Coping with the downside of life

The government’s ten-year drugs policy is welcome. More community treatment, and more money invested in it, is a very good thing, but it is no substitute for a wider awareness and public understanding, so that people can sustain jobs and find help among family and friends where before they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk. There also needs to be an understanding of what treatment entails and where it takes you. It’s not like treating a physical ailment, it doesn’t lead to an instant cure. It’s an ongoing process, of readjusting to life, and any pressure on recipients is immediately counter-productive.

It’s not just case of the public understanding depression, it’s also a case of understanding what treatment involves, and supporting those receiving it. Indeed supporting anyone who appears down. We’re moving on quickly here to the big and little acts of human kindness which make so much difference to everyone’s days, whether ill or not. Treating depression goes to the very core of our society and our relationships with others. 

It saddened me to read a response from the Patients’ Association arguing that the money would be better spent on cancer treatment. It is of course an impossible balance to strike. But  how about this as a proposition: at least cancer-sufferers can have a certain quality of life, can have relationships and friendships. Sufferers from depression have no quality of life, often wonder why they’re living at all. We need to understand and cater and care for both.

I enjoyed meditation at my local Kadampa Buddhist centre for several years, and I valued all that I learnt and the friendships I made. But no allowance was ever made in anything I read for people with depressive or related conditions. There’s the assumption that the mind is a perfect instrument, misused. If only it was so simple. Fulfilment, love as the ultimate expression of mind, comes from helping and understanding others, not in an abstract but in an everyday, practical sense.

Back to jail

David Cameron’s scrapping of his targets for new jails and prison places is another good example of how populism drives policies in the wrong direction. It never made sense. Rehabilitation wins every time, as long as it is a sustained and effective programme, and not window-dressing.  He sustained his position too long and carried some thundering opinions (Times editorials) along with him. He and they now look foolish, as they now deserve to.

It does make you wonder who advises the Tories on such matters.

We don’t like local government

Back to Francis Maude on communities. I’m taking him as I have to as representing Tory opinion.

There’s the irony at the core of Maude’s argument that the one area where local government has a key role, education, the Tories want to take away and vest in parents and parent-launched new schools. I’ve argued before against the absurdities of parent-launched schools, reflecting as they will they views of small groups who will require huge amounts of central government time, and be beholden to central government, so what we have is a centrally-driven not a local scheme. Local government, if well run, is at the right level for education policy, local but not too local, centralising but not too much so. The focus should be on improving local government, a big and not an easy task, but we hear nothing of this. It would not be fashionable.


Francis Maude’s description of community in the autumn Prospect magazine is revealing. He focuses on local referenda as a way of involving people. Referenda are a dangerous distraction. Likely to divide communities rather than bring them together, be abused by pressure groups, focus on short-term solutions without regard for the more difficult longer-term picture. Above all they’re open to manipulation by the media at a national and local level, with all the misrepresentation of policies and people that can entail. In a perfect world with a balanced availability of opinions and a careful consideration of the long as well as the short term by voters then they might just make sense. But democracy, and direct democracy especially, is a dangerous instrument wrongly used. National and local government elections are far from perfect and open to the many of the criticisms above, but they respond to a long-term debate and reflect four or five years evidence of performance.

All the bigotry and misrepresentation that was fostered by the rightwing in the Swiss minaret referendum is a good example of what can go wrong. Not refreshing as a Telegraph columnist opined. Worrying that anyone can see good in bigotry.