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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Health protection is a global issue – and there are lessons to learn and share from all incidents, wherever they occur. That was the message from the global health protection workshop at FPH’s annual conference in Cardiff on 19 July.

Delegates heard how the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has built a worldwide reputation for its work, in part because the global nature of health protection means that planning needs to go beyond national borders. The World Health Organisation has 10 collaborating centres in the UK, while the HPA has sent teams on international secondments to South Africa, India and Australia. One of the speakers talked about how the HPA had been involved in giving high-level advice to government agencies after the earthquake and nuclear power failure in Fukushima.

Closer to home, the delegates heard from Dr Sarah Finlay about how she and her colleagues from the charity Festival Medical Services dealt with an outbreak of H1N1 at the Glastonbury festival in 2009. The festival had a population of 135,000 ticket holders, and 35,000 artists and staff, many of whom were the kind of healthy, young people most likely to contract the virus. The infrastructure of the event meant that living conditions were poor. People’s behaviour, as would be expected at a music festival, was not typical. The combined circumstances meant that it was easy for communicable diseases to transfer.

Risk was mitigated by following the protocols for managing H1N1, having immediate access to antiviral stocks and good transport to the onsite medical facilities, despite the mud. Good advice was given to festival goers before, during and after the festival, stressing the ‘Catch It. Kill It. Bin It.’ message and the importance of using the hand gels that were available across the site.

Information was circulated via the Glastonbury festival website, music press and general media. Just as the HPA team working on Fukushima had regular updates throughout each day to share information, so the Glastonbury health team relied on situation updates three times each day.

There were six cases of swine ‘flu at Glastonbury in 2009, all of which were confirmed by laboratory test results and each of whom left the site for further treatment. One of these cases was a 16-year old girl who had been sharing a tepee with 12 other people, each of whom had to be tracked down in the chaos of festival life.

In the circumstances, the team felt the outbreak had been well managed, and the lessons learnt from this example of mass gathering medicine were shared with the organisers of the Berlin World Athletics and the Hadj.

Dr Finlay summed up by saying that the success of the festival’s approach to H1N1 was due to having a well thought-through approach, early detection, awareness of the issue and by sharing the lessons learnt.

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by Camila Batmanghelidjh

Founder and Director, Kids Company

I watched a young man biting his arm who believed that, as a bird, he was pulling out feathers. There was no parent to care for him; for a long time he had coped alone. Let me evidence the invisibility of children like him who, at best, survive on leftovers of other people’s care and, at worst, shut down hope to avoid disappointment.

Kids Company supports 17,000 children and young people with psychosocial care. Recently, our work with 668 disadvantaged 16- to 23-year-olds highlighted dark statistics.

Just under 560 were not registered or connected with a GP; 411 required mental health interventions; 87% had experienced multiple trauma; 394 required housing; 365 needed sexual health interventions; 436 had to be registered with a dentist; 363 required an optician’s assessment.

These are citizens of the underbelly whose needs remain invisible and unmet. Young people have little faith in civil society’s ability to reach out to them. As one put it: “The government hates us.”

Young people believe this because the narrative emanating from politicians is often unwittingly derogatory. Tuition fees have increased, the EMA grant has been stopped, housing benefits have been cut. No-one will rent a room to a young man for fear that he may trash their house, and yet he cannot live in his own flat or bedsit, because £70 a week is the maximum allowance for his rent.

During the [2011] summer riots the TV cameras didn’t follow all those children who stole food. Instead they focused on those who took plasma TVs and trainers.  Forty-two per cent of the young people brought before the courts were in receipt of free school meals. But we are too frightened to see need. Instead, we see greed.

So what brought these desperate young people to such extremes of rage? Don’t go looking for big answers. The truth resides somewhere smaller: in that insidious space where human dignity is systematically eroded. The kids describe it as “stress”: the door of possibility slamming in their faces.

They’re told to have aspirations, but noone will pay their college fees. They’re told to get fit, but no-one will give them money for the gym. They’re told to eat well, but they have no more than £10 a week to buy food while on benefits. They’re told to see their doctors but don’t have enough phone credit or patience for the booking queue.

With 1.1 million children and young people having mental health difficulties in the UK, you’d be forgiven for thinking we were organising a nationwide famine in therapeutic support. Children need an integrated approach to wellbeing, taking into account their range of psychosocial needs in the context of sustained care relationships – not this lucky-dipping for healthcare.

Proximity would yield mutual solutions – healing the wounds of the banned age with a  bandage. Bandages support, hold and promote self-recovery. If a piece of cloth can do it, why can’t we?

This article first appeared in the December issue of Public Health Today, FPH’s quarterly magazine.

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Here I am, enjoying a little summer frivolity up at the Edinburgh Fringe, and it seems to me there isn’t a stand-up standing who hasn’t made some play with swine flu or obesity or the crack-down on binge drinking. From Rhod Gilbert to Rich Hall, from Jason Byrne to Stewart Lee, they’ve all had a go at public health one way or another.

Meanwhile quite a few of the musical cabarets are getting in on the act too. The Oompah Band are sending up the credit crunch with lots of brassy references to redundancy, repossessed homes and the horrors of being down-and-out. Fascinating Aida do a hilarious song about health and safety on children’s outings and a wonderful calypso about the impact of climate change in the Shetlands. And yes, the comedy group I’m singing in, Instant Sunshine, can’t resist joining in with a number about the perils of the demon drink.

But what a strange time I’m having. One minute I’m talking seriously on the radio, down the line from the BBC’s Edinburgh studio, about ham sandwiches, candle wax and the risk of cancer, and the next I’m up on stage singing a silly song about a showjumper who’s lost his horse. One minute I’m on Sky News debating the joys of the NHS versus the inequities of the US healthcare system, and the next I’m impersonating the Queen opening a desperately unfinished Olympic site in 2012.

But hey, that’s showbiz for you. Instant Sunshine’s stuff is gently humorous, utterly inoffensive and, let’s face it, a little dated. We first came here in 1975 and have been back every other year since, thanks to a small but faithful following. There have been thousands of acts on the Fringe, but we are probably the longest-serving. Certainly our queue has by far the most zimmer frames.

 It’s all great fun and utterly frivolous. And I suppose, if it makes people happy for a while, it’s public health – kind of – isn’t it?

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