Author Archives: Ben Lawrie

About Ben Lawrie

20 year old student from Monifieth, studying Psychology at St Andrews University.

How would Brexit impact UK Mental Health Services?

With the EU referendum coming up in just a few weeks, I thought it would be appropriate as a dedicated mental health activist to outline what impact I predict Brexit would have on mental health services in the UK.
There are three main factors that I think would affect our mental health services if we were to leave the EU, the first of these is the economy.
It is widely accepted that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the UK economy with 9 out of 10 economists saying that leaving the EU will damage our economy. The Chief of NHS England, Simon Stevens has claimed that “When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold… it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding, the economy goes into a tailspin”
Much of the current problems with our mental health services come down to a lack of funding and if funding of the NHS is hit by Brexit, this will surely lead to even less funding for mental health services.

The second factor that I believe will affect mental health services is the loss of EU science funding.
British scientists gain huge amounts of funding for research from the EU and freedom of travel within the EU makes it easier to assemble international teams of leading scientists to cooperate on projects. Our knowledge of mental health is far behind our knowledge of physical health and Brexit would be a blow to research of mental illnesses, their treatments and other aspects of mental health that we are yet to learn. This would slow down the progress we are making in learning how to effectively treat mental illness which will hinder the recovery of sufferers of mental illness for generations to come.

Finally, the EU as an institution is committed to improving the mental health of the continent. In 2005, the European Commission published a Green paper -Promoting the Mental Health of the Population. Towards a Mental Health Strategy for the EU. Following this, the European Pact for mental health and well-being was launched in 2008. The pact was then implemented through numerous conferences tackling priorities such as Combating Stigma and Social Exclusion and Prevention of Depression and Suicide.
I already worry for our mental health services. Currently they are over-stretched and under-funded. Waiting times are excruciatingly long and many people are being left to suffer as a result. I can only see these problems becoming intensified were we to leave the EU and this is part of the reason that as soon as I received my postal vote, I sent it straight back with a big cross next to Remain!

Ben Lawrie Urges MSPs to Campaign for ‘Remain’ Vote.

Today I emailed the new list MSPs for North-East Scotland urging them to campaign hard to keep Britain in the EU in the final weeks before the referendum.
The email read as follows:

“Dear Ross Thomson, Liam Kerr, Mike Rumbles, Alex Johnstone, Peter Chapman, Lewis Macdonald and Jenny Marra,

Congratulations on your recent election (or re-election) to the Scottish Parliament.
I am writing to you in regards to the upcoming referendum on our membership of the EU.
Remaining a member of the EU is very important to me and the country as a whole for a number of reasons including the following:
Around 3.5 million British jobs are currently linked to our membership of the EU and leaving the EU would put them at risk.
Membership of the EU gives me and other people my age the freedom to work and study abroad which I don’t want to lose.
The European Arrest Warrant speeds up the process of extraditing foreign criminals and keeps our streets safe.
British science benefits massively from EU research funds.

Due to the unfortunate timing of the referendum I appreciate that you may not have had time to campaign for a remain vote as you were probably working very hard for the Scottish Parliament elections. Now that they are over I hope that you will campaign hard to keep Britain’s place in the European Union as Britain should be a leading figure within the EU, not isolating ourselves from it.

Yours sincerely,

Ben Lawrie.”

 

I used the website www.writetothem.com to contact the local list MSPs and would recommend it to anyone wanting to raise an issue with their local representatives.

 

 

 

Recycling Facilities in Monifieth

recyclingI have just sent an email to the Councillors for the Monifieth and Sidlaws Ward raising my concerns surrounding proposals to close recycling centres in Angus.
The message reads as follows:

“Dear Rob Murray JP, Sheila Hands, Craig Fotheringham and Margaret Thomson,

I am writing to you in regards to the Council’s proposed closure of
recycling centres across Angus, particularly the one in Monifieth.
The closure of Monifieth’s recycling facilities concerns me for a
number of reasons.
If the proposed closures go ahead, that will leave the centre in
Arbroath as the nearest recycling centre for people in Monifieth.
Having to travel to Arbroath to make use of these facilities will be
largely inconvenient and will increase our carbon emissions.
I’m also concerned that this will lead to an increase in fly-tipping
which will need to be dealt with at the councils expense, this seems counter-intuitive as the proposals are being made as a cost-saving measure in the first place.
I am also deeply concerned at the impact that closing the Monifieth recycling centre will have on jobs. Workers at the recycling centre work hard to provide us with a good service and I’d hate to see those jobs lost.

I’d also like to raise my concerns with the Council’s alternative
proposal to charge people for using recycling centres. This is what we pay council tax for and to double-charge us to use these facilities is unfair and could also lead to an increase in fly-tipping.
I believe that this problem stems from the council being critically
underfunded due to the Scottish Government’s freeze in council tax for the past decade and that the best solution can only come from the Scottish Government recognising the need to properly fund our local authorities.

Yours sincerely,
Ben Lawrie.

P.S. I have attached a link to a petition highlighting just under 3,000 people who share similar views, I hope that their concerns are duly noted.
https://www.change.org/p/angus-council-don-t-close-angus-re…

Confession of Depression: One Year On

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of me going public about my mental health for the first time. On the 30th of March 2015 I made a blog post on the Angus & Mearns Liberal Democrats website highlighting my experiences living with depression and seeking help. I can’t tell you how I scared I was after publishing it, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness and I had family and friends who would have known nothing about my depression prior to reading the blog.
Those fears couldn’t have been more unfounded. Within a fortnight, over 6,000 people had read my blog and I was receiving messages from local journalists asking to write about my story in the newspapers.

I received dozens of messages from strangers thanking me for coming out with my story, saying that they thought they were the only ones in the world feeling that way, from parents who thanked me for helping them to understand what their son or daughter was going through and from friends and family telling me how proud they were. A year has gone past and I still get the odd message from someone who has stumbled across the blog online, including a Canadian mental health magazine that has just published my story!

My story featured in Canadian "HERE Magazine"

My story featured in Canadian “HERE Magazine”

Me speaking at a Student Minds mental health awareness event.

Me speaking at a Student Minds mental health awareness event.

Depression has been something that’s dragged me down my whole life but for once I managed to take it and turn it into something positive. Being open about my experiences hasn’t made me subject to the ridicule I feared it would but has actually opened doors for me.
Shortly after posting my story online, somebody from the charity Student Minds contacted me and asked if I’d like to talk about my experiences alongside other people at a mental health awareness event, it was so comforting to have such a supportive platform to talk about such a sensitive topic and to see other people doing the same thing too and I’ve recently had the pleasure of talking for Student Minds again.

In the months following my blog release I quickly found myself becoming a committed mental health activist and decided to run in a by-election for the Scottish Youth Parliament with a manifesto based on raising awareness of mental illness and improving support for young people in North-East Fife. Whilst I didn’t win, I spoke  to lots of young people in Fife and managed  to spread the message that mental illness can happen to anyone and is nothing to be ashamed of.

One of my Scottish Youth Parliament Campaign posters displayed at Madras College.

One of my Scottish Youth Parliament Campaign posters displayed at Madras College.

My defeat in the Scottish Youth Parliament by-election didn’t deter me from being involved in the world of politics however. Getting involved in politics has been a really liberating experience for me, it has really given me a voice and without the support of my local party, none of my success to date in raising mental health awareness would have been possible. I’ve never been under the illusion that life is fair but being so involved in politics has really made me feel empowered and able to make positive changes in the world. I’m hoping to be a candidate for the council elections in Angus next year and with any luck I’ll be able to continue increasing awareness and support for mental health as a Councillor. Through politics I managed to meet the former Minister of State for Care and Support Norman Lamb who was very impressed by the work I’ve been doing, saying:

“I’m really impressed by Ben’s campaigning on mental health. He has brilliantly led by example. Openness about mental ill health is incredibly important if we are to combat stigma. He is a star!”

Norman has been a champion for raising awareness of mental health issues and to have his support was absolutely amazing.

Norm

Me with former Minister of State for Care and Support Norman Lamb.

Me being interviewed for the upcoming documentary; "A Confession of Depression."

Me being interviewed for the upcoming documentary; “A Confession of Depression.”

Currently I’m working on a documentary about my experience of depression with local film-maker (and my former high school teacher) Stuart Burns. Whilst the documentary is based on the blog I wrote last year, we’ve managed to involve some fantastic charities like Student Minds and Nightline to raise awareness of the work they do and the services that they provide. We even filmed an interview with the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie who spoke about the importance of treating mental health with the same priority as physical health and the role that politicians play in improving mental health services. The documentary is called “A Confession of Depression” and will hopefully be finished by the end of May.

Talking to Leader of the Scottish LibDems Willie Renne about mental health services in Scotland.

Talking to Leader of the Scottish LibDems Willie Rennie about mental health services in Scotland.

Whilst I still struggle with depression and anxiety, the work I’ve been doing to help other people going through similar problems has been a great source of strength for me. There still is a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness and I firmly believe that the best way to tackle this is to keep talking about it.
If you’re struggling with mental illness, you don’t need to man up, just open up. Trust me; people are nicer than you think.

Is a Victimless Crime Really a Crime? Four Reasons we Need to Rethink our Approach to Cannabis:

weed

The war on drugs has failed.
At a time when prisons are becoming increasingly overcrowded, 42,000 people in England and Wales are imprisoned each year for drug possession offences, their only crime being the possession of a substance for their own use.
This comes at a hefty cost to the taxpayer of about £15 billion a year.
Is it really worth that much money to imprison people who have brought harm to nobody?
Should we not be focusing our efforts on the organised criminals who run these drug empires rather than people who have done nothing but possess these illicit goods?
A peace treaty needs to be signed and this war on drugs must come to an end so that a more effective route can be taken in protecting the British people from harmful substances and in my opinion, the best place to start in rethinking our strategy is by copying America and reevaluating our relationship with marijuana.
So here are my four reasons that we need to rethink our approach to Cannabis.

 

1. Criminalising Marijuana pushes business into the hands of criminals.

Criminal gangs often make their money from selling drugs. If you can buy your weed at Tesco then criminals will have less money to buy guns and other bad guy stuff. They might even have to get a real job! That can’t be a bad thing right?

But taking our supply of cannabis out of the hands of criminals has other benefits too. When you’re shopping for food, which do you prefer? Going to a supermarket where you know that all of the food meets a high standard of quality and you are confident of what’s in the product you’re buying or would you rather buy dodgy bits of unlabeled meat from a dealer in an alleyway, without even being certain of what’s in it?
It’s exactly the same with cannabis. When things are illegal they’re unregulated.
However, if Tesco ever does start to sell weed, you might want to check your joints for horse meat before you smoke them.

 

2. Weed isn’t actually that bad for you.

No study to date has managed to show a link between cannabis smoking and lung cancer, even if there were a link, that doesn’t seem to affect the legality of smoking *cough* cigarettes *cough*!
However, even if cannabis does have some adverse effects, should we as adults not have the freedom to weigh the pros and cons and decide for ourselves? Many things in society are harmful to us either physically or mentally whether it be alcohol, cigarettes, unhealthy food or crossing the street before the green man lights up.
The point is, can we not be trusted to use cannabis in a safe and moderate way, just like we are trusted with alcohol and Big Macs? As long as we bother no one else whilst using it then I see no real crime.

 

3. Cannabis legalisation would raise a lot of money.

It was recently calculated that legalising cannabis would raise £900 million in Scotland alone. In a time of austerity when our Government is penny pinching in every way it can, would this money not be hugely welcomed?
This money raised through taxation, partnered with the money we’re saving from not imprisoning harmless stoners would be a massive aid in funding our schools and the NHS.
We would probably see a boom in profits for food suppliers as well…

 

4. America seems to be doing ok.

 Since the full legalisation of Marijuana in Colorado, there has been a 10.1% decrease in overall crime and a 5.2% drop in violent crime, the state raised over $10 million in taxes in the first four months which is being put into public schools and infrastructure and the marijuana industry is creating thousands of jobs and lowering unemployment.
Talk about a wonder-drug, right?

 

It’s clear that despite our governments best efforts, the war on drugs has failed. Whilst some drugs are very obviously dangerous and deserve to be illegal, what we need is a sensible, science-based approach to things like Marijuana as we’re massively wasting resources on tackling a victimless crime.
This is why the Liberal Democrats are planning to end the use of imprisonment for possession of drugs for personal use, diverting resources towards tackling organised drug crime instead, as a first step towards reforming the system.

You can find out more about the LibDem’s approach to drugs at http://www.libdems.org.uk/the-time-for-action-on-drugs-reform-is-now 

 

 

Enough of the Pessimism: How About Some Positive Politics?

Lab

It’s a tactic I often employed in my childhood whilst being told off for misbehaving.
When there was no justification for my own actions I would often resort to pointing at my sister and then trying to tell my parents about something worse that she htoryad done.

This is obviously a strategy that currently appeals to the bulk of our politicians.
“Vote SNP get the Tories. The Tories only care about the rich” we hear from Labour. Why don’t they instead try and focus on promoting their plans to fix the SNPeconomy?

“Vote SNP, get Labour who will ruin our economy!” is the main message from the Conservatives, why don’t they instead tell us about their plans to balance the books fairly in Britain?

Here in Scotland we hear that only the SNP can “give Scotland a louder voice” in Westminster. Well that’s fine but what are we using that voice to say? Forget the rhetoric and the Westminster-bashing and let’s hear some positive policies!

With all the negativity and shots fired between the parties, it’s hard to see any of them in a positive light, no wonder people are so apathetic towards politics now, why would you bother voting for anyone when all you’ve heard is the potential mess that each one will bring? It seems that the main parties don’t have many ideas on how to improve the state of our country so instead are resorting to telling us that they’re not as bad as the other guys.

All parties are guilty of this, some for than others. Even my own party to an extent. That’s why I want to contribute to a system of more optimistic politics by putting forward my own positive case for the Liberal Democrats.

If you want us to continue repairing the economy in a fairer, greener way in which the recovery is felt by everyone.
If you want our NHS to receive the funding it needs.
If you want everyone to have the same opportunities in life, regardless of their race, sexuality or economic background.
Then vote for the Liberal Democrats on the 7th of May for a stronger economy in a fairer society.

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Mental Health: A Confession of Depression

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An example of the media in it’s brutal stigmatisation of depression.

You’ve probably heard the terrible news recently about Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who orchestrated a terrible suicide-murder that killed everybody on his flight.
Perhaps you heard the news through a newspaper such as the Sun. The media has also heavily reported on the fact that Lubitz suffered from depression and attributed this as a large factor contributing to his actions.

Whilst it is certainly the duty of the media to report on disasters like this, headlines such as “Madman in Cockpit” do nothing but unfairly stigmatise a health condition that is already misunderstood and often awkwardly avoided in conversation. This is despite the fact that 1 out of 4 people each year will experience some form of mental health problem.

Despite how the media may make people feel, depression is nothing to be ashamed of. I personally suffer from depression and anxiety and I refuse to be shunned by society on the basis of a chemical imbalance in my brain.
In light of this I have decided to write about my own experience with depression as I believe that the only way we can break down this stigma is to be open about it rather than being ashamed of things outwith our control. I’ll start by explaining how depression affects me personally, I will then describe my experience in seeking help with my depression and I’ll finish off with how I cope now on a day-to-day basis.
This is particularly difficult for me to write as I know that my friends and family will read this, a lot of them may not even know of my depression. However this is the kind of openness that we as a society need in order to progress and give sufferers of mental illness the support that they need.

So here goes nothing, for those of you that I’ve never met, this is me:

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This picture was taken 1-2 years ago. Whilst I look extremely happy (probably too happy), this was possibly one of the lowest periods I’ve had.
You’re maybe wondering what was so bad at this point in my life, and I’ll be frank, nothing.
I was studying HNC Social Sciences at Dundee College, and doing really well in all of my coursework, I had (and still have) an amazing family and I was in a relationship at the time which I was pretty happy with. There was genuinely nothing in my life that should have upset me.
Yet I was miserable.
It’s pretty hard to explain but I’m going to try and describe the feeling:

Think about the last time something upset you; perhaps the death of a cherished family pet, or you were dumped in a relationship that you were really happy with.
Well when that happens, your brain registers that something bad has happened and releases the relevant ‘sad hormones’ which then gives you the feeling of being upset.
Well that’s how depression feels, except nothing happens to trigger it. Your brain just releases these sad hormones for reasons best known to itself.
With this in mind; when something bad actually  happens, even something minor, it can feel pretty damn catastrophic.
So there’s something to think about when asking why somebody is depressed, there isn’t necessarily a reason.

Contrary to what you might believe, depression isn’t just feeling sad. There are many symptoms of depression and they vary wildly between different people.
For example some people might lose their appetite and subsequently lose weight. On the other hand some people gain weight instead.
Some people, such as myself suffer from insomnia caused by their depression, I’m currently writing this at 5:30am.
Other people find that they sleep too much or can’t get out of bed due to depression, this is also a problem for me and I tend to miss a lot of lectures at university as I physically can’t move myself from my bed, sometimes I’m not even tired, I just don’t feel able to leave my safe haven to go and face the intimidating outside world that awaits me.
This brings me to another symptom of depression that has affected me greatly, apathy.
It can be very difficult to motivate myself to do things and it’s often misconstrued as laziness which is very frustrating for me.
My Dad in his well-intentioned attempts to help me do things will often say “you just lack motivation!” Well thanks Dad, I kind of know that.
He’ll often then tell me that I just need to motivate myself. Let me tell you, while he means well, that’s like telling a crippled man that he just needs to get up and walk.
It’s hard to understand depression if you’ve never experienced it yourself, it’s like trying to imagine a colour you’ve never seen before, but we need to make an effort to empathise with people suffering from mental illness, it can be just as hard for them to put it into words as they often don’t quite understand it themselves.

At some particularly low-points of my life I have resorted to self-harm. There was one night in 2013 where I felt particularly hopeless. It was  like nothing I could do would ever be of any importance. I attempted to take my own life by overdosing on Co-codamol (strong painkillers).
Obviously my plan failed and I woke up the next morning feeling very ill. I spent the rest of the day violently vomiting but managed to convince my family that it was just a bug. They believed this until a few weeks later when I finally admitted what happened to my parents, this brings me to my experience in seeking professional help.

I was referred to a psychiatrist in Arbroath. When he asked me to explain to him how I felt, it was difficult to know where to begin.
Sad, apathetic, lethargic, hopeless, detatched, like I’m watching all of my actions through a TV screen but it’s not actually me that’s doing them, I’m in autopilot.
I left the appointment with the psychiatrist feeling just as confused about me as I did. He told me he was struggling to understand my problems as I didn’t seem to understand them myself. My next appointment would be in 4 months time.
After 4 months of feeling crazy because I was someone who needed a psychiatrist, yet not actually receiving the support of a psychiatrist over these months I finally had my second appointment.
In all honesty, the psychiatrist seemed disinterested in me and seemed eager to just put me on anti-depressants.
I don’t want to go on medication when the doctor doesn’t even seem to be sure of what’s wrong with me!
If I went to the GP with a weird lump, would they give me chemotherapy if they were unsure of what was wrong?!

I refused the medication and insisted on a more therapy-based approach to which the psychiatrist finally agreed.
After waiting a month I finally had my first appointment with a counselor, a lovely and friendly women who I quickly opened up to.
However it didn’t last, after my second session with her she seemed equally as confused about my feelings as the psychiatrist had been and recommended “a slightly higher level of care”.
I was then sent back to seeing the psychiatrist once every four months.
I eventually became very frustrated with the whole system, accepted the anti-depressants and then told the psychiatrist that I felt “perfect” so that I wouldn’t have to travel from Monifieth to Arbroath once every four months just to have some guy make a half-assed attempt of figuring me out, as if he was trying to solve a sudoku puzzle whilst watching the telly.
After reluctantly taking the medication, I found that it did help to ease my anxiety and panic attacks (which were a big burden to me at the time), but it did not help with my depression. It also seemed to fog my mind, it’s like it helped my anxiety by throwing a big wet blanket over my brain.
Basically, we really need to look at the treatment of mental health issues in our healthcare system as in my experience, it’s not nearly good enough.

I came off of the medication fairly recently, whilst depression is still a problem for me, I’ve managed to find some meaning in my life which has really helped me cope. I’m studying psychology at the University of St Andrews with an aim to eventually become a psychotherapist. I plan to use my experiences of depression to help me in supporting those going through similar problems.
After all, who’s better suited to save those who are lost in a sea of depression than one who is already wet?

Sadly, in the world of politics I have not seen many people working towards the better treatment of the mentally ill.
This is why I support the Liberal Democrats, the only party I have seen who are really making an effort in this area.

Thank you for reading my story, I hope it encourages other people to speak out about their own experiences with mental health issues.
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If you are feeling depressed or suicidal and need to talk to someone you can call Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) or Childline (0800 1111).

Five Things Nigel Farage Doesn’t Want You to Know

Nigel

Whilst reading through the comments sections of UKIP’s Facebook posts it’s clear that many people are currently less than impressed with the European Union.
And with all the horror stories being spread it’s not hard to see why. According to Nigel Farage and his Eurosceptic party, not only are we paying an immense amount of money just for membership; we are also seeing a ‘massive oversupply’ of foreign labour forcing British wages down.

But is the EU really that bad? Here are five facts that Nigel really doesn’t want you to know:

1. European workers aren’t a threat to your job.

In the last few years, 9 out of 10 British Jobs have gone to British people.
Contrary to what far-right parties such as UKIP and the BNP would have you believe, immigrants aren’t that big of a threat to the employability of British people.
If however you do find your job threatened by people moving here from Romania in search of a better life, armed with with no money or qualifications and a limited grasp of the English language, then perhaps the EU’s free movement of people isn’t what’s holding you back…

This may leave you wondering, “what about that one job in ten that’s not going to a hard-working British person?”
Well calm down you inquisitive devil! That brings me to my next point…

 

2. European workers actually create jobs.

1 out of 7 of every new business formed in Britain is created by people who move here from within the EU.
Believe it or not this means that people migrating here from Europe are actually creating jobs, 9 out of 10 of which will go to British people.
So if you think it’s hard enough finding a job now, just try it without all of those companies created by European immigrants.

So now you know that British jobs are safe, but what about the benefits tourists that you’ve seen on shows like ‘Benefits Street’?
Admittedly there are those who wish to take advantage of the generosity of our welfare system, however…

 

3. We profit from immigration!

There’s no denying that things like benefits tourism are a problem. The NHS currently spends £1.5 billion a year on non-active EU migrants. However from 2001 to 2011, Britain gained £22 billion in tax from the EU migrants who do work.

Basically, immigration pays for itself and more.

Whilst I wont suggest for a second that abusing British benefits and our world-class health service is acceptable, leaving the EU and thus slashing immigration would see the country lose a lot of money. Our NHS would then subsequently struggle more than it currently does with allegedly lazy immigrants. In a time of so many cuts; could our hospitals, our military and our police force really cope with even more cuts to funding because we no longer have the same volume of immigrants working hard and paying their taxes?

Speaking of our police force… did you know that one of our best crime-fighters comes from the EU?

 

4. The EU helps us catch bad guys.

The European Arrest Warrant is “an essential weapon in the fight against organised crime”.
Those aren’t my words, those are in fact the words of Sir Hugh Orde who just so happens to be Head of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

It plays a pivotal part in making European countries work together so that they can extradite foreign criminals to be shipped home and punished in their own country.
Leaving the EU would mean giving up the European Arrest Warrant and therefore delaying the extradition of foreign criminals on British Soil.

Finally, the last fact that Mr Farage really doesn’t want you to know is…

 

5. Ed Milliband isn’t the only political leader who doesn’t look that good whilst eating a bacon sandwich!

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You saw it here first folks!

 

UKIP’s campaign relies on you believing that the EU is a terrible thing for British people when in reality, it may be imperfect but it still benefits us massively.
This is why the Liberal Democrats take an unashamedly pro-EU stance whilst also recognizing the need for reform.

Don’t let Nigel fool you in the upcoming general election, learn the facts!