New year is a difficult time. The dark days have ceased to be cosy. John Lennon’s words to his song Merry Christmas (War is Over) “And what have you done?” echo round in my head. There is nothing new about new year. We’ve only just got past the shortest day. It’s not easy to think of new ideas and changes while in the grips of midwinter. But already global warming has perverted nature’s cycles, giving bloom to false springs and, with it, the false hopes of a new beginning.
Then there is New Labour, a government that has broken the hopes of the people. Under its watch, the divide between rich and poor has widened, people are working harder than ever without escape from poverty, our foreign policy has brought us shame and we are some of the most watched citizens in the free world.
It is hard to contemplate the next 12 months. We already know that the bill to amend the Mental Health Act 1983 will be casting its long shadow over the months ahead – another element of security in the community. Whether by design or not, “supervised community treatment” will deter people from obtaining services and break the hard-fought trust between services users and professionals. An opportunity to legislate on the improvement of our mental health services in a fresh and innovative way has been lost to a knee-jerk policy based on compulsion. All this on a statistical backdrop of 25 per cent of people in the UK having a mental health problem at some stage of their lives, four in 1,000 people becoming in-patients in psychiatric hospitals and almost half of these feeling that the experience badly affected their health. It is not a good year to be part of the mental health system.
Then there are the new year hangovers. Not necessarily alcohol. The financial overspends of the festive season give way to the credit card bills. Then there are the emotional effects of being in enforced proximity to members of family, friends and endless televised Christmas specials, all of which bear their cost come January.
I’ll vote for new year being replanted in the spring. With new life in nature it’ll be a more conducive time for new ideas, resolutions and fresh starts. In the meantime I’ll wish everyone a happy new year.
Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service