I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Archive for the category “mental health”

Hope and Optimism


I haven’t blogged for ages. Partly because my life has been stupid busy – work, studies, family life, Women for Independence, hobbies and a million other things – but also partly because I’m struggling with many of the feelings that I’m sure others are struggling with. Everything is making me cross. I’ve been involved in quite a bit of anti-poverty work this summer, a consultation on what happens to people when they are in crisis or suicidal and looking for help, Brexit and Brexit and… more…bloody Brexit. And across all those things what I have consistently found missing in our wider society, is empathy and kindness.


Last week I was utterly appalled at the video that circulated of the young Syrian refugee being attacked by a taller boy in Huddersfield. It broke my heart, not only that a boy who fled a terrible situation in his home country should be so cruelly treated in a place where he should be able to expect to be safe, but because the boy who treated him so badly was just 16. What are we doing to our children in Britain today, that they grow up with such hate in their hearts and such aggression? As the story unfolded it was suggested that the boy’s social media profile was full of links to Britain First posts and Tommy Robinson’s evil mutterings. We are seeing this more and more, I wrote at the time of the EU referendum about the dangers of legitimising the voices of hate and I fear more and more that I was right. It scares me and it leaves me feeling impotent and bleak.


All this came to mind as yesterday, I was heading off to an event where I had been asked to read something I had written about movement. This was a civic event organised by Dr Clare Daly who heads up Birchwood Highland’s Highland Migrant and Refugee Advocacy Project.  I was surprised to be asked to write a poem. I play with poetry and words but I write poetry like I sing – for my own pleasure and no one else’s as my long suffering husband can confirm. I certainly never really thought of myself as a “migrant” despite moving from Rochdale to Caithness in 1997. But Clare explained that the event was looking at movement  – the movement of people from one place to another, and that experiences of movement whoever we are and wherever we are moving from,  are stories of shared experiences and are powerful and moving stories of people and their resilience.


So I went along yesterday, clutching my wee green book to read my poems – Northwards and Yellow Submarine.  The event was fantastic and inspiring. We heard from Philomena de Lima who is the Director of the Centre for Remote and Rural studies, a writer and a woman who’s work I have been aware of for over twenty years and never met. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity (I wittered a bit to be honest – she looked a bit startled!).  Philomena set the tone of the evening by talking about what connects us, rather than what separates us. She pointed out that history is not the past – we carry it with us whoever we are. People bring with them their own history, the history of their families, their countries, their people here to where our own history is all around us, where the history of the clearances still resonates and shapes us. We are all of us migrants but that is not what defines us – it is not the sum of our experiences. Migrants and citizens alike have shared experiences, shared concerns, shared identities as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, employees, patients, friends and we share the rhythms of everyday life.  We share the values of friendship, care and community.


The rest of the event celebrated exactly that – our shared values and our shared hopes and sense of community. There was the wonderful Heartstone – a project from Dingwall –   who shared their story with us through words and dance. The Wee Choir from Forres who sang a several songs including a song by Karine Polwart that I loved. Its words of welcome ringing out around the Council chambers.  We heard from myself and Kirsty Glass who wrote a moving poem which was also read out in Gaelic, about the clearances and we heard a remarkable musical collaboration between Sarah Fanet and her guitar and Belal on the Syrian Oud. I think though that the person who really caught the spirit of what we were trying to convey and what we are all hoping for was the lady from The Scottish Highlands and Islands and Moray Chinese Association – Monica Lee Macpherson. She shared with us some of her story about coming to Scotland from Hong Kong and then spoke so genuinely, without notes and from the heart, about how we need to be kind to each other and care for each other, looking beyond our differences to what we have in common. She reminded us that race, colour mean nothing because it is humanity which joins us together. She invited us all to join them in their café and she touched me with her message of hope and joy. Something I have found missing in civic conversations recently.


Philomena spoke at the start about the need to find shared spaces to connect with each other and a new narrative of social cohesion, because building a society which is better for the excluded, is better for us all. That was what was happening last night. We were building a society which focuses on what we have in common, on what we share and what we can share with others. It has made me feel hopeful and optimistic and I’m delighted about that.

What can we do?

Daniel Blake

Trigger Warning – this blog post discusses suicide and references an article about the experience of people who have been asked to talk about their suicidal feelings during DWP assessments.

Today the front page story in the National deals with my MP Drew Hendry calling for a halt to the roll out of Universal Credit citing the appalling delays leading to rent arrears and highlighting the hardship and poverty that Universal Credit is causing people.

It is the latest in a long line of awful stories which highlight the devastating effect of the last seven years of Tory Governments. Perhaps we should call them testimonies – rather than stories, each one a  personal, miserable story of humiliation, of poverty, of inequality brought to bear on individuals as a direct result of government policy designed to do exactly that.

The havoc that the UK Government are wreaking on the NHS is shocking. The us and them attitude of the UK Government to EU nationals living, loving, working here in the UK is awful. The callousness of the immigration system which deports a wife, mother and grandmother of British citizens who has lived here and been an integral part of her community is breathtaking, but for me, it is the Tory attitude to the poorest in our society which makes me furious. It is the policies that they have introduced which put people directly and immediately into poverty with no thought for anything other than their ideological drive to abolish the welfare state.

The last couple of weeks alone we have been faced with further announcements.  Last week the UK government announced that they are indeed abolishing the right to Housing benefit for 18 -21 year olds, a move which will see an increase in the number of homeless young people.

April sees the reduction in the Bereavement Allowance – a mean minded policy if ever there was one – which will mean that after 18 months the support for widows and widowers with children will stop. Apparently paying this £112.50 per week “stops people from adjusting to a single life” says Richard Harrington – after all, caring for bereaved children stops being challenging after 18 months don’t you know..

We will see the introduction of the two child limit for those having to claim tax credits and Universal credit having already seen the reduction in the Benefit cap to £20000. April also sees the introduction of the rule that says lone parents with a child aged three will be required to look for work in order to get any benefit. There is no value of the role of a parent in the UK’s broken system. Children are seen as barriers to work to be overcome as quickly as possible, whilst parents struggle with poor access to affordable childcare and zero hours contracts which conspire to prevent them balancing the books.

The reduction by £30 per week of the ESA of people placed in the Work related activity group is also beginning in April. These are people that Doctors have decided are not fit for work, unable to go to work because their medical practitioners and specialists have said it would be detrimental to their health. And yet, some “healthcare professional” with no knowledge of the person or their condition, has decided that they can be doing something to “get ready for work”.

We continue to see motability cars removed from people who cannot get to work or shopping without them.  People who are terminally ill cannot get access to the special rules for fast tracking benefits if they are expected to live for more than 6 months – because a diagnosis which gives you nine months to live or 18 months to live is soooo much better!

Sanctions continue to be a daily fear for anyone dealing with the DWP. A late bus, failing to get an answer despite repeated calls to an adviser you have been told to phone, a funeral, an unexpectedly sick child – all these can mean a person overwhelmed, panicking that they will and are facing a sanction. The chances of being late to an appointment increase with every Jobcentreplus office being closed and every demand made for  people to carry out 35 hours of jobsearch. People are being set up to fail by wealthy policy makers who have never had to worry about where their next meal is coming from and to be frank, don’t care about those who do.

And then there is the latest article from the Canary about the inappropriate quesioning of people struggling with mental illness and suicidal thoughts. This article which includes discussion of suicide is confirmation of the stories I have heard directly from people who have been through a PIP assessment or a WCA. It confirms a callous approach to  people at risk of suicide.   Expecting people  to talk about their suicidal feelings with someone they have never met before, don’t trust and who’s aim is to prevent them from accessing the money they need to live is cruel and unbelievably callous. The fact that this is done without any understanding of risk assessment and no strategy for suicide prevention which includes crisis referrals screams out the lack of care and respect which is built into these assessments. These processes are designed to strip every vestige of confidence and dignity from those people undergoing the process. In a previous Blog – Patience   I wrote that the policies being enacted by the Tory Government, are designed “ to subjugate, denigrate and control the population. Does that sound like something out of a futuristic post apocalyptic movie? It does and it might make me sound like Citizen Smith, but it is happening  nevertheless.”

I was right then and I’m right now.

Yesterday I was at a screening of  Ken Loach’s BAFTA winning film,  I, Daniel Blake. It’s the fourth screening that I have been involved in and in every case the question afterwards is the same. “What can we do?” Its tempting to throw our hands up in despair and say we cant do anything but there are plenty of things we can do to make ourselves feel better. We can collect for the foodbank, we can write to MPs and MSPs and take part in the variety of consultations which are taking place inside Scotland to shape our future Social Security System and we can assuage our guilt that we are doing ok by buying DVD copies of I, Daniel Blake and sending them to people we think are ignorant of the things that are going on in today’s society (yep someone I know is really doing this 🙂 It made me smile)

Yet many  activists (myself included) have been caught up in the outrage caused by Sadiq Khan calling us racists. We are busy getting furious at Teresa May’s address to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference, furious by the idea that they think they can dissolve the Scottish Parliament. We have been tied up with the rights and wrongs of a Wings over Scotland tweet about Oliver Mundell and whether racism can be applied to white people or if its racist to suggest that it does.

What we really need to do is to stop getting sidetracked by the endless roundabouts of “he said she said” stuff being thrown at us by stupid ignorant people trying to tie us up in their stupid games and suck all our energy away by throwing around  insults and inflammatory accusations whilst they laugh up their sleeves at us dancing to their tune. We need to ignore this and speak about what really matters to us. For me it will be issues around benefits or poverty, for others it will be immigration or health or the economy. For me it’s the SNP but for others it might be Greens or Labour policies they want want to shout about. It’s not important, what is important is that we shout – loudly and cheerfully.  I’m giving up being offended by people who call me names. I don’t care one iota if someone calls me a traitor or anti English for standing up for an Independent Scotland. I will remind them what we are trying to do with disability benefits, how we are spending £58 million making sure that poor people don’t become even poorer by mitigating the effects of some of the welfare reforms, how we are demanding that EU citizens have their rights protected, how we are continuing to fund the NHS and resist privatisation even in the face of Westminster cuts to our budgets.  I will point them in the direction of the statement Jeane Freeman gave in the Scottish Parliament on the determination of the Scottish Government to set the foundations of the new Scottish System as a fundamental  human right.

We need to stop dancing to the tune of the naysayers, the trolls and the permanently outraged of little Britain – who cares if they accuse us of treachery, racism or worse. There is no need for us to waste our time contradicting the insults. Whilst it is good to shout our support for each other from the sidelines, the people facing the neoliberal cosh that is the Tory Party’s welfare or immigration policies need our voices much more. We need to shout out our determination that our Scottish Social Security policy will offer dignity and fairness, shout out our welcome of every person moving from NO to YES,  our commitment to refugees, our commitment for and support of those from other countries living here as new Scots.. Let’s not get sidetracked –  let’s get out there and speak up for those who’s voices are being silenced by the threat of poverty starvation, homelessness, deportation for whom an Independent Scotland is their only real hope of lasting change. All the other stuff is just noise.

Footnote – if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or are in despair or distress,  then here are a couple of numbers you can call for help – please call.
Samaritans  – Telephone 116 123 email jo@samaritans.org .
24 hours a day, 365 days a year for those in despair or distress. You do not have to be suicidal to call.
Breathing Space –  0800 83 85 87
Opening hours
Weekdays: Monday-Thursday 6pm to 2am
Weekend: Friday 6pm-Monday 6am
A confidential phoneline for anyone in Scotland feeling low, anxious or depressed.

More Butterflies….



Did you see them?  The Serenity Butterflies?  Did you pick one up and read it and smile, having read the piece in this blog or seen the article in the local paper? They were there only fleetingly – as butterflies always are. The local council accusing us of “fly posting” removed them sharpish which was somewhat disappointing.

Perhaps you saw them in one of the shops or cafés that cheerfully welcomed them to sit on their tables or near their check outs for their customers to pick up and read. Maybe you didn’t know what they were about and had to “Google” to see the reason for the unseasonal visitors.  I hope you found information about Serenity meetings. I also hope they created space for you to think about the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and mental illness more generally.

I’m off to the Serenity Group right now. They probably don’t really need me to be honest, but I like to go. I find a power, a peace and a warmth there. On a chilly Monday morning when I have had too little sleep and have too many deadlines, I need them. They remind me why this job is so important and why I love it. They set me up for the week with the power of their positivity and the care that they show each other.

At any one time, one in four people experience a mental illness. Look around you. I can see 10 people that I don’t know from my seat here in a coffee shop in Inverness – some of them will have experienced mental health problems themselves, some of them will know someone with a mental illness, in fact all of them will likely find their lives touched by mental health issues at some point. And yet the stigma surrounding mental illness continues.

People with mental illness find themselves more likely to be lonely, homeless, in prison. Many people don’t talk to others about their mental illness, I have heard some of the members at Serenity say that the only place that they can talk about their diagnosis of BPD is within that group. The only place – imagine that. Something as momentous as being diagnosed with a serious and enduring illness and you can’t talk about it in your everyday life, with people who know you well. Imagine not daring to breath a word at work for fear that you would be treated differently or even lose your job. Imagine worrying that your partner would leave you or that your children would be taken into “care”. Imagine all those things and being unable to share them with anyone.

This is why groups like Serenity, like HUG (Action for Mental Health) and other mental health charities are so important. They give people a place where they can just “be” in a world where headlines scream out the worst stories of people with mental illness that they can find. Often patronised, ignored and misunderstood, Serenity offers a place where BPD does not prevent them from taking part, where they can be open, where they can speak to each other and be understood, respected and cared for. Groups like this are a safe place, a source of comfort, they are empowering, they are supportive and most of all, they are not stigmatising.

See the butterflies? They were put there to represent the changes that people with BPD can see in their lives through , through understanding, through treatment and through the support that comes from sharing experiences with others who have the same diagnosis. They can also be a message for those of us without BPD, without a diagnosis of a mental illness. A message that we can leave outdated ideas of mental illness behind us, we can learn more, care more and challenge stigma wherever we find it. We can educate ourselves and with education we can challenge the fear that fuels stigma wherever we see it. By doing this we can help to change attitudes towards mental illness and work on a transformation to a better fairer society for everyone.

Butterflies for BPD


On Monday 3rd October if you keep your eyes peeled then you might spot a few unseasonable visitors around Inverness Centre. Butterflies. In October. They are not live butterflies but symbolic butterflies. This is one of the first events in Inverness for SMHAFF. That’s the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. The Festival aims to celebrate the artistic achievements of people with experience of mental health issues, exploring the relationship between creativity and the mind, and promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. The theme for this year’s festival is Time. Many groups are going to be involved across the Highlands in exhibiting work, sharing performance pieces and written work and the Butterflies are part of this.

The Butterflies are the brainchild of Viv Gunn and Carlie Borthwick. Two women who set up and organise “Serenity” a drop in for women with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) at Merkinch Community Centre. The group meets between 10.30 and 1.30 every Monday and is supported by a local collective advocacy organisation – HUG (Action for Mental Health). The group is primarily a support group but also works hard to improve services, treatment and experiences of people with BPD. All too often people with a diagnosis of BPD are stigmatised by their diagnosis. After all – how much do you know about BPD? Do you know about the physical pain that people feel? Do you know about the affect BPD can have on personal relationships? Of the fear and anxiety that may mean just walking down the street is “brutal”. Mostly people who hear me talk about working with people with Borderline Personality Disorder have never heard of it. Those that do express their sympathy, they shake their heads and say what a hard job that must be. What I want people to do is to congratulate me, to say “how wonderful” or “aren’t you lucky”. Watching these women overcome daily, sometimes hourly difficulties, watching them work together to support each other, watching them speak out about injustices, speak out about their experiences of the statutory services and influencing change is energising and positive. And yet they are often dismissed as “crazy”, “awkward”, “non-compliant”. Look beyond the label and you might be surprised. I was.

And the butterflies? The transformation of the butterfly over time is symbolic of the transformation people with BPD can achieve with understanding, support and proper care. Carlie Borthwick explains “I’m hoping that butterfly bombing the town will encourage people to educate themselves on BPD. Butterflies can represent time and change, both a huge part of my diagnosis. I’ve come a long way since before I had a diagnosis and now have a reason for some of my behaviours. It is similar to the caterpillar transforming into a butterfly – it’s symbolic of our recovery”

So, if you see a Butterfly on Monday pick it up. Think about what it means. Pass it on to someone who might benefit from the support that groups like Serenity offer but most of all – educate yourself. After all, that’s what art is about, opening yourself to new ideas and new experiences. If, by doing that we can change the experience of stigma that affects people with any mental illness, but specifically BPD, then we are transforming society – a bit like the transformation of the butterfly, really.

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