Yesterday, I heard some very sad news, yesterday a woman Lesley, in her thirties or forties died from an overdose, because, well we will never know the real answer to that.  A woman who had suffered trauma and abuse all her adult life.  A woman who fought a drug dependency for years and who I saw just two weeks ago, laughing, strong and happy as she graduated from rehab alongside my friend. She had a new flat, was going to a new life, had changed her life and was fighting hard with confidence. JUST WHAT HAPPENED.  Within one week of her leaving the Rehab she is dead.

I know I will not wait any more, it is time for action!


Did you know that it is in the teenage years that the brain decides what is needed for the human body it inhabits to survive.  Trauma and abuse at this age mean that the brain will see survival from these acts as the normal way of being for the body at a sub-conscious level.  The brain becomes hyper-sensitive and sees danger, even where there is no danger.


Do you know what we are doing to our teenage children now?

We expose them to NEGATIVE CONDITIONING, they are forced to live with unbelievable pressure and anxiety put on them by our way of living, our present society.  It is too easy to brand someone a failure before they have ever had a chance.  The unique individual talents and gifts that we all have are smothered under the fear that things might change if everyone is allowed free choice and development.  Everyone is judged to be in one box or another because of where they came from or their “abilities”.  We are conditioned to be afraid of this group because of where they come from or how they have to live. WHY?

We all belong to different clans and live segregated lives, WHY?

Can we not accept that we are as diverse in knowledge, ability, practicality, etc,

Can we not celebrate and love that diversity instead of being afraid of it.

Can we not negotiate ways of working together instead of being afraid of each other.

Can we give up this mantra of divide and conquer and I need more power and create a sensible decent environment for everyone to live.

Can we not cast our barometer to hope instead of fear.

There is much more to this than you think but it is better let out slowly than all in one outburst, and for the avoidance of doubt I am talking about the brain and not politics.

However, here’s a question for you. JUST ASK YOURSELF, DO I HAVE HOPE?


As a young girl I imagine you playing with your friends

Being the leader, the caring one I see,

At School I imagine the clever shy girl

Loved by everyone

As a teenager, trying hard, A young woman crying in pain

Made to feel worthless, useless, time and again

Looking for love that would mend everything

Caring and loyal, fighting hard to the end

Trying to break free

For your children, for your grand-child,


Putting a brave face on everything, so hard

To find the light at the end of that long dark road.

But you, you are the strong one who succeeded

You did it, with bravery, sensitivity, a lot of laughter and tears.

You broke the devil’s bonds

The joy, strength, love in your heart

Showed through everything on that day 4th May 2017.

Although I only knew you for a few minutes, a few seconds in life

I will always remember that moment and the inspiration that shone in your face.

The shame of shames,

That there was no-one there, to help you through at the end

God bless you always Lesley, I will not forget that smile

With love from Sandra Marshall

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The Conservative Causality

Our political choices have real social and economic consequences. When we support parties responsible for inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on innocent people we share in their guilt. Think before you vote.

As the many government cost-saving social and economic policies – known collectively as ‘austerity’ – hit and as the effects of this austerity deepen across society there are predictable consequences. Cuts in the healthcare budget result in a decreased quality of care, a lowering of the level of general health, and an increase in the number of unnecessary deaths. Reductions in the social welfare bill make it increasingly more difficult for people relying on state welfare to make ends meet, making it more difficult to cover the basic costs of housing and food – driving up homelessness and food poverty. Sanctions on social welfare – primarily designed as a cost-saving strategy – have a devastating impact on people’s lives, worsening the effects of other cuts to the social safety net.

None of this is rocket science. It is a simple case of cause and effect. Cuts hurt people. Worse than this, the government’s austerity programme is killing people. While it is near impossible to examine every death across the UK in order to assess the true scale of this problem, one indicator is particularly useful – the suicide rate. Not every death by suicide is related to the economy and austerity, but the statistics – published annually by the Samaritans – do show a direct and positive correlation between austerity cuts and incidences of suicide; as the government cuts and sanctions, the rate of suicide per every 100,000 people rises.


The Samaritans’ Suicide Report

From 2010 the overall suicide rate across the UK has risen, year on year, until the present – with rates higher in areas hit the hardest by austerity. The exception to this trend is in Scotland, where, since 2007, this rate has been falling steadily; thanks largely to the SNP government’s mitigation of Westminster’s austerity measures. Between 2012 and 2013 the suicide rate in Wales rose by a staggering 23 per cent, with the rate now standing at 21.0 per 100,000 for men and 5.5 for women. In England – as a whole – that rate is 15.4 for men and 5.0 for women, but in towns like Preston and Blackpool in the north those rates are doubled. In Northern Ireland, between 2015 and 2016, the suicide rate rose by 17.5 per cent – making it the highest in the UK at 26.9 for men and 7.7 for women.

Always, the simple facts are that the rate of suicide is lower in affluent areas and higher in poorer areas. Overall the rate rises as austerity deepens. In 1934, when the German Confessing Church spoke out against the tyranny of the National Socialists, the theologian Karl Barth spelt out that we are all responsible for the consequences of the political choices we make. Here in the United Kingdom austerity stands or falls on the support of the Conservative Party, the party responsible for this truly horrific austerity regime. Votes for the Tory party empower the British government to continue with and intensify this offensive programme, and therefore those who lend their vote to this party are complicit in the misery it is inflicting on hundreds of thousands of people.

There is no kinder way to put this. Stating this fact is not about recrimination; in a liberal democratic society people will always vote for the party with the policies that best serve their individual priorities. We all understand this, but our democratic choices – especially in this case – have ethical and moral implications. Austerity in all its forms, resulting as it does in such harm to innocent people, is objectively, morally wrong. For as long as this Conservative government in Westminster pursues these policies it is quite simply immoral to support it at the ballot. Each of us has a choice to make and, no matter how we have voted in the past, we have to make a choice directed by our conscience. There is nothing good or conscionable about supporting austerity.


Mark Blyth on Austerity

You can follow Jason Michael at his twitter page @Jeggit or at his webpage The Random Public Journal
Jason Michael is a  Scottish journalist and blogger based in Dublin. Writing on politics and society. Columnist for iScot Magazine and author of the Random Public Journal.


Mental Health – Complex Trauma or PTSD or Being Human

With regard to Mental Health, I have learned so much and more each and every day I learn. It was no different in our workshop today.  So many different unique perspectives on one subject.  I have suffered from a complex trauma issue for a few years now and I have been human all my life.

There are times when I over-react simply because my brain is telling me about the dangerous situation I am in, even when it is not a dangerous situation.

If a trigger I have never realised was there suddenly decides to rock my boat, it takes time to recognise what it is and what I can do to re-train my brain not to consider that particular trigger a problem.

There are some long, quite scary words used in Complex Trauma training, “systemic abuse,” being one of them.  Now that one can open up a whole can of worms, anything from watching too much news, to being hounded in respect of benefits, creating all the anxiety and stress that does bring-up.

You know, I am sure that every single individual interprets communication completely differently from the next person.  If you look at the process:

You see something, you think a thought – through the chemical processes of the brain, that thought becomes communication and in the case of verbal communication, you then have a  verbal, communication.

The person, receiving the information, hears and sees the verbal communication, which is then decoded by the brain.

A complicated process.

Added to which we all have our own developed individual realities, issues, background, that get in the way of us completely understanding, or interpreting what is being communicated in the way the person creating the communication meant it to be heard, seen etc.

We also have something else that can interfere in the whole process and that is an ability emotionally to feel what a communication is about.  We pick up emotion at an unconscious level and can get the communication wrong if what we see and what we feel do not match-up.  We can be honest about statements, and truly believe that the act was carried out, even when it didn’t happen that way at all, simply because we feel the intention, even when we do not see the act, itself.

Empathy, when we connect with others at an emotional level is an amazing human ability.  It allows us to sympathise, and, although we cannot walk in anyone else’s shoes, relate to others with similiar life experiences or issues.  In this way, we  can share, learn, teach, support each other.  Mutuality, as it is called, can bring a more complete, in-depth mutual support experience (Peer Support), than other forms of support. Some people are so sensitive to the emotions of others that they can end up travelling the road with the person suffering emotional disturbance.  It can prove impossible to pull away or draw back easily from situations, causing trauma to the previously unaffected person in addition to the person suffering disturbance.

Did you know?  The brain is really like the branches at the top of the tree, it is where the chemical/electrical thought, memory, etc. processes occur.  We do, however have other systems in the body that are part of the whole brain system.  These areas are located in the heart and the gut, the liver as Muslim people would say.

It is only when these three brain functions work in harmony, ie. we do not have a gut instinct or a heart suspicion that is different from the thoughts going through our brain. On the contrary, everything is working together, that we can be in the best place we can possibly get too.

So that was my day’s learning.  I would love to hear from folks on what they think, etc.

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Funeral For a Friend

ACCORDING to the rules of Christianity, my four friends are sinners and won’t get into heaven. The reason for being turned away at the pearly gates and condemned to an eternity in purgatory is because they chose to end their lives.

These friends were male, female, had children, childless, employed and unemployed. What they all had in common was an address in West Belfast and all were suffering the consequences of one or more traumatic episodes in their lives.


Out of my four friends, only one of them was politically involved. He was very much an altruistic person and would have done anything for you. He died of cirrhosis of the liver. He and we all knew he was going to die but he continued drinking heavily. The other three friends were not political, battled with addictions and chose a more abrupt way of departure.

When you swap carrying them home after a night out to carrying their coffin to the altar for God’s judgement; you tend to start thinking deeply about it all. You become a crusader for life. Not because you want to save someone but because your heart and brain can only take so much before you are at risk of becoming a victim yourself.

anti depressants

For years after, my sleep has been interrupted by imaginary flashbacks of my friend’s final hours. I have feelings of guilt because I wasn’t there to help them. Anti-depressants worked by glazing it over and counselling allowed me to let go of what I couldn’t control, alter or delete from memory. Like a computer with a virus, I needed a full reboot.

In this post conflict society, mental health is only gaining traction because we have now lost more humans to suicide and undetermined intent than we lost to years of bloodshed.  Ref:

In almost every town in Northern Ireland, there’s a counselling group and its run as a charity. They are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (2000) and this allows the withholding of facts.

To try to come to terms with the loss of my friends, I volunteered with two suicide prevention charities.  These services are being crippled with people begging for help. The waiting lists are sometimes six months long.  Involved in these community based charities has been a representative from either Sinn Féin or the DUP.

Both parties were architects of the Fresh Start Agreement and both responsible for denying closure to victims of the Troubles.


By not pushing for better funding in mental health via the DHSSPS, our elected representatives who know so well about our pain – are now also denying us the right to adequate mental health care. It’s almost like they don’t want us to talk about the past. What are they trying to hide?

We need a regional crisis support service. One that is accountable to the public and independent of privatisation.

There’s a new mental health facility being built at Belfast City Hospital, but there are no plans for a walk in clinic and there really should be.


question mark

Where are the Christian leaders who have benefited financially from opening graves for my friends?

Where are the politicians that turned up at their funerals and gave character references to the media when their bodies were found?

Why aren’t they campaigning for a facility such as this?

Or is it because my friends are now unable to produce children for indoctrination or turn up at the polling station; rendering them obsolete?

@AineCarson1 is a journalist blogger and frequent contributor to satirical news website @UlsterFryNI.  She lives in Belfast with her fourteen-year-old daughter.

You can follow ÁINE at her twitter page at @AineCarson1 and at her webpage Áine Carson



I’m writing a new show that will be biographical and feature tales about mental health. Last time I felt the black dog tugging on his leash was after the death of my dad. In truth though that wasn’t depression it was me grieving, which is perfectly natural. I feel it’s important we recognise that and don’t define ourselves via a condition…some of these jokes are in bad taste…good.  

I hold everything the NHS does in the highest regard. Being Scottish I’m quite reliant on them. I hate these twits that say, “Ah but you can’t expect free care forever.” It’s not free. We pay for it. And being an ex smoker of 20 years, with the amount of tax I’ve paid, when my time is up I want a gold plated bed and disgraced Tories washing my feet while I whack their arses with a rolled up copy of the Morning Star.

I’m not claiming NHS care is perfect. I used to have an uncle who had an NHS pacemaker and every time he farted the garage door would open.

My dad went out in an NHS bed. Not so much to do with a Scots lifestyle and more to do with he was chock a full of white asbestos from his job. The funeral was lovely and very well attended but his cremation went on forever.

That was the last time I felt depressed. But the point is it wasn’t depression I was just grieving. We should recognise that, I feel it’s very important we don’t define ourselves via conditions. Being sad is sometimes the right way to be. I really don’t like how we romanticise bad mental health. Poor old Van Gough get’s that, “Ah well, the reason he was so great was because he was so tortured.”
Bullshit. They claim his last words were  “la tristesse durera” meaning  “The pain is eternal” Well that was conveniently poetic of him wasn’t it?…and just not true. You know what my dads last words were? “You maybe better get a doctor. I think there’s something really wrong with me.” Which makes perfect sense. He wasn’t rattling out little bon mots on the nature of being. “Ah the universe is a hurricane and we are nought but farts.” What? What’s he saying? I’m not sure, something about farting like a hurricane. Ah…it’s probably the mixture of hospital cabbage and morphine.

I reckon Van Gough’s last words probably were more along the lines of, “Speak up you fool, I’m missing a lug. What? No I don’t feel like getting it down in a painting! I’m really fucking depressed! Send out for some prostitutes and Absinth, that tends to work”

And if those really were his last words then he was wrong. Pain isn’t eternal…Well unless you’re watching Scotland in a world cup qualifier. In which case it can feel like it. The point is you get better. Of course I can still feel a swelling of emotion when I think of my dad, but it’s a nice feeling. I was just thinking today how he could be full of constant surprises. I remember watching indie band The Smiths on telly one day and he looked up from his paper and said, “What a lovely singer that man is. Perfect diction, you can make out every word.” I was stunned. As far as music went he wasn’t into anything post Sinatra. Now he’s gone from Sinatra to The Smiths and cut out pretty much everything in between. That’s some gap. Or maybe he just liked the idea of “hanging DJs” Then there was the time gay icon Boy George first appeared on Top of the Pops. Again he looks up from his paper, “What’s that.” He enquired? Not who, what. I said, “It’s Boy George. He’s gay.” To which he replied, “Well if gay means happy then that man’s ecstatic.” A joke I feel good enough to go in this show.

Although the death of my dad from cancer was anything but pleasant I didn’t find it horrific either. Life kind of prepares you for such stuff. And even in among all the pain nice things would happen. The day before he went he decided to rally round and find the strength to watch Scotland play England at Rugby. We hadn’t defeated England in an age…that day we won. Nice one God. I always reckoned if he did exist he’s probably Scottish and invented England to punish us for our sins.

Even on the day of his passing quirky stuff was happening. My family is like The Broons. There’s as many of us as them and like The Broons if one heads out to solve a problem then another nine follow behind them. On the day my dad was at the end he had been put into twilight to ease his pain. It was decided a word with the nurse was required and in typical Broons/Scott family tradition nine of them set off down the corridor and I was charged with watching my dad as I had a “nursing background”. I’d worked for nine months in a psychiatric hospital about ten years prior. They hadn’t been out the room more than two minutes and my dad decided, from whatever level of consciousness he was on, It seems to have gone a bit quite I’ll just sneak away now. And he stopped breathing. I got a fright. I then said, “Shit dad they’re all out the room. Could you please just hang on.” And he promptly started breathing again.

So then I lean out his room and call on the family. As I was doing this I did the most ridiculous thing of keeping one hand on his bed, like you do with a shopping trolley in the supermarket…in case someone is looking for exactly the same groceries as you and makes off with your stuff. I’ve no idea where I thought he might be going. I think the chances of him leaping up and announcing there’s maybe some time left for a final bet at the bookies were slim.

PS My dad’s the one on the left in this photo.

You can follow John Scott on twitter at @JohnScottComedy  or at his blog page  John Scott comedyDissent

I can’t even open my own front door

This is an article that I wrote for the Guardian in December that I didn’t post on my blog, because I hadn’t done anything ‘political’ on here for so long that I didn’t want to scare people away. But I am who I am, and this is a very big part of who I am, so if you’re here for just the cheap recipes, then I make no apology for talking a little about why I started writing them in the first place.

TRIGGER WARNINGS: Anxiety, trauma, mental health, PTSD, debt, poverty.

My head in my hands, choking out words, tears rushing down hot, humiliated cheeks, I raised my head to look at the array of varying expressions looking back from the other side of the room; a Labour MP, two Conservative peers, and a Conservative MP looked back, a mixture of horror and sympathy as I publicly crashed and burned. Fear and humiliation and self-loathing leaping on me like a set of hyenas, as I sobbed: “I can’t even answer my telephone, any more. If it’s an unknown number, if it rings early in the morning, or I don’t know who it is. I can’t even open my own front door. It’s not the same front door, as the one I sat with my back to, morning and afternoon, cowering as bailiffs battered on the other side of it. It’s not the same phone number. It’s not the same front door. I’m not in debt. There are no more final demands, no more red capital letters, no more threats. But … I can’t even open my own front door.”

I gave evidence at the all-party parliamentary group inquiry into hunger and food bank use in the UK a few months ago, one of over 1,000 pieces of evidence heard by the committee – expecting to recount a story told and retold at party conferences, charity events, radio interviews, to journalists, again and again and again over the past two and a half years. But the APPG wanted more than ‘hunger hurts’. They asked, probed, dug, questioned, opening up the old wounds, and made notes as I trembled in my seat, recalling nights of wrapping a baby up in a vest and a babygro and a dressing gown before putting him down to sleep. Of going to bed shortly afterwards because there’s nothing else to do, and it’s dark, and cold, and you sold the telly, so you go to bed at 7pm and curl up beside him and hold him, because it feels like the only good thing you have. Of being asked, very quietly, by a member of staff at my local children’s centre if a food bank referral form would help us out “for a little while”, as she noticed us having seconds at lunch, and thirds, and three or four sugars in endless cups of tea, of offering to wash up and boxing up the leftovers to take home, away from the eyes of the other mums in the group.

I talked about the unexpectedness of it all, of applying for flexible working hours and day work roles in the fire service before I resigned, of applying for every job I saw in the 18 months afterwards – care work, shop work, minimum wage work, apprenticeships at £80 a week to be told I was “too old” at 23, when the 16-year-olds were cheaper to hire. Of the bank charges that mounted up when bills bounced, and the late payment charges, and how quickly a £6 water charge can spiral into hundreds of pounds in late fees and bank charges, and nobody will give you the smallest of overdrafts, to tide you over, because those charges and subsequent interest are worth far more to a high street bank..

I staggered out of parliament, clutching a friend, shaking and crying. I went home, phoned my partner at work, and wept down the line. The mental breakdown I had been holding back for two and a half years through keeping busy, writing books, smiling for the cameras, crashed down around me.

Poverty took me from being the girl who was always the lead in the school play, to a woman who can’t open her own front door. I suffer panic attacks, anxiety attacks, seemingly random triggers that immobilise me, render me useless but simultaneously unable to explain myself. I’ve cancelled talks and events, crushed into a corner of my sofa, sobbing until my guts ache at the drop of a final demand letter from a years-old debt landing on my door mat. One doorbell ringing unexpectedly last April sent me scuttling to hide at the top of my landing, peering fearfully down the hallway until whoever it was went away. I often miss interviews, because a certain broadcasting corporation calls from unknown or withheld numbers, and I just can’t bring myself to answer them. I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me my poverty wasn’t real enough, or long enough, or whatever their particular factors deem to be poor enough – and all I can say to them, is that I can’t even open my own front door.

You can Follow Jack Monroe on twitter @DrJackMonroe 

or visit her blog page agirlcalledjack


Mental Health in Scotland and France – perspective


After six years living in France, we returned home to Scotland earlier this year due to circumstances beyond our control. When our

daughter’s mental health went in to a serious and frightening decline, we discovered the realities of France’s mental health treatment for children and adolescents. At times, we even question the wisdom of our move abroad.


Our daughter Alyth, now 15, was always a shy and anxious child. She was, and still is, very beautiful and sweet-natured, but often had difficulty relating to and interacting with other children, or making friends. Teachers often remarked on her ability to ‘disappear’ in class by remaining silent and not contributing. Despite this, her years at primary school in Scotland and then in France were fairly settled, although she suffered some low-level bullying because of her quietness and perceived ‘strangeness’. In fact, both Alyth and her brother Alasdair had adapted well, and quickly developed astonishing fluency in French.


It was at the beginning of secondary school that things started to go wrong. A series of poor results in schoolwork resulted in a repeat of the first year. Anxiety, sudden mood swings and angry outbursts made home life very tense. As parents, we struggled to understand this change, but put it down to the onset of adolescence, the pressures generated by a rather rigid school system and normal teenage angst, accepting that we would probably have to sit it out and weather the storm for a few years. By the autumn of 2013, however, it became clear that things were just not that simple. Alyth admitted that she had been self-harming for almost two years, to alleviate ‘bad feelings’. Her style of her clothes, make-up and music became very ‘Emo’; later, her behaviour became increasingly erratic and her style of dressing more aggressive and Gothic. She listened to loud rock bands (we eventually learned this was a technique to drown out troublesome voices in her head). By Christmas, she had descended into a living nightmare of psychosis, with voices, paranoia, hallucinations and detachment from reality. She was hospitalised for a short time in an emergency psychiatric unit, then later admitted to an adolescent unit for assessment and treatment.


At the time we were relieved that she was receiving some help with these distressing symptoms, and were cautiously hopeful of an improvement. However, as the weeks passed, we began to feel uneasy about the attitudes of the psychiatric staff. Despite long explanations and our having kept a detailed journal of events over several weeks, we felt as if we were really just making it all up. We were excluded and kept in the dark about Alyth’s treatment. One evening we had a call to say that she had displayed ‘some extreme behaviour.’ This turned out to be a suicide attempt, after an abrupt withdrawal of her medication in favour of a placebo. Her medication was then chopped and changed over an eight week period while doctors puzzled over the diagnosis, leaving Alyth in a state of mental suffering, while also dealing with many side effects. Meanwhile, we had done a great deal of our own research into her symptoms and had realised that Alyth’s illness was somewhere on the schizophrenic/bipolar spectrum. Strangely, the psychiatrist in charge was reluctant even to admit to the possibility of a 15 year old having such a condition and took a surprisingly flippant attitude to our deep concerns. We faced many such obstacles, and were told more than once not to talk about psychotic symptoms. After almost three months, we were no further forward. Alyth was still seriously ill and a considerable danger to herself, and we had reached the end of the line with the mental health professionals.


scottish flag
Rhoda felt a move back to Scotland was best for her daughter

Although French psychiatry widely acknowledges the existence of childhood psychosis, its approach to treatment is outdated and in our view, backward. Drug treatment is minimized and psychotherapy widely favoured as the main form of treatment, effectively talking a young person out of their illness and using other socialisation activities such as sport and group work. This appears to be the fundamental ethos in childhood mental disorders, but also reveals a deep-seated unease and unwillingness in French culture to confront the reality of such illnesses.


We soon realised that moving back to Scotland was our only option to give Alyth any chance of adequate treatment. We have been here since April. Alyth has had a diagnosis of schizo-affective disorder. She was admitted to Stobhill adolescent unit in Glasgow, where she was treated with understanding and compassion. Her medication has increased progressively and the psychotic symptoms are at last under control. Continuing psychiatric and psychological therapy is helping her confront other difficulties such as anxiety and cognitive damage. Despite all the upheaval we have faced, we have no doubts it was the right thing and indeed the only thing we could have done. Alyth has faced so many terrifying challenges and so many ups and downs in her young life, but always with amazing strength, courage and determination. There’s still an uphill struggle, but each passing week brings a glimmer of hope.


Because of what we experienced in France, we see our NHS as a valuable national resource. This was one of our many reasons for voting Yes in the referendum. So much could have been safeguarded with a Yes vote, and we now dread the effects TTIP and other corporate power grabs could have on healthcare. Complacent No voters have dismissed these fears as SNP scaremongering and claim the NHS is safe in Scotland as a devolved power. Nonetheless, we are still dependent on whatever pocket money Westminster decides to dish out. Physical and mental health surely go hand in hand for society to be successful. But right-wing, self-serving policies are leaving the weakest and most vulnerable without a voice. Our hope is that Scotland can move forward and become a better, equal and caring society where the politicians we elect are truly representative and accountable for their actions.


picture provided by Mark Newton

featured image provided by Lose Farquharson