good idea. When you have someone whose drinking problems have got out of hand you need to look at causes. I suspect it is causes rather than cause, and I suspect to be successful you need to act holistically. That meant for S that he needs help in methods to handle pressure, he needs an accountability network (and seems to have at least a rudimentary one) and he needs to develop a life style that favours sobriety. The last includes developing hobbies and interests where not drinking is easy. So as to discourage going to the pub in an evening for some company.

If these two factors are correct, I suspect I know why Alcoholics Anonymous and schemes such as one I heard of in Russia are successful. The Russian scheme involves  the detoxing alcoholic actually lives in community I think for upto a year and even then they tend to move into places where there are churches which have other people who have been through the same programme. In other words they have a simple message of absolute abstention and a support network in doing that. They work because they reject the modern individualism and replace it with personal accountability to others.

Now by all means keep educating people into sensible drinking habits when they are social drinkers. It may prevent some people from sliding into problem drinkers, but with problem drinkers themselves, then some care needs to be taken in using this tool, as it has the potential to push a person further into problem behaviour. We need a different approach then.

My stance on depression

I picked up a friend on Facebook which says:

“Depression is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign that you have been trying to be strong for too long. Put this as your status if you know someone who has or has had depression. Will you do it, and leave it on your status for at least an hour? Most people won’t, but 1 in 3 of us will suffer at some point in our lives. Show your support. I copied and pasted, will you?”

Now I have toyed with taking up the challenge and putting it on my perspective but have not for two reasons.

  1. It is manipulative trying to get people to support this statement about depression. I don’t like chain messages, I think they are almost as bad a chain mail
  2. It is factually in accurate, Depression is common but one in three is not even featured in Mind’s estimates for Mental Distress. The worst being 1 in 4 and that covers all mental health cases even those with such mild distress they don’t go to the doctor. Secondly being strong too long is not the sole cause of depression. Just like falling out of trees is not the sole cause of broken legs. For some it no doubt is, for others it can be a whole host of things.

So where do I stand.

Firstly I suffer from Mental Health Distress, I am/have been on anti-depressants for more than five years, treating mild to moderate depression, I also take medication for an anxiety complaint. However if you met me you would not pick this up very easily. Some of this is helped by the fact mine takes the “smiling” form indeed I smile more when on anti-depressants than off them. However it leaves me with a lot of very physical symptoms. I get tired very easily, need a lot of time alone, suffer from migraines and get other painful symptoms (yes that is physical not emotional pain). When I was bad I lost the ability to concentrate for more than a few seconds (I took to reading books with a rule basically so I knew which line I was on) and became very un-proactive (it is very hard to get the energy for anything if you feel totally exhausted all the time). I do a lot despite this partially because the anxiety stays better under control if I am busy, partly because boredom is a good way of triggering depression symptoms for me and partly that is who I am.

I am telling this not simply to state my credentials but also so you realise that the form my mental health distress is unusual. There are many people out there with far more common forms of depression.  For many overwhelming sense of sadness is a major feature. Just because I am up and doing things (well I am either that or curled in a small ball in my bed) does not mean other people even with similar diagnoses are able to be up and doing things. Depression does not come in only one flavour.

Also what I have experienced is relatively mild, there are lots more serious forms out there. I have no special right to insight by virtue of this experience, there are forms that although I try to empathise with I do not really experience. I have little tendency towards either substance abuse (including alcohol) and self harm for starter. Both of these symptoms are experienced by a significant number of people who are suffering from mental health distress. In some cases I suspect they are attempts to relieve emotional pain rather than symptoms.

Equally there is no single cause of mental health issues. Yes some of mine is hereditary, some is due to poor life choices and some is due to life events over which I had little or no control. I suspect I am not the only person to have multiple causes. Other people may have theirs ‘created’ by long term abuse, or dealing with tragedy close at hand or even other disability or physical illness. There are no doubt other contributing causes. Stress plays a role as does unexpressed anger but they are not the sole cause.

What perhaps characterises many mental illnesses more than anything else is that thought patterns differ markedly from the healthy.  In mild forms these can almost be intangible to those around a person, perhaps a tendency to be slightly more pessimistic or worried over things but not much else. Quite often what people don’t realise is that the individual is making a huge effort to function normally. As it trips into moderate, the person still has an understanding of what normal is, but they are not able to make the effort to function in that way and inevitably display more ill behaviours. In my experience people really strive long and hard to retain some connection with normal thought patterns. However with severe the person actually has lost connection at all with normal thought patterns. What is also true is the vast percentage of people suffering from mental distress are in the mild category, the headline grabbing categories are in the severe. The services are such that there is little or no help available for people who are mild. It is not good for even the severe. Yes that means the vast majority of such people struggle on with the help of friends and family.

However to say that it is a characteristic of mental illness to have dysfunctional thought patterns is not to say that it is not physical, it is markedly physical in a variety of ways. Many people who have mental health problems will manifest physical symptoms, I already mentioned I suffer pain, but in set circumstances it can also cause me to vomit or to shake like a leaf. Just because a symptoms origin is in the brain does not stop it being distressing for the individual who is going through it. Nobody likes eating a meal then heaving it all back.Especially if you are out celebrating with friends.What is more physical treatments work, sometimes these can be as simple as mineral supplements, exercise and such.Even things like massage and aroma therapy have brought some relief to some.  Other times they are complex drug regimes.There is no barrier between the mental and the physical.

Talk therapies can work and are useful. The success of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and associated therapies is to be welcomed. They are not a cure all, but they are a major step forward and at the very least make people suffering from mental distress more skillful at keeping contact with normality.

So what as someone undergoing mental distress do I want. Well firstly don’t define me as that, I do lots of other things and the more you help me hold onto those other things the more you help me function normally. Secondly when I can’t do something or my behaviour becomes odd don’t assume it is about you, its more often me trying to cope with my illness. I like many others am actually quite skilled at dealing with my illness, I can and do manage it, sometimes trusting me to manage and ask when I need help is the most constructive thing you can do. It is amazing how often people’s need to help means that I have to manage that on top of my illness. For those who want some idea of how draining this is, please read this article on spoon theory, and understand that if I am having to tell you how to help I am using my spoons to do that. Finally oddly if I start withdrawing, please try an make the effort to keep low level contact. What it normally means is that I am personally not able to sustain the contact in the form at the time, if you can take the effort out of doing it, then I probably will appreciate it. There is a gap between when I can make the effort to keep in contact and when I am no longer able to sustain contact.In that gap gentle contact is likely to sustain me rather than allow me to fall further. I know I am usually the proactive one.

On a more general note, you do know someone who has suffered mental health distress, but they may not be willing to be open about this.Try therefore when someone is behaving differently not to jump to conclusions and certainly don’t jump to conclusion because you hear someone has a mental health diagnosis. We remain individuals in our illnesses. More importantly if you have the opportunity please try and find out more about mental health issues, you never know it may be you that needs the knowledge next.

Graduate Tax

Is it just me but I assumed that graduate tax would be a on all graduates. Indeed the only ones who should be let off (and maybe be able to claim their loans back during the first decade) are the ones who went in the last twenty years and had to pay fees. The rest, self included have absolutely no excuse not to pay the graduate tax. People like me, got not just our undergraduate tuition at tax payers expense but also a grant to live off and then a second round of this for a second degree albeit only for a single year.

Alright so we have not planned for the tax, but then we are nearly all in better paying jobs and more settled than those just out of University i.e. we are better able to pay the tax..

If the don’t feel they can do this, then there should be a grad tax as well as current fees rather than increasing current fees