by Alice Thomson

Let’s be honest – I’m sure if I was actually in charge of the country I’d be rubbish at it. The role of Prime Minister does not appeal to me. It’s not exactly your 9-to-5 kind of job. The stress and responsibilities you’d have, not to mention the impossible decisions you’d have to make, would turn me into a quivering wreck. And that’s before your character is picked apart by the media. As a disabled person, roles like that of PM are particularly inaccessible. Trying to live your own life with chronic pain and minimum spoons is hard enough without attempting to run a county as well. That doesn’t mean I can’t spent time on trying to imagine a better world. And I reckon I have a few good ideas from such imaginings – though everything is always much easier from the comfort of your armchair. Sports fans shouting advice through their televisions at some of best trained athletes in the world comes to mind.

When I watch or read the news, I do find myself planting my face in my hands more often than I used to. Maybe, as I’ve become older, I’ve become more aware of how our county is being run. Or maybe it is just getting more unbearable. So, what would I do differently? What vastly innovative ideas do I have that no one else has thought of that would make this country a better place to live?

That’s the thing, though. My ideas aren’t new. They aren’t even particularly ground-breaking. If I were in charge, I would invest large amounts of taxpayer money into two areas: Education and Wellbeing Services. Of course I wouldn’t just throw money at these two areas. Money on its own doesn’t solve any problems. A great deal of thought would be put into the use of that money. I’m also not naïve to think that all other areas of government would just resolve themselves over night. But I do firmly believe that over time, these areas’ need for finance would be reduced if we made a conscious effort to fund Education and Mental Health Care. And here is why.

I was horrified to learn that through lack of funds, my friends’ son no longer had swimming lessons with his school.

Education is one of the most fundamental ways of empowering a person. As they say, “knowledge is power”. When we learn, we develop our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. We create core values based on understanding which can lead to us to making better decisions and help us to develop ideas of how to create solutions to problems to help ourselves and others.  Even before we get into the idea of boosting the economy with highly trained people, saving endangered species or reducing the effects of climate change, education can also do the simplest things – like saving a person’s life. I was horrified to learn that through lack of funds, my friends’ son no longer had swimming lessons with his school. Many parents cannot afford to teach their children themselves, and that’s assuming all parents know how to swim in the first place. A third of 11-year-olds in England cannot swim, and two thirds of parents who took part in this study felt their children would be unable to save themselves in water. Learning to swim saves lives, so why is it being treated in our schools as an optional extra? With huge cuts to Education being made annually and shortages of teachers, the range of subjects being taught to primary and secondary year students is being dramatically limited. Teaching vacancies are up by over a quarter, yet the number of qualified applicants has dropped. Unless something drastic happens, the future for education looks grim.

I was lucky to be able to afford my own mental health care, but I must admit that those months were exceedingly tight financially.

Now let’s consider Wellbeing Services. Like many people, I have suffered with poor mental health. I used to believe the reason for my depression and anxiety was down to my EDS diagnosis, but in actual fact it went deeper than that. After my diagnosis I spent four years trying to access mental health services, in one capacity or another. In the end, I was let down. I was moved from one waiting list to the next, I was placed in inappropriate counselling groups, I was assessed, evaluated and left to deal with my mental health on my own. Four years on I came to a breaking point and sought a therapist privately. This therapist diagnosed me with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I was lucky to be able to afford my own mental health care, but I must admit that those months were exceedingly tight financially. An undiagnosed case of PTSD can be extremely dangerous, as you’re more likely to attempt suicide, and addictive or violent behaviour is more common amongst sufferers. According to research done by the charity The Samaritans, there was a recording of 6,639 suicides in the UK and Republic of Ireland in 2015. The highest rate was found in men aged 40-44 and female suicides are at their highest in a decade. I think it would be safe to say that people who succeed in suicide aren’t just unhappy or a bit depressed. They have a real need of psychological help, and often believe the world would be better without them in it. A decision to end your own life isn’t made overnight. It often takes years of mental ill-health, feelings of hopelessness and difficult circumstances that come together to drive a person to carry out such an act. Introducing more money and resources into the Wellbeing service wouldn’t just reduce suicides figures. Crime, drug addiction, homelessness, abuse and violence would also be reduced. I’m not suggesting that these problems would disappear magically, but I do believe that improved mental health and the empowerment education can bring, would help create a cohesive, happier and prosperous society.

Anyway. That’s my armchair theory.

Featured image CC0 Public Domain

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