Tag Archives: Health

Money can’t buy happiness? That’s just wishful thinking

I know when I don’t have any I can be very stressed, but who would have thought it.
For me money only represents security.

For others I suppose its different. What I do find most unpleasant is the undue influence unelected people with money have over others. It’s all about the power?


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Money can’t buy happiness? That’s just wishful thinking” was written by Ruth Whippman, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 17th May 2016 18.04 UTC

Money can’t buy happiness: it’s a rarely questioned truism. It also tends to be most enthusiastically embraced by those who have never gone without it. “I’ve tried hard to care about money,” Chelsea Clinton once humble-bragged, “but I couldn’t.” No matter how attached we are to the idea that money can’t buy happiness, though, the research shows almost the complete opposite.

After community and social relationships, the association between income and wellbeing is one of the most robust in the happiness literature. And a new study demonstrates just how deep-seated that psychological link is, how intricately our financial circumstances weave their way into our psyches.

Money doesn’t just shield us from obvious daily stresses, this study tells us, but can actually buy us the most basic of our psychological needs – human connection. The higher our income, the less likely we are to experience loneliness.

This study builds on a wide body of research giving a similar message. Although money is clearly no guarantee of contentment, and there are anomalies in the data, as a general rule, the better off we are financially, the happier we are.

But yet we still restate our fridge-magnet mantra about the irrelevance of money to happiness over and over again, a cosy boast of our lack of materialism. And in recent years, with the advent of the highly influential “positive psychology” movement, this idea has been given a new academic respectability.

Positive psychology – the study of happiness and how to improve it – is an academic discipline less than 20 years old, and one of the fastest growing and most newly influential in the US. Positive psychology professors have been contracted to advise everyone from corporate America to the British government, and the field has spawned an entire industry of self-help books, coaching, courses and consultancy.

Right from the start, the basic philosophical underpinning of most of the positive psychology movement has been that our circumstances (including our financial circumstances) are of minimal consequence to our happiness. Instead, what really matters is our attitude. In this worldview, with the right techniques and enough emotional elbow-grease we can “positive think” our way out of almost any adversity.

Often using small or methodologically flawed studies as evidence, positive psychologists restate over and over the claim that money is of minimal importance to wellbeing. “Increases in wealth have negligible effects on personal happiness” writes Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania in his seminal positive psychology book, Authentic Happiness.

Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert discussed a similar idea in his wildly popular TED talk, The Surprising Science of Happiness, now viewed over 12 million times. He quoted as evidence a methodological train-wreck of a study from the 1970s that suggested that a small group of lottery winners were no happier than a group of paraplegic accident victims. (Although Gilbert graciously later admitted that the study actually didn’t even really show that much.)

Positive psychology’s insistence that our circumstances matter little to our happiness, and relentless focus on individual effort has an ideological flavor – a kind of neoliberalism of the emotions. And perhaps this philosophical bent isn’t surprising, given the positive psychology’s history and its key financial backers.

A large part of positive psychology’s academic research has been bankrolled by an organization called the Templeton Foundation, a group that has provided millions of dollars in funding to most of the major positive psychology research centers in America. While the Foundation is ostensibly politically neutral, its founder and director until his death last year was Sir John Templeton Jr, a lavish rightwing political donor, who over his lifetime gave millions of dollars to the Republican party and various anti-government rightwing political causes.

From the start, the Templeton Foundation set the intellectual scope of positive psychology’s remit by overwhelmingly funding projects designed to demonstrate the importance of individual effort to happiness via optimism, gratitude exercises and the like, and all but ignoring the impact of social context.

The narrative of the irrelevance of money to happiness has, unsurprisingly been enthusiastically received by corporate America, some of the best customers of the positive psychology movement, who have eagerly replaced pay-rises with “workplace happiness training”, unionization with positive thinking.

But it’s a dangerous story. Money matters. And most of us have a lot less of it than we used to. For most workers, real income has barely shifted for decades, and more than a quarter of working Americans earn what are officially classified as “poverty-level wages”. Forty-six million people in the US live below the poverty line and even the middle class is in financial crisis. Nearly half of Americans would struggle to find 0 in an emergency. Money isn’t a fringe issue to our wellbeing. It’s at the very heart and soul of it.

And instead of being embarrassed to admit that, we should be shouting it from the rooftops, printing it on our fridge magnets and using it as a rallying cry for social action. Money makes us happy! Suggesting otherwise doesn’t make us spiritually enlightened or morally superior. It makes us clueless.

Ruth Whippman will be speaking at a Guardian Live/Somerset House event How to be Happy on 1 September.

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Mindfulness therapy for mental health problems? ‘It’s more useful than drugs’

Well now, I have had the drugs and they worked for a while, but they don’t permanently fix the problem. 

Personally I have tried everything from self-hypnosis to mediation and these techniques work for a while,  but the effectiveness tends to be temporary. Having said that, anything that works even for a while has got to help .

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Mindfulness therapy for mental health problems? ‘It’s more useful than drugs'” was written by Sarah Marsh and Guardian readers, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 18th May 2016 08.30 UTC

Many people, in an attempt to de-stress, have tried some form of mindfulness – the practice of sitting still and focusing on your breathing and thoughts. But does it work? And in what circumstances?

A new study has raised hope for its use in treating mental health problems. The biggest review of the practice by researchers at Oxford University found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could help to combat depression as effectively as drugs.

The University of Oxford’s department of psychiatry, the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, also released research last year that found the MBCT course reduced the risk of relapse into depression by 44%. It adds to emerging evidence showing its effectiveness for treating generalised anxiety disorder and other mental health conditions.

As part of mental health awareness week, the Guardian posted a callout asking for those with mental health concerns to share their views on the effect of mindfulness on their wellbeing. More than 200 people responded.

Gina Rose, 51, from Basingstoke, who attended an MBCT course through the NHS, replied, saying that she used to get completely overwhelmed by her thoughts, succumbing to fear and depression caused by a childhood trauma. “Mindfulness didn’t take away these feelings completely, but it made them not overwhelming,” she says. “Over time, as I saw thoughts arise I acknowledged them and worked on self-compassion for having them in the first place. All this meant was that I didn’t end up feeling like death whenever depression came knocking.”

Kyle, 56, from London, was introduced to mindfulness in 1991 by his therapist, during a period of anxiety and depression. “It had a surprisingly rapid effect on me, and then levelled out to a steadier climb. If you’ve been breathing badly, with anxiety, you’re causing adrenaline to course through your nervous system, creating a mind-breath-panic feedback loop. This escalates to the point where it is enervating and exhausting. The gain from slowing down and being conscious of your breath was almost immediate.” Once this was achieved, Kyle could explore the reasons for his anxiety.

Mike, 56, from London, was recommended mindfulness meditation by a counsellor to help deal with a generalised anxiety disorder, and found it more effective than antidepressants. “It won’t work for everyone, no doubt, but I have anxiety that isn’t very severe. It certainly makes sense that spending 10 minutes a day relaxing and focusing on your thoughts, feelings and sensations would help you feel more present. I found it more useful than the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) I was prescribed by the NHS, in any case.”

Not everyone had such positive experiences. Tom, 42, from Lancashire tried dance-based mindfulness through the NHS, and also experimented with breathing techniques. “My mind always slipped back to listening to the music, and the lyrics. Breathing exercises make me more anxious … I seem to be unable to meditate. My mind is very busy, and I just end up thinking about how I should be meditating, with all sorts of other thoughts whizzing by as well.”

Tom feels that when mindfulness fails, the blame is often placed on the person who is practising it. “‘Don’t you want to change?’ That’s what I kept on being asked. Of course I do, but I know where my mental health issues come from. I have been through some very traumatic experiences, and I need to tackle them.”

For some, mindfulness not only doesn’t work, it also may make the problem worse, an issue raised by psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm in their book, The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?, which argues that we need to look into the “dark side” of mindfulness.

Huck, 54, says that with practice, the mind is freed of both positive and negative thought patterns. This can allow problems to be put into a broader context.

But, he adds, the vastness of the mind can have a depressing effect on some. “This is because when we slow our thoughts down, they may play out in a more detailed and specific way. This can be useful with positive thoughts, but it can be damaging when we are in a depressed mood. The tone can become self-destructive and a sense of hopelessness may emerge.”

Helena, 52, from Ireland, says that if someone claims that it makes them feel worse, they shouldn’t be told by their psychiatrist to persist. “This happened to me. Also, I was made me feel that if I wasn’t feeling better, it was my own fault for not sticking with it. Ironically, I believe mindfulness should be started when a person is well. Or at least well enough to endure some psychic discomfort.”

Some also wonder whether mindfulness is more effective for certain mental health issues. Ian, 40, from Nottingham says: “I’d recommend it to recovering and recovered people to maintain good times and as a coping strategy but people have to be quite stable, mentally strong and with other forms of support in place. It’s not for people in acute states, in crisis, going through major stresses or in severe depression.”

Annemarije, 18, from Derby, who has tried mindfulness through the NHS as part of CBT, says: “It can help with neuroses like anxiety, depression and maybe obsessive compulsive disorder, but it might be tricky to apply to people who suffer from illnesses that feature psychosis. If my dad (a bipolar-schizophrenic) can’t be bothered to take his pills now and then, I’m not sure if he’d be up for sitting down and practising mindfulness.”

Despite the fact that some struggled with mindfulness (or it simply didn’t help with their issues), the overall message was that if you are given proper support then you have a higher chance of finding mindfulness beneficial.

Many of those who replied to us stress that a good teacher is essential, something noted in this year’s mindfulness all-party parliamentary group’s interim report, Mindful Nation UK.

Tracey, 46, from Bromley says: “The UK guidelines for mindfulness teachers requires rigorous and committed training. If the teacher doesn’t adhere to these guidelines then mindfulness in mental health will not be effective.”

There was also a general consensus that you should approach mindfulness as a tool for recovery but not see it as a cure-all. Dr Sarah Maynard, 33, from Tunbridge Wells, says: “The difficulty comes when people think it is a panacea. As with any therapeutic approach it is not right for everyone, and not right for people in the midst of significant problems … Mindfulness is not something we can simply ‘plug into’ to fix ourselves, it’s a fundamentally different way of approaching our difficulties and our lives, and is a practice that takes time to develop. Eight-week courses run by appropriately trained providers are the perfect opportunity to develop understanding and practise this approach.”

Jeannie Mackenzie, 65, from Scotland, describes it as a significant aid in her toolbox, which can “help us stay well, along with good food, exercise and connection with others”. For others, it can also be used alongside medication or other forms of therapy.

The most important thing, though, as pointed out by nearly all respondents, is to follow what feels right for you. Craig, 46, from London, says: “There is no doubt in my mind that mindfulness can be a powerful tool for dealing with personal issues and managing stress, but it’s only one of many techniques and strategies for coping. A walk in nature, time with friends, a gentle run or reading a good book can achieve very similar results … People need to adopt a strategy that best suits their personality and the issues they face, which calls for a certain amount of trial and error.”

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UK must spend more on the vulnerable

Again this is very important and worth a wider audience. 


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “UK must spend more on the vulnerable” was written by , for The Guardian on Monday 16th March 2015 19.53 UTC

Day in and day out, we work with hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children facing many difficulties like abuse and neglect at home or problems at school.  While the state currently spends nearly £17bn per year on social problems affecting children and young people, the support they get is often too little, too late. ncreasing early help for families should be a top priority. It will save millions of children from suffering needless trauma and will save money in the long run. 

We want all political candidates in the 2015 general election to commit to championing early support for children and families.

Our charities understand the pressures on vulnerable children and families. That is why we are committed to providing a range of services at an earlier stage that help children and families cope better with life’s challenges. But we can’t do this on our own.

By making a commitment to early intervention, politicians can help lead a real, lasting, cost-effective transformation to the lives of vulnerable children across the UK, now and in the future.
Sir Tony Hawkhead Chief executive, Action for Children
Javed Khan Chief executive, Barnardo’s
Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children’s Society
Peter Wanless Chief executive, NSPCC

• We write as organisations working with children and pensioners, disabled people and those with long-term health conditions, in- and out-of-work families, and those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We have sent a letter to the leaders of the three main parties calling on them to commit to restore the value of all benefits, and to maintain this in real terms in the next parliament and beyond.

The UK’s social security system provides essential support to many of the people with whom we work. It should guarantee their dignity, protect them against poverty, and enable them to have a basic standard of living. 

Adequate social security provision benefits all of society, not just those who rely on it at any one time. If we do not protect the value of all benefits, significant numbers of people will be unable to participate fully in society, an outcome that surely none of us desire.
Alison Garnham Chief executive, Child Poverty Action Group
Caroline Abrahams Charity director, Age UK

Heléna Herklots Chief executive, Carers UK

Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE Chief executive, Royal National Institute of Blind People

Jon Sparkes Chief executive, Crisis

Matthew Reed Chief executive, The Children’s Society
Javed Khan Chief executive, Barnardos

Mark Lever Chief executive, National Autism Society
Disability Agenda Scotland (six member organisations)
Jolanta Lasota Chief executive, Ambitious About Autism
Fiona Weir Chief executive, Gingerbread
Geraldine Blake Chief executive, Community Links
Howard Sinclair Chief executive, St Mungos Broadway
Sir Stuart Etherington Chief executive, National Council for Voluntary Organisations
Liz Sayce OBE Chief executive, Disability Rights UK
Rick Henderson Chief executive, Homeless Link
Aaron Barbour Director, Katherine Low Settlement
Andy Kerr Chief executive, Sense Scotland
Anna Feuchtwang Chief executive, National Children’s Bureau
Marcus Roberts Chief executive, Drugscope

• On 19 March I will protest against benefit sanctions with Unite Community outside the DWP, whose ministers are in denial about the link between suicide and sanctions. Most people are in debt when the sanction stops all their income. Debt is unavoidable because housing and council tax benefits have been cut leaving the remaining benefit incomes in work and unemployment to pay the outstanding rent, created by the bedroom tax and £500 benefit cap,  and the council tax, plus court costs and bailiffs fees. Otherwise the sanction forces them into debt because they have no money on which to survive. That is the trap set by parliament for honest citizens who feel obliged to pay their debts; some despair and many call on their GPs. The NHS is now to receive an extra £1.25bn for mental health services while the DWP is creating an ever greater demand for them. 
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

In answer to a parliamentary question by Stephen Timms MP, to the DWP, answered by Esther McVey MP, on how many people have been refused hardship payments since 2012, she answered that the information is not available. It is time that it was.
Gary Martin
London

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The biggest privatisation in NHS history: why we had to blow the whistle

Another reason why we should all keep our eye on the ball


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “The biggest privatisation in NHS history: why we had to blow the whistle” was written by Kate Godfrey, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th March 2015 12.16 UTC

I’m not a journalist, but as of this morning I know what it feels like to be part of the biggest leak in NHS history.

Published on openDemocracy, the memorandum of information for the £700m sell-off of Staffordshire cancer services is now available for the 800,000 directly affected and 3 million indirectly affected patients to read online.

That document, together with others relating to the joint £1.2bn privatisation of cancer and end-of-life services in Staffordshire, was sent to me. They are commercially confidential, secret agreements that will rebuild NHS services for hundreds of thousands of people, but are for the eyes of the bidding companies only.

Not only is this the first billion-pound NHS privatisation, it is the first time that it has been deemed acceptable to put care designed to meet the needs of our most vulnerable patients on sale.

Uniquely for a privatisation on anything of this scale, there has been no public consultation, simply a series of weak “engagement” events led by paid “patient champions”. For the past year unpaid patients have not been able to have their say. Thanks to the brave person who shared the documents, now they can.

The background is this: Staffordshire commissioners want to hand the management of all care for cancer and end-of-life patients to a private company, a “prime provider” that will take responsibility for the delivery of care, subcontracting and performance management.

There are lots of firsts here. It is the first time that cancer or end-of-life care has been contracted out. The first use of the prime provider model on anything like this scale. The first privatisation without formal consultation. The first huge international NHS contract that could fall under TTIP. Transfer these services out of the NHS now, and we may never get them back.

The leading bidders are all US private healthcare companies, some of them implicated in failures of care elsewhere. One is Optum, the US brand facing allegations over the American hospice-packing scandal. (Optum is defending itself against the allegations.) It is the first time that the commissioning responsibility held by local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) – the right to spend a billion pounds on behalf of the NHS – will simply be gifted to a private company.

And it looks like it will be a private company. There are clauses in the published document that simply have no place in a project that will stay within the NHS. Bidders are encouraged to explore a “VAT efficient model”. Not only is this disturbing in its own right, but NHS bodies don’t pay VAT. This is a strange level of detail to find in a document that is otherwise so imprecise.

There is no plan here, no benchmarks against which a bidder could be selected; just a hope that the shape of the contract will resolve itself as bidders make their own suggestions and time goes on.

To me, it looks as though local commissioners simply got bored, and decided they didn’t want to be responsible for cancer care any more. To the health expert John Lister, it looks worse. He says the contract is “no more than a blank cheque for whichever private firm is the most ruthlessly willing to cut services to shore up their own profits”.

The winning bidder will be free to decommission or disinvest as they like – cutting contracts with local hospices, therapeutic providers or even frontline healthcare such as radiotherapy and surgery. The bidder could simply replace them, delivering services such as radiotherapy themselves, further fragmenting the services that mean most to patients. Or they could just squeeze existing contracts. No payment structure is specified. Bidding companies can decide for themselves what they are worth, as long as their fees are self-funding within the current budget. Based on similar health privatisation contracts, £100m in fees is the minimum that a private provider will accept. This money will be diverted straight from funds currently spent on frontline care.

Those hospices and providers will be told that they can still provide care – it just has to be for 20% less, with the remainder meeting the fees of the winning bidder. They might just reduce costs, or they might cut services that cancer patients depend on. It is the postcode lottery written into an NHS contract.

The question the document doesn’t even try to answer is why. Commissioners’ own figures show cancer care in Staffordshire to be above national average. Only one of the four CCGs backing the change list cancer as an area where they could make significant improvement. There is no clear case for change, but there is an opportunity.

Time and time again we have seen Staffordshire used as the proving ground for the 2012 Health and Social Care Act. Cancer and end-of-life privatisation has been introduced here because it was politically convenient. Our history is used against us; our patients pay the price again.

Not only was there no formal consultation, but local patients were meant to get no say on this contract at all. The original plan was to sign the deal in March – before people could have their say at the polls. Labour has said it will not let the project go ahead.

The campaign group I work with – Cancer Not For Profit – fought for more time. When the awarding of the contract was put back until June, we thought that we had won a small victory.

Our source heard differently. The project wasn’t delayed, they were told, but simply hushed up. The political implications of pushing through the biggest privatisation in NHS history two months before a general election were too serious. It had to move forward with speed, and if the contract lacked benchmarks or risk management, forget it. It could all be resolved later. (It is the essence of contract law that weaknesses are generally not resolved later.) The only thing being delayed until after May was the announcement, which would now be made in June. And then a gamble that a new government couldn’t go back on a contract already awarded.

“I’m going to publish,” I told the source. “Tell me if you don’t want me to publish.” I never heard from them again.

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Where in the world are people most depressed?

In Battersea, well perhaps not 😉


Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Where in the world are people most depressed?” was written by Mark Rice-Oxley, for theguardian.com on Friday 8th November 2013 15.56 UTC

For those who think of depression as a byproduct of the vapidity of western materialism, this latest study by researchers in Queensland might come as something of a shock. Depression simply isn’t that picky. And when it comes to depressive disorders, parts of north Africa and the Middle East suffer more than North America and western Europe.

According to the researchers, who gathered pre-existing data on clinical diagnoses up to 2010, Algeria, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan fared worse for the cumulative number of years their citizens lived with the disability of depression (YLD). (For the Middle East countries, bear in mind that this relates to data gathered before the Arab spring turned lives upside down).

Japan fared the best, along with Australia and New Zealand. The researchers caveated their work by acknowledging that data is patchy from some parts of the world. Intriguingly, the UK and US – countries in which reporting on mental illness and cultural reflections of depression are rapidly multiplying – appear to be far less badly afflicted than parts of Africa and eastern Europe.

The second interesting breakdown (no pun intended) of the data concerns age.

YLDs by age and sex for MDD and dysthymia in 1990 and 2010
YLDs by age and sex for major depressive disorder and dysthymia (milder depression) in 1990 and 2010. Click on the image for a full-size graphic Photograph: info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001547

The gender graph contains few surprises – women appear to suffer about twice as much as men, reflecting most major studies into the incidence of depression. But the age analysis shows the extent to which depression is becoming a young person’s affliction. People aged 20 to 24 suffer most, closely followed by the generation immediately senior to them. By the time you get to 50-year-olds, where existential questions might start to press, rates dwindle. Above 60, they ease off quite sharply. There may be comfort in growing old after all.

So is depression on the rise? Again, you would think so from the proliferation of reporting and analysis about the disease. The researchers say yes and no: depressive illness is the disease with the second heaviest burden on society, with around one in 20 people suffering. But if it is getting worse, they say, it may be down to demographics.

“Whilst burden increased by 37.5% between 1990 and 2010, this was due to population growth and ageing,” they say. “Contrary to recent literature on the topic, our findings suggest that the epidemiology of both major depressive disorder and dysthymia (milder depression) remained relatively stable over time.”

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