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Stopping The Rot, a piece for Mental Health Awareness Week by Tom Chaplin

10 May 2017

This Be The Verse
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

While I love the insight and acerbic wit of Philip Larkin’s poem, This Be The Verse, it’s a depressingly bleak vision of mankind. Although I agree with him that our unhappiness and insecurities are all too often handed down from one generation to another, I don’t believe that it’s an inevitability. I have recently felt a growing sense in these high-pressured, fast-paced times of a desire to refocus society’s lens on the single most important facet of our existence – our own wellbeing, both individually and collectively. For as long as human beings continue to procreate it’s incumbent on us to try and stop the rot.

From the moment we are first conscious, right through to adulthood, we’re bombarded with adverts selling us material possessions, technology and gadgetry that will enhance our lives. We’re presented with images, through film, TV and social media of seemingly perfect human beings with perfect lives. We’re told to eat healthily and exercise in order to feel better about our physical selves. Is it any wonder we aspire to unachievable perfection and material and financial gain to make us happy? Is it any wonder that so many of us end up with mental health issues? Anxiety, depression and addiction are as ubiquitous as these sticking plaster solutions to the problem that lies deep within all of us – the human condition.

Society’s quick fix solution is to fill people full of antidepressants and send them on their way. We’re told to “man up”, we’re eager that we and those we love find a speedy solution in troubled times; no wonder, it’s often scary to be confronted by our lives spinning out of control. Of course, this attitude means we are neglecting the root cause of a deeply complex and nuanced problem that will continue to fester and make all of our lives harder. In my opinion, the solution to this issue has to be a profound change towards making our mental health and equilibrium a high priority in society. If we can stop the rot of passing on our unhappiness and our insecurities to the next generation (ad infinitum), we need to create a world in which we feel safe to explore and confront our problems. It takes a leap of faith by ourselves and our governments, but I’m convinced that it would pay us back more handsomely than all the other noise that fills society’s agenda.

As parents or primary carers, we need greater guidance and advice on how to bring up our children to manage the full range of their emotions. We need to learn and be able to identify the situations when we are imposing our own frailties on to them. There is already a mountain of research in this field but it is not filtering through to the mainstream. The scientific consensus is that the role of parents, particularly in the first three years of a child’s life, has a vital and lasting impact on shaping how they will be as adults; so, in essence, this support can’t start soon enough.

Our schools should also be playing a vital role. We need to have specifically trained staff working on a daily basis with children to discuss their feelings, relationships and sex. It is time to remove the stigma and shame from these subjects and make them as integral a part of the curriculum as anything else. Adolescents need to be treated with the respect and sensitivity that they deserve, particularly as this is the time when many mental health problems first emerge. Again, I believe that the short term cost of this will be far outweighed by the benefits it reaps.

And what about the rest of us? We see our high streets littered with shops selling us endless shiny new products. The environmental cost of this is already enough to be concerned about, let alone the false hope that material acquisition offers. We have gyms in all our towns and cities, many making an easy buck from people’s often short-lived plans for physical transformation. We have pubs, bars and nightclubs where we can go to drown our sorrows. Of course, I’m not saying that these places don’t serve a purpose, but amongst it all, where are the psychotherapy centres, where are the places we can go to make sense of our complicated lives?

How wonderful would it be to live in a world where we showed more kindness to ourselves and, in turn, each other? I would love to see an end to the self-serving ‘judge and jury’ attitude that we see across our newspapers and social media. My hope is that by identifying our own problems, by removing the stigma around our approach to mental health, we can create a society where we’re motivated by love. I truly believe that this starts with each of us individually. When you look inside yourself and find someone you like, you can take compassion and empathy into everyday life. I was a hopeless drug addict for many years – often isolated and selfish. Although addiction is a problem I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, it did force me to engage in therapy and I’ve come through it a far healthier and happier human being than I ever would have been. While it’s perfectly possible to go through life repressing our feelings and being scared of the darkness and shame that lurks within all of us, it denies us the full human experience. For all the beauty, intricacy, pain and joy that occupies the external world, there is the same inside each human being. Becoming vulnerable and open to exploring these parts of ourselves is an act of courage that I believe can make our world a happier and more harmonious place.

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Click here for more info on Mental Health Awareness Week

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