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John F MacArthurIn writing this week’s Forbidden Bible Verses post on Philippians 2:14-18, I used, as per usual, John MacArthur’s sermons.

‘Stop Complaining, Part 1’ begins with his view of an overly indulged, complaining generation.

He says that the problem is getting worse, rather than better.

Emphases mine below:

Let me sort of ease in to our subject a little bit, if I might.  We’re in Philippians chapter 2 verses 14 through 16.  And I titled the message, “Stop Complaining.”  There’s a reason for that, and it’s fairly obvious if you look at verse 14 where Paul says, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,” which are really two ways of saying stop complaining And as I was thinking about this very pertinent message about living your Christian life without complaining, it became very apparent to me that we live in a very complaining society.  And I really believe we are breeding a generation of complainers, and they seem to be getting worse with each passing generation

And as I’ve said to you on a number of occasions, it is a curiosity to me that the most indulged society is the most discontent society, that the more people have, the more they seem to be discontent with what they have and the more complaining they seem to be.  In thinking about this, and there would be many ways to approach it, I was just inadvertently flipping on the radio this week and I heard a speech by a sociologist that was quite curious to me and quite interesting The sociologist made a very interesting point.  He was talking about the young people in our culture, talking about their discontent, talking about their complaining attitude, their resistance to responsibility, and how that nothing is ever the way they would like it And they go through life with a kind of sullen discontent, kind of rejection of things the way they are And he had an interesting thesis What he basically said was this: that in many ways this discontented generation of young people is a product of small families His thesis was that where you have families where the average is two or less, of course the average family now in America is 1.7 children, which is kind of strange to think about; as one brother said to his sister, “I’m the one and you’re the point seven.”  But every family seems to come out at about 1.7.7.  We realize that families are getting smaller and smaller and moving toward one child families, if that.  Most families in America have either none, one, or two children …

And the difference is where you have a small family, the system bends to the child Where you have a large family, the child bends to the system And so, what you have, he said, is young people growing up in an environment where the system bends to them And you have child-centered parenting.

MacArthur grew up in a large family, where choice was not an option:

I know as a child myself, one of the reasons I wanted to grow up was I wanted freedom I lived in a totally conformed society.  I ate what they gave me I don’t ever remember going shopping with my mother, everI wore whatever she brought home I never picked out a thing, never.  I don’t even remember going to a department store clothing section as a young person.  My mother brought me what I needed, and I put it on.  And I conformed to the system.  And I looked forward to adulthood so that I could be free to make my own choices The reverse is true now; children grow up controlling the family and they don’t want to become adults because that means conformity Then, they have to go to work, and nobody at work says, “Now, how would you like your office decorated?  And what time would you like to take a break for lunch?”  Nobody says that.  They put you on an assembly line or they put you in a place where you are forced to conform, so what you have then is a generation of young people who don’t want to grow up.

And this sociologist said on the radio, you ask the average high-school kid, what do you want to do when you get out of school?  What’s his answer?  “I don’t know.”  You ask the average college student, what do you want to do when you’re out of college?  “I don’t know.”  And the reason he doesn’t know is because he is postponing responsibility because responsibility means conformity to a system, whereas childhood for him has been absolute freedom Eat what you want when you want, wear what you want when you want, and your mother will take you anywhere you want to go whenever you want.  And so, you breed a generation of young people who are irresponsible And when they do get a job, they get a job simply to finance themselves so they can enjoy their indulgences, and then when they’re 28 years old their license plate says, “He wins who has the most toys.”  And the whole idea of adulthood is to collect toys, boats, cars, vacation trips, on and on and on.

Now, what you have in this kind of thing, said this sociologist, is breeding moody discontent And you build young people who cannot conform and cannot be satisfied, over-indulged kids who don’t want to be adults, continue to push off responsibility; they grow up in an environment they control They don’t like being controlled And they become discontent They don’t want to take responsibility.  They don’t want to work And their adult years are sad.  They become sullen, very often, they become complainers And I really believe that he’s right in many cases.  One of the curses of our culture are overindulged childish kind of adults who are really complainers about everything Nothing is ever enough.  That’s why we have a whole society with a critical mentality, constantly attacking everything.

The church environment is no different:

Now, I want you to know this has found its way into the church And the church is full of its own complainers, and what is really sad is many of them are run by their children’s discontent People leaving the church because their children don’t like it Can’t imagine such a thing, unless their children control the family.  The church has its complainers.  And here we are with so much, so much.  How in the world could we possibly complain just because every little thing in life isn’t exactly the way we want it?  Frankly, I would suggest to you that few sins are uglier to me and few sins are uglier to God than the sin of complaining.  Frankly, I think the church at large does much to feed this thing by continuing to propagate this self-esteem, self-fulfillment garbage that just feeds the same discontent There’s little loyalty There’s little thankfulness There’s little gratitude.  And there’s very little contentment.  And sadly, what happens eventually is your griping, grumbling, murmuring discontent is really blaming God because, after all, God is the one who put you where you are So, just know who you’re complaining against.

He discusses how famous people from the Bible railed against God, from the very beginning:

Now, having said all of that there is a sense in which this complaining is part of our culture There’s another sense in which it’s not new at all Who was the first complainer who ever walked the earth?  Who was it?  The first complaining human being who ever walked was the first human being whoever walked.  And what was Adam’s first complaint?  “God, the woman You gave me.”  We are in this mess because of this woman.  He didn’t blame Eve; he blamed God.  Eve had nothing to do with it.  God made Eve.  Adam wasn’t married; he woke up one morning he was married.  God could have picked anybody He wanted, He picked her.  Why?  It’s God’s fault.  She led the whole human race in sin.  The woman You gave me, complaining.  Cain complained to God about God’s work in his life, Genesis 4:13 and 14 Moses complained to God for not doing what he wanted Him to do when he wanted Him to do it, Exodus 5:22 and 23 Aaron and Miriam complained to God against Moses, His chosen leader and their own brother in Numbers chapter 12.  Jonah complained to God because he was mad at God for saving the Ninevites, Jonah chapter 4 verses 9 and 10.  And it is still a popular pastime to complain at God And may I say that all of your complaints in one way or another are complaints against the providential purpose and will of God.

There’s a new book out called “Disappointment With God,” very popular and being promoted very heavily.  It seems to me to make complaining against God okay It sort of tries to define God as a lonely misunderstood lover who is really trying to work things out, but is really kind of a victim of all of us and we shouldn’t complain against Him, we ought to love Him What a strange view of God.  He is not some lonely misunderstood lover; He is the sovereign God who has ordered the circumstances of all of our lives And to complain against God, to grumble against God is a sin and we must see it as such.

In the ninth chapter of Romans verse 20, “O man, who answers back to God?  The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it?”  Who in the world are you to answer back to God?  What an unthinkable thing to do.  And when describing the apostates in Jude 16, it says they are grumblers finding fault following after their own lusts All they want is what they want when they want it, they don’t get it, they grumble and find fault.  It’s characteristic sin of the proud and it is characteristic sin of the wicked.

Now, the tragedy of this particular sin is that it is so contagious Let me take a minute to usher you back into the Old Testament, chapter 13 of Numbers.  And I want you to follow me and we’ll at least get through this little introduction and I think set the stage for what is ahead of us.  This is really very, very interesting and very important.  We go back to the number one illustration of grumbling, murmuring belly-aching griping people the world has ever known, namely whom?  The Israelites.  Numbers 13 just gives us a little insight in to the potential power of this attitude to spread.  Verse 30 says, “Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, we should by all means go up and take possession of it for we shall surely overcome it.”  Joshua, you remember, and Caleb came back from spying out the land and they said we can do it; God is on our side, we can take it.  “But the men who had gone up with him said, we are not able to go up against the people for they are too strong for us.”  Which is nothing but doubting God.  “So, they gave out to the sons of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out saying the land through which we have gone in spying it out is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great size.”  And then, they said this, “Also we saw the Nephilim, the sons of Anak are part of the Nephilim, and we became like grasshoppers in our own sight and so were we in their sight.”

So, they come back with this complaining: we’ll never do it, we can’t make it, we can’t defeat them.  It’s a bad report.  It will fail, it will never make it.  Prophets of doom, they are.  And they’re really complaining against the fact that God has told them to go in.

God hates complaining as much as He hates sin.

God killed complaining Israelites. The wages of complaining were death:

Now, go over to chapter 14, watch what happens in verse 36, “As for the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land and who returned and made all the congregation,” what?  “Grumble against him by bringing out a bad report concerning the land, even those men who brought out the very bad report of the land,” follow this, “died by a plague before the Lord.”  You know what the Lord thinks of grumblers?  He killed them because they spread a brooding discontent against God That’s the issue.  These people complained against God, they complained against God calling them to go into the land, they complained because the odds were against them humanly speaking.  And in their disbelief and complaining against God, they caused the whole nation to grumble, and as a result God killed them with a plague Grumbling really spreads, and your discontent, and your critical spirit, and your grumbling attitude, and your murmuring complaints will infect other people.

Here were the children of God They had been led out of Egypt.  God had parted the Red Sea for them They had seen ten plagues, miraculous plagues at the point of their deliverance And as soon as they got out of the land of Egypt they started to complain, and it never really ended Can I take you through a little trek?  Go back to Exodus and let’s go back to where it started in the Exodus.  Verse 11 of chapter 14, “Then, they said to Moses,” and they’re out in the wilderness now.  “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?”  They said, “What do you bring us out here for, because there weren’t any graves in Egypt?”  Which is a mocking statement.  I mean, wasn’t there a place to bury us there?  You’re going to have to take us to the desert to bury us?  “Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt?”  Here’s the complaint, it’s not like they want it.  They’ve left Egypt, it’s not the way they want it Pharaoh is moving after them, and they begin to complain.  Of course, God did a marvelous thing, He opened the Red Sea, drowned Pharaoh’s entire army and saved them.

Go to chapter 15, they come through the Red Sea, they’ve been delivered, and in that great 15th chapter, the song of Moses sings of God’s great deliverance And it’s no sooner than they’ve done that, verse 22, then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur, and they went three days and they didn’t have any water, three days.  And they came to Marah, they couldn’t drink the waters of Marah, they were bitter therefore it was named Marah, so the people what?  Grumbled at Moses saying, “What shall we drink?”  Again, the same attitude.  Chapter 16, by the way, God provided water for them You remember it.  Verse 27 of chapter 15, 12 springs of water and they camped there and 70 date palms and they had a feast.  “Then, they set out from Elim and all the congregation of the sons of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin which is between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt, and the whole congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses.”  Nothing is ever enough.  Part the Red Sea, provide the water, more grumbling.  “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, we would have been better off there when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full.”  Boy, this is a crass crowd, right?  They don’t care about anything but food.  “We’re all going to die of hunger.”  Boy, they’re real deep, aren’t they?  Real deep people.  “And the Lord provides again.”  It’s absolutely incredible.  God sends quail, God sends manna down.

Then, you come to chapter 17 “Then, all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin according to the command of the Lord and camped at Rephidim and there was no water for the people to drink.  Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, give us water that we may drink.”  See, here’s more complaining, griping, grumbling, quarreling, disputing.  “Moses said to them, why do you quarrel with me?  Why do you test the Lord?  He is the one who has ordained the circumstances.  But the people thirsted there for water and they grumbled against Moses and they said, why now have you brought us up from Egypt to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

Well, Moses is getting to the end of his rope.  So, Moses cried to the Lord, and I’m sure it was loud, “What shall I do to this people?  A little more and they’ll stone me.”  Some group, huh?  So, the Lord said, “Pass before the people, take with you some of the elders of Israel, take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile and go.  I’ll stand before you there on the rock at Horeb and you’ll strike the rock and water will come out of it the people may drink Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel, he named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord saying, is the Lord among us or not?”  It doesn’t take very long for people to forget the provision of God.

Now, go over to Numbers for just a moment or two because I want you to see this pattern.  Now, they’re at the other end of the 40 years They’re ready.  Time is ready to go into the land.  And it’s not much different Verse 1 of chapter 11 of Numbers, “Now, the people became like those who complain.”  You ought to underline that.  “They became like those who complain of adversity.  Complaining of adversity in the hearing of the Lord.”  That’s where their complaint really was directed.  “And when the Lord heard it His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp The people therefore cried out to Moses and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out.  So, the name of the place was called Taberah because the first of the Lord burned among them.”  40 years later, and they have been complaining the whole time about everything.

Verse 4 says, “The rabble who were among them had greedy desires, and the sons of Israel wept again and said, who will give us meat to eat?  We remember the fish and the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, and we’ve got nothing but manna, crummy manna.”  Day after day, this is typical complaining.  Chapter 14, God keeps on providing.  God sends the spies into the land.  And what happens?  They come out, they give this evil report, we can’t do it.  Verse 27 of chapter 14, “How long,” the Lord says to Moses and Aaron, “shall I bear with this evil congregation who are grumbling against Me?  I have heard the complaints of the sons of Israel which they are making against Me.  Say to them as I live, says the Lord, just as you have spoken in my hearing, so I will surely do to you.  Your corpses shall fall in this wilderness, even all your numbered men according to your complete number from 20 years old and upward who have grumbled against Me.”  God says I’ll kill the whole lot of you, you’ll never enter the promised land, and He did it.  He did it.

Chapter 16 verse 41, “On the next day,” what next day?  The next day after God had just punished some people for invading the priesthood The next day after God’s object lesson about serious treatment of His law, “All the congregation of the sons of Israel,” verse 41, “grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and they’re saying you are the ones who caused the death of the Lord’s people.”  And the Lord was furious.  Verse 45, He says, “Get away from among this congregation that I may consume them instantly.  Then, they fell on their faces.”  And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer and put in a fire from the altar and take incense in and bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord, the plague has begun Then, Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold the plague had begun among the people so he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.  And he took his stand between the dead and the living and the plague was checked, but those who died by the plague were 14,700, besides those who died on account of Korah,” where the ground swallowed them all up God just starts slaughtering thousands of them because of their grumbling, complaining, discontent.

You find it again in chapter 20 You find it again in chapter 21 I won’t read them to you.  I suppose the summary of all of it could be in Psalm 106, just listen to this, verse 25.  It says, “They didn’t believe in His word but grumbled in their tents.  They didn’t listen to the voice of the Lord.  Therefore, He swore to them that He would cast them down in the wilderness.”  And that’s exactly what He did.

I read with interest and thought that this must be quite a recent sermon.

How old do you think it is?

MacArthur delivered that sermon on January 15, 1989!

Let’s return to our generation of complainers from that era, 33 years ago, as I write in 2022.

Their parents would have been born in the late 1950s through to the early 1960s, in most cases.

Those young adults, their children, in 1989, would have started getting married and bearing their own offspring in the 1990s.

Here we are, three decades — and three generations — later.

I have an update on today’s youth from Saturday’s Telegraph, July 30, 2022: ‘Our fixation with feelings has created a damaged generation’.

The article is about British youth. Post-pandemic, the main topic that appears in many news articles and parliamentary debates is mental health.

If I had £1 for every time I’ve heard the words ‘mental health’ in parliamentary debates between 2020 and 2022, I’d be living in Monaco right now.

Not only do we have a new generation of complainers, they say they are suffering.

They are suffering because they are too introspective.

Feelings are the order of the day. A dangerous solution to that is the Online Safety Bill currently in the House of Commons. Pray that we can put an end to it, because it has provisions for ‘legal but harmful’ speech. The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — currently Nadine Dorries — can decide what is ‘legal but harmful’ speech.

Whoa!

That is a very dangerous route.

Even more dangerous are the voices coming from Labour MPs, who say that if they are ever in government again — a likely possibility — they will clamp down on whatever free speech remains.

Even worse, the legislation has not been passed, yet, here are Hampshire Constabulary just last Saturday, July 30, 2022, arresting a military veteran for tweeting a meme. The person who complained said that the meme caused him or her ‘anxiety’.

The police don’t ordinarily go to people’s homes to investigate crime these days. Yet, they are all too ready to look into social media.

Five officers attended this man’s residence and arrested him. It appears that no charges stuck, possibly because of the Reclaim Party’s Laurence Fox’s video of the incident. Perhaps the police were embarrassed?

The man tweeting this — unrelated to the incident — is former firefighter Paul Embery, a GB News panellist and Labour Party member who is active in unions, someone concerned about freedom of expression:

Guido Fawkes has more on the story and points out (emphasis in the original):

Arresting people for causing offence or anxiety, all while Hampshire recorded 8,000 burglaries in the last year, probably isn’t the best use of police time…

How did we get here?

The Telegraph article consists of an interview with Gillian Bridge, 71, who is an addiction therapist, mental health advocate, teacher and author of many years’ experience in schools and prisons.

Now you might think she makes all manner of apologies for today’s youth.

Au contraire!

Gillian Bridge was aghast to find that the BBC put great emphasis earlier this year on how young Britons were reacting to the war in Ukraine. She said:

there was this expectation that they were going to be enormously distressed – and about something that was not affecting them directly. Meanwhile, what were they doing in Ukraine? Living in bomb shelters; giving birth in cellars. But we were supposed to worry about the ‘anxiety’ young people were experiencing here? Frankly, I found that terrifying.

She said that this was not surprising, because in our post-pandemic world, feelings in a world of short attention spans are the only thing that matter.

As such, Ukraine is less important now. It shouldn’t be, but it is:

Terrifying, but “not surprising”, she adds with a sigh. “And you’ll notice that just like other political subjects that have prompted huge emotional outpourings on and off social media of late, things have now gone very quiet on that front. Once we’ve had these ‘big’ emotions, we are no longer particularly interested, it seems.” She cites our celebration of the NHS as another example. “People were virtually orgasmic about their pan-banging, but how many of them then went on to volunteer or do something tangibly helpful?” It’s in part down to our gnat-like attention span, says Bridge, “but also the fact that a lot of the time we’re not interested in the actual subject, just the way we feel about it.”

Mental health problems, real or otherwise, have spun out of control over the past few years, even pre-pandemic:

the 71-year-old has watched our “fixation with feelings” balloon out of all proportion, eclipsing reason, and predicted how damaging it would be, especially for the young. However, even Bridge was shocked by figures showing that more than a million prescriptions for antidepressants are now written for teenagers in England each year, with NHS data confirming that the number of drugs doled out to 13 to 19-year-olds has risen by a quarter between 2016 and 2020.

Child mental health services are reported to be “at breaking point”, with referrals up by 52 per cent last year and some parents even admitting that they have been sleeping outside their children’s bedrooms in order to check they are not self-harming. There is no doubt that we are dealing with an unprecedented crisis – one that was definitely heightened by the pandemic. “But Covid cannot be held responsible for all of it,” cautions Bridge. “And while antidepressants can be very effective, we need to be asking ourselves how we reached this point? Because whatever we’ve been doing clearly isn’t working.”

Bridge blames this on too much introspection:

At the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference in 2019 Bridge told the 250 independent school heads in attendance what she believed to be the root cause of this mass unhappiness: “This focus on ‘me, myself and I’ is the problemIt’s taking people who are vulnerable to begin with and asking them to focus inwards.” And in Bridge’s ground-breaking book, Sweet Distress: How Our Love Affair With Feelings Has Fuelled the Current Mental Health Crisis, the behavioural expert explains why too much emphasis on emotion is as bad for our health as a surfeit of sweet treats. Indeed the “empty calories contained in some feelings” have only helped our “sense of self-importance to grow fat”, she says. Hence the “emotional obesity many are suffering from now”.

Cancel culture and censorship are part of this dreadful focus on feelings:

The book – which kicks off with Bridge’s assertion, “We’ve been living in a gross-out world of personal emotional self-indulgence and sentiment for decades now … decades which have seen the nation’s mental health worsening” – is a succession of equally magnificent declarations. Magnificent because she has pinpointed the cause of a whole range of societal problems, from mental distress and the determined fragility of the young to the woke chaos of universities and cancel culture.

Interestingly, Bridge believes that this toxic focus on feelings began in the 1970s. MacArthur and the sociologist he cited spoke in 1989The timing makes sense.

Bridge told The Telegraph:

Certainly the touchy-feely approach to things had already started in classrooms back in the 1970s.

From there, it gradually expanded, year after year, decade after decade:

Flash forward to today, when every boss can be silenced by an employee starting a sentence with: “I just feel that …”

Whereas you could do so in the old days, it is now taboo to downplay someone’s feelings, and that is not a good thing:

The great value of feelings today, Bridge tells me, “is that no one else can ever deny them … so if you feel offended then someone has genuinely harmed you”. Celebrity culture has promoted this new way of thinking as much as social media, “where you can witness people actually gorging on themselves, getting high on the strength of their own feelings just as they do on sugar – self-pleasuring, basically. And listen, it may feel good in the short term, but it’s very bad for us in the long run.”

People can convince themselves that their feelings are the truth, their truth, anyway. That omits fact, what really happened. Bridge mentioned Meghan Markle’s complaints:

Take the Duchess of Sussex, she points out, and her litany of “heartfelt” complaints. “Just last week there she was explaining that she didn’t lie to Oprah about growing up an only child, because she felt like one, so it was, as she put it ‘a subjective statement’.” Bridge laughs; shakes her head. “We really are tying ourselves up in knots now, aren’t we? Because it’s all about me, myself and I, and someone like Meghan has made it so much easier for people to follow in her footsteps, when the reality is that feelings are not immutable. They are not fixed, an absolute. They are not fact. And they are certainly not something that must override everything else.”

Yet there is a natural neurological process whereby the brain is able to turn feelings into fact, Bridge explains. “If you revise, rehearse, repeat and reinforce, then you create a fact, and that fact will then be embedded in your memory: ‘your truth’. Going back to Markle, that’s crucially a truth that no amount of counter-evidence can challenge.”

Bridge says that encouraging children to emote and focus on their feelings is unhelpful for them and for society at large. The focus on feelings originated in the United States, the source of all bad ideas in our time:

“The worst possible thing you can do with a child is to give them a fixed idea that they are feeling a certain way,” she says with aplomb. So those “emotional literacy” classes that started in California and are now being taught at schools here in the UK? The ones using a “traffic light” system, with pupils as young as four being asked to describe their “happiness levels” accordingly? “A terrible idea,” Bridge groans. “Feelings are simply physiological sensations mediated by cultural expectations; they go up and they go down!” Yet thanks to the pervasive narrative that every feeling should be given weight, “instead of enjoying the limitless health and optimism of youth” many youngsters “are now entrenched in their own misery”.

Bridge then tapped unknowingly into what MacArthur preached about in 1989, the notion that there were once roles for us in life, conformity to social expectations:

The desire to feel significant (either by embracing victimhood or by other means) is hardly new where young people are concerned, Bridge reminds me, and her tone is notably empathetic. “Let’s not forget that people used to have a role in life assigned for them within their communities. You might do an apprenticeship and then go and work in a factory or go into your father’s firm, or you might be preparing to get married and have babies. Now people have to find their role, they have to choose an identity, and that is much more complicated for them.”

Remember when we older folk — the 60+ group — were taught resilience at home when we were children? ‘Tomorrow’s another day’? It meant that today’s setback was temporary and, sure, we were hurt or upset, but better times were on the way. And, sure enough, they were.

Parents and schools are not teaching children about the temporary nature of setbacks. Therefore, today’s children lack resilience, which gave all of us who learned it so long ago hope for the future:

“The reason ‘everything will look better in the morning’ is so important,” says Bridge, “is that just like the children who did well in [Walter Mischel’s famous 1972] marshmallow experiment, they were able to predict the future based on their past.” That ability to delay and see the bigger picture is closely associated with the development of the hippocampus, she explains, “which is memory, navigation and good mental health. Yet by immersing ourselves in feelings and the now, we’ve blotted out the ‘OK so I’m feeling bad, but tomorrow will be another day’ logic, and we’re trusting the least intelligent part of our brains. As parents, we should all be discouraging this in our children. Because a child has to believe in tomorrow.”

Developing resilience is good for brain health, and it helps us to survive.

Bridge says that altruism also helps our brain health. We look out for others, not just ourselves. She says:

Studies have shown that it protects us from mental decline in our later years, but that the self-involved are more likely to develop dementia.

She cautions against cancelling or revising our history, whether it be factual or cultural:

Learning and a sense of history are equally important when it comes to brain health. “Yet again we seem to be distancing ourselves from the very things that we need to thrive. We’re so threatened by history and its characters that we try to cancel them! When you only have to read something like Hamlet’s ‘to be, or not to be’ speech to understand that it encapsulates all of the issues and irritations we still suffer from today. And surely knowing that gives you a sense of belonging, a sense of context, continuity and, crucially, relativity?

Alarmingly, Bridge says that some young people believe that suicide is a melodrama, not a final act:

they don’t actually realise it’s the end of them. Instead, they are almost able to view it as a melodrama that they can observe from the outside. Which is a deeply distressing thought.

Scary.

Bridge warns that too much introspection can lead to criminality:

Although it’s hard to condense everything she learnt about the criminal brain during those years down to a tidy sound bite, “what was notable and important in this context,” she says, “was their fixation on themselves. So the more a person looks inwards at the me, myself and I, the more they’re likely to run afoul of everything, from addiction to criminality. In a way, the best thing you can do for your brain is to look beyond it.”

She tells me about a prisoner she was working with “who came up to me and said: ‘I’ve got mental health’ – as though that were a disorder. Because people have become so ‘into’ the problem that the phrase is now only negative. That’s surely one of the most worrying developments of all. And it’s why I refuse to use or accept the term ‘mental health’ unless it is prefixed by ‘good’ or ‘bad’.”

Incredibly, with all the misplaced importance on feelings, Bridge says she has never had a bad reception to her talks:

… she stresses she “has never encountered negativity anywhere I have spoken”. Yet another reason why Bridge isn’t about to dampen her argument.

She thinks there might be the seeds of a turnaround, based on news items over the past few weeks:

“I think people understand that it’s time for some tough talking,” she writes in Sweet Distress. “There is increasing evidence that families, schools and universities are being overwhelmed by an epidemic of mental ill health.” So whatever we are doing isn’t just “not helping”, but harming? “Absolutely. But I am seeing more and more people speaking up about this now. The narrative is changing. Just look at what the Coldstream Guards fitness instructor, Farren Morgan, said last week about body positivity promoting ‘a dangerous lifestyle’. He’s right.” She shrugs. “It’s no good saying ‘it’s OK to be any size you please’ when we know that if children have bad diets, that can in turn lead to obesity – which in turn makes it more likely that they will suffer both physically and mentally later on.”

She mentions the new smart dress code implemented by the head of Greater Manchester Police – the one that, according to reports last week, helped turn the force around into one of the “most improved” in the country. “These officers were performing better at work because they were dressed smarter. So what does that tell us? That if you have a disciplined life and if you accomplish the things you set out to do, that gives you self-esteem – which makes you happier. But of course none of this happens if we are just sitting around ‘feeling’ things.”

She suggests that a good way of getting young people out of the cancel culture narrative is to point out that, someday, they might be cancelled, too. Also note the final word:

How do we get people out of themselves when they are so entrenched, though? How do we root them when they are flailing to such an extent? “By giving them a sense of being part of history! By getting them to see that if they want to cancel someone who lived 50 or 100 years ago, then in 50 or 100 years’ time someone may have entirely ‘valid’ reasons to cancel them. By building the inner scaffolding that will keep them standing throughout life’s ups and downs. And you know what that inner scaffold is called?” she asks with a small smile. “Resilience.”

Get Gillian Bridge into the new Government, coming soon, as an adviser. The nation needs someone like her. She would be perfect in helping us to defeat our mental health pandemic.

Jonathan Gullis, a Red Wall MP who is the first Conservative representing Stoke-on-Trent North, is a larger than life Member of Parliament.

The constituency was created in 1950 and has had Labour MPs from then until December 12, 2019.

Stoke-on-Trent has three constituencies, each of which contain two of the historic six towns of the Potteries; over the centuries, they have given us some of the world’s best ceramics and porcelain.

Over the years, the Potteries have shed many jobs, with the result that the number of registered jobseekers was higher than the national average ten years ago: 5.2% to 3.8%.

However, despite the pandemic, employment has been improving since 2015, as Jonathan Gullis explained in a September 15, 2021 debate on levelling up. Ruth Smeeth was the constituency’s MP in 2015, but the more important change was that the local council control shifted from Labour to Conservative (emphases mine):

I will read out some statistics, because for too long, sadly, Stoke-on-Trent was talked about in a negative light by my predecessors, so I will talk about how great Stoke-on-Trent actually is and what it has been doing under not only a Conservative Government but a Conservative-led city council, led by the fantastic Councillor Abi Brown.

Stoke-on-Trent was ranked first for jobs growth in 2020. Between 2015 and 2018 it saw wages increase by 11.7%, with a 3.9% annual increase. In 2019-20 we built over 1,000 new homes, of which 97% were built on brownfield land. We are the eighth fastest growing economy in England, which includes London. We have created over 8,000 jobs in the last five years. We have the Ceramic Valley enterprise zone, which is one of the most successful enterprise zones in the UK. I am delighted that Tunstall Arrow phase 2 is effectively already under way and bookings are being made. The city council has done a fantastic thing by carrying on the business rates relief, using its own finances to encourage more businesses to come to the area. There is a fantastic story here for Stoke-on-Trent.

I am very sorry to get into the petty party politics, as some people might accuse us of, but I do so because when the Labour party lost Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, it was because it spent too long talking the area down and never talked it up. It spent too long telling people how poor they were and how deprived they were, but never offering a solution to the problem. In fact, Labour’s legacy in Stoke-on-Trent was to build a hospital—the Royal Stoke University Hospital—with a disastrous private finance initiative debt, which means £20 million a year is being stolen from the frontline to pay that debt. Labour built a hospital with 200 fewer beds than the old hospital, which is even more insane.

We saw jobs and ceramics enterprises being shipped off to China, which means I am very grateful still to have Churchill China, Steelite International and Burleigh Pottery in my constituency. They are still doing well, but sadly that industry dying meant that towns such as Burslem and Tunstall, two of the five original towns of Stoke-on-Trent, are now in a much worse state. Those places were forgotten, because for 70 years they had Labour Members of Parliament.

I am the first ever Conservative Member of Parliament for my constituency. What has happened over time, as we have seen that transition from Labour to the Conservatives, is that things are now happening. By the way, that does not mean that I do not acknowledge that there are challenges in Stoke-on-Trent. As I say, the mother town of Burslem has one of the highest number of closed shops anywhere in the United Kingdom. The town used to thrive off Royal Doulton and many other Pot Bank factories, but now that is simply not the case. I am trying to find a future for that town. I was delighted to have spent my summer handing out a survey asking residents for their views—over 300 responses have come in—and I am working with the city council to create a vision, perhaps for an arts and creative culture that will link in with Middleport Pottery.

In Tunstall, the high street is predominantly privately owned. I know that because I rent my constituency office on that high street—it is in an old shop. The top end of the high street is falling into disrepair, but I am delighted that the city council is working with me to hold private landlords to account for allowing their shops to fall into disrepair.

However, to offer the Minister more evidence of levelling up, it is the Conservative-led Stoke-on-Trent City Council that has invested £4 million into Longton town hall, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton), and it is spending over £4 million on Tunstall town hall in my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. That will see council offices, a police post, a children’s centre and much more bringing this heritage building back to life, which will bring more footfall to the town centre and hopefully see it rejuvenate.

There is so much more opportunity. I fell in love with the city back in 2018, when I first started campaigning there, because I saw what others did not, which is a people who were desperate for change but just needed someone to go and fight for them. I am absolutely delighted to be their champion, as I have said many times.

I know that we have just heard some hon. Members talk about the town deal fund. I am a member of Kidsgrove’s town deal board. It is important to remember that these towns got this money before I was even elected as a Member of Parliament, but it was a Conservative Government who decided that the town of Kidsgrove, which is linked with Talke and Newchapel, would benefit from a town deal fund that, in total and including the advance town deal payment, came to £17.6 million. I can tell Members that when I go out door-knocking in Kidsgrove, the people there cannot believe what that money has done.

We have invested £2.75 million in Kidsgrove sports centre, which means that this facility will reopen in spring 2022. Rather than building a new one at higher expense to the taxpayer, the existing one will be refurbished and reopenedIn 2017, the then Labour-run Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council was offered the sports centre for £1, and it said no. There was a fantastic, community-run campaign led by Mark Clews, Dave Rigby, Ray Williams and Councillor Gill Burnett, who was a Labour councillor but has since become a Conservative over the decision on the sports centre. They got the borough council behind it, and they certainly got me behind it. Ultimately, we will see that facility reopened, which means swimming and a gym will return to Kidsgrove, which has one of the highest childhood obesity rates in the country.

Gullis gave several more examples of improvements to the local area then returned to the sports centre:

This is what a town deal has done for my area, and I am proud to be part of it. I will benefit from the fact that the swimming pool exists—as a Kidsgrove parish resident, my daughter, who is just over a year old, will be able to learn to swim in her local swimming facility. Every pound invested by the community into that sports centre is going straight back into it, because the community group that ran the campaign are taking over the day-to-day running of that fabulous facility.

Several hundred civil service jobs will also be coming to Stoke-on-Trent. Having a voice in government was a factor in Stoke-on-Trent voting for Brexit in 2016:

… under the Places for Growth programme, 550 jobs are coming to Stoke-on-Trent via the Home Office. A new innovation centre will provide jobs at all career stages, including apprenticeships to help Stokies get into great civil service careers. Initially, there will be 50 caseworker roles, with a further 200 jobs at an asylum co-ordination hub, and that will expand to about 560 jobs by 2025. In addition to the caseworker roles, the centre will include operational, IT, policy and corporate functions, and will offer exciting career paths to local people. There will also be a number of senior civil service roles in Stoke-on-Trent, meaning that the people there will have a voice in Government. If anyone wants to understand why the people of Stoke-on-Trent voted overwhelmingly to leave—by 73%, in my constituency—it is because they thought that if London did not care about them, then Brussels would not have a bloody clue about their local area. That is why we are finally seeing a big change there.

What can the Government continue to do? The shopping list has not ended unfortunately, Minister. Stoke has had an appetiser and a bit of a main course, but we are still hungry for more, and dessert will come in the form of the levelling-up fund bid that we have submitted. We are lucky to be rated as a grade 1 priority area. We thank the Government for listening to our calls and understanding the deprivation.

He was aware of having a strong link between an MP and local government. Furthermore, he realised that local votes had been lent to him in 2019:

the relationship between the local council and the local MP is so important, because if we end up butting heads nothing will happen. That is not benefiting the people who have elected us to serve them.

I take the fact that those votes will end. I do not sit here arrogantly; they were lent votes, and if I do not deliver, I will be sacked. Every single one of my constituents is a Lord Sugar, so they will hire me or fire me. I take that responsibility absolutely seriously. I say on every doorstep that I do. That is why I do not stop banging on about my local area. That is why the Minister must be bored to death of hearing about Stoke-on-Trent from me and my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Stoke-on-Trent South—the Stoke mafia, as we have come to be known in the Tea Room. We will keep fighting for our local area. Councillor Abi Brown is a tour de force—a young, dynamic, forward-thinking council leader paving the way, and now having a major role in the Local Government Association as well.

Let us go over the levelling-up fund bid, which for me is a litmus test of the Government’s commitment. It is a £73.5 million bid. Some £3.5 million will go into Tunstall, which will turn an old library and swimming baths back into a mixed-use facility, including flats, a multi-purpose exhibition space and a café. It will turn one of the largest city centre regeneration areas in the West Midlands into a thriving hotel, flat accommodation and hopefully indoor arena that will specialise in e-sports. There is so much potential in those fantastic bids, which are in with the Treasury. I know that the Minister wants to make my Christmas. One way that she can achieve that is by ensuring that we deliver on those bids. We have bid for the transport elements as well.

We have also bid on the Stoke-to-Leek line through the Restoring your Railway fund. It is a fantastic bid, with four constituency MPs bidding for it jointly. It will unlock people being able to commute around north Staffordshire, meaning that we finally have better transport. I hope that, alongside rail, we will get some Bus Back Better opportunities, because 30% of the people of Stoke-on-Trent do not have access to a car, and the current bus service is not good enough.

Jonathan Gullis is also concerned about immigration, because Stoke-on-Trent takes in many immigrants. They are fifth on the list of areas taking in the most.

In a March 22, 2022 debate on the Nationality and Borders Bill, he rightly had an issue with Labour’s approach to immigration:

I am getting rather confused. The Labour party seems to be saying that we should not remove pull factors that mean that people are willing to risk their lives crossing the English channel and put money into the hands of the people smugglers. What has happened to the Labour party? Back in 2004, Baroness Scotland, a Labour Minister, said that

“a person should seek protection in the first safe country where they have the chance to do so.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 April 2004; Vol. 659, c. 1684.]

What happened to that Labour party?

Later in the debate, he took on Stuart C McDonald, an SNP MP, about illegal immigration:

We both served on the Bill Committee but we seem to have a very different recollection. George Brandis, the Australian high commissioner, talked about a three-part effect, with push-back, offshoring and deterring by having tougher sanctions for those who enter illegally all having worked in tandem with one another to deter people from making the journey. That is unlike what the hon. Gentleman is trying to portray, which is that one silver bullet was the magic answer—it simply was not. It is just a shame that only two local authorities in the entirety of Scotland take part in the asylum dispersal scheme, unlike Stoke-on-Trent, which is the fifth largest contributor.

Stuart C McDonald replied:

Conservative Members can continue to try to upset local authorities in Scotland and achieve absolutely nothing in doing so, but on the more substantive—

Gullis was insistent:

It is fact—[Interruption.]

McDonald went on before Gullis had another chance to intervene:

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way after mentioning Stoke-on-Trent. The leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council is annoyed about the asylum dispersal scheme because only a third of local authorities are currently part of it. The council is asking for other areas—such as the 30-plus local authority areas in Scotland—to step up and do their bit because our city of Stoke-on-Trent is now at the one in 200 threshold in terms of refugee versus local citizen. Instead of attacking Stoke-on-Trent City Council with some vague quote, let us get into the facts of the matter. If Scotland stepped up to the plate and did its bit, Stoke-on-Trent would not have to carry the burden for the rest of the country.

McDonald said that Scotland was awaiting Government funding to do so. Hmm.

Gullis returned to criticising Labour and the SNP later on. I saw the debate. The bit about ‘wokerati’ below, referencing the metropolitan elite, was a classic:

Let us be very clear. Currently, illegal economic migrants are entering this country across the English channel from a safe mainland European country, France. That situation is totally unacceptable to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, because they believe in fairness and they believe in doing things by the book.

People with a legitimate claim to come to our country to escape persecution and flee for their lives are being put at the bottom of the list because of people who are illegally entering our country via small boats—and what do the Opposition parties think? They support the Lords amendments, which would simply make it even easier for people to try to come across the channel, making a dangerous journey, risking their lives and putting money into the hands of criminal gangs. Let us not forget that 70% of the individuals who are currently making that channel crossing are men, predominantly single men in their 20s and 30s. Let us not forget that it is women and children who are most at risk: they are being left at home, where they are being persecuted.

The Labour party thinks that people in places like Stoke-on-Trent are racist because 73% voted for Brexit. It thinks that they are thick and uncompassionate, despite the fact that we are the fifth largest contributor to the asylum dispersal scheme in our United Kingdom.

That is why Stoke-on-Trent kicked Labour out, and why the people there will not want it back any time soon. Labour does not understand that when people voted for this Government and elected, for the first time ever, a Conservative Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent, North Kidsgrove and Talke, they did so because they wanted to take back control—which is what they did in 2016 when they voted for Brexit. The out-of-touch wokerati on the Opposition Benches are constantly obsessed with being popular with Twitter and Londoners, so this does not surprise me one bit.

As for the Scottish National party, only one Scottish local authority takes part in the asylum dispersal scheme. To be fair, it is Glasgow, the largest contributor to the scheme. Despite the pontificating, the grandstanding and the virtue-signalling, the fact is that the SNP does not stand up and help out as it should. It is about time that Scotland did its bit, went out and signed up. The Minister is on the Front Bench: let SNP Members go and sign the paperwork with him, and let us get refugees into local authority areas in Scotland. Stoke-on-Trent is doing its bit. It is about time that others, whether in the north Islington coffee bar elites or the Scottish National party-run local authorities, did their bit as well.

Gullis is an active contributor in parliamentary debates, but his ten-minute maiden speech on January 14, 2020 was a veritable tour de force. He was surrounded by many other new Red Wall MPs when he delivered it:

We discovered that the now 32-year-old taught school for several years before entering politics; he taught religious education. He believes that a good education is the best pathway towards social mobility.

He clearly loves Stoke-on-Trent:

“Ay Up Duck” is how I should start, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) will be happy with my pronunciation.

May I start by saying what an honour and a privilege it is to make my maiden speech today, and to represent the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke? I could not be prouder to serve and, as I said to the Stoke Sentinel at 5.30 in the morning of election night, I will “work my bum off” to deliver the change that my constituents deserve.

I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Ruth Smeeth. She will be remembered as a tireless campaigner for our armed forces, against holiday hunger and fighting antisemitism. The abuse that she has suffered as a result of her Jewish heritage is a disgrace. I know she will continue in her work to combat antisemitism and all other forms of racism, and she can count on me to stand shoulder to shoulder with her on such issues.

As a teacher, a school trade union representative and a Tory, I realise I am not the typical stereotype, and I could not think of a more fitting debate in which to make my maiden speech. Education is by far the most powerful tool we have to improve social mobility. In my own family, I have seen this at first hand. My mother, who joins me in the Gallery today, got into a grammar school off the estate in London. My father, having failed his O-levels, took up work as a caretaker to attend night school, ending up at Durham University with a Masters. The hard work, resilience and determination of my parents has allowed them to achieve more than what many, and indeed they themselves, would have anticipated had they been confined to the lazy stereotypes placed upon them. Teachers serve the young people they educate outside the bounds of academia, often assuming the role of mentor, providing intellectual and emotional support. For most of us there is that one stand-out teacher who changed the way we think and made a difference to our lives. The teacher who inspired me is Dr Simon Peaple. He was the head of history and politics at my school. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Christopher Pincher), who cannot be here, will know him well, because he is now the leader of the Labour group on Tamworth Borough Council. His teaching was so effective that, despite him coming to campaign for my predecessor, I was able to make it on to the Green Benches today. But, in all seriousness, his dedication to his students, extensive subject knowledge and passion for the job stuck with me, and I would like to thank him for all that he did.

Getting education right across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke is crucial. In 2018 the progress 8 scores showed a majority of children underachieving and only 1% of students getting AAB at A-level compared with 12% across the rest of the West Midlands. However, signs of improvement are beginning to show: today, over 80% of schools are rated good or outstanding, and 2019 GCSE results showed a 6% increase in the pass rate for English and maths across the city of Stoke-on-Trent. And with the Government’s support via the Stoke-on-Trent opportunity area, more breakfast clubs and a 4.7% increase in per pupil funding, the city is on the up.

I say the city is on the up because for too long it has been perceived negatively. Football pundits talk about whether players can perform on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke-on-Trent and last week Piers Morgan wondered whether the Duchess of Sussex would ever want to face opening a community hall on a wet Wednesday in Stoke. In addition, the town of Kidsgrove has been passed from pillar to post in Boundary Commission changes and is now being nicknamed the forgotten town. Well, I say that Stoke-on-Trent is a city to be proud of, Kidsgrove will no longer be forgotten, and it is time that we started talking about Talke—a bit of cheese.

If Members are looking for somewhere to spend their next bank holiday weekend, they need look no further. After enjoying a cheesy Staffordshire oatcake they can make their way to the mother town of Burslem, birthplace of Lemmy from Motörhead, 16-time world dart champion Phil “the Power” Taylor and Robbie Williams. They can also go for a walk around the award-winning park or pop down to Vale Park and see Port Vale FC play, or see local businesses such as Synectics Solutions, Titanic Brewery and Autonet, which together employ thousands of local residents.

Burslem was the heartbeat of this city and hosts its ceramic industry from Royal Stafford to Moorcroft. In neighbouring Middleport we can see Steelite and go on a tour of Middleport Pottery. The place is home to “The Great Pottery Throw Down” on Channel 4 and was used for filming on the TV series “Peaky Blinders”.

Next, we can visit another of the original six towns, Tunstall, where we will soon be able to visit the newly refurbished town hall, go shopping at the indoor market and see another ceramics giant in Churchill China.

We can then make our way to Kidsgrove and Talke. Here we can walk along the beautiful Trent and Mersey canal to see the Harecastle tunnel; at one and a half miles long it was once the longest in the country, responsible for taking the coal to the kilns. We can also see the site of the old sports centre, which, thanks to the efforts of Kidsgrove sports centre community group and the Conservative-led Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council, will be refurbished and reopened next summer so it can retain its place as a key community asset.

It is said that World War Two was won in the skies, as alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes), thanks to a little plane called the Spitfire. In Talke my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh can visit the Reginald Mitchell peace garden, named after the Spitfire inventor and yards from where he was born. Reginald Mitchell is heavily celebrated across the Potteries and in 2003 was voted the greatest Midlander in the BBC’s online TV and radio vote.

Lastly, we have Chatterley Whitfield colliery. It is one of the most complete former colliery sites in Europe and has been designated a scheduled ancient monument. It was the first colliery in the country to achieve an annual output of 1 million tonnes, which was achieved in 1937 and again in 1939. The colliery ceased production and closed its doors on working miners in March 1977. The hard work undertaken by the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield has seen some buildings brought back to use, sell-out tours on heritage weekends and important documents saved. However, this important piece of heritage is still at risk of being lost. The potbanks would not have fired if it were not for the coal brought from the deep mines at Chatterley Whitfield. The Potteries would not have existed. I made it a central pledge in my campaign to protect and preserve the site with a long-term plan. The loss of such a site would mean that future generations could be denied an invaluable opportunity to learn about their past. I will not stand by and let that happen.

Talking up an area is very important, but it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges we face. We need more school places, better public transport and to bring more high-skilled, high-wage jobs to Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke. We must invest in the city by opening up free schools to offer more parental choice. We must reverse some of the Beeching cuts by opening up the old mineral line and ensure the city of Stoke-on-Trent becomes the core of the tech revolution. Silicon Stoke is an ambition to put this city at the centre of future skills and jobs. We are rated as having some of the best 4G download speeds in the country and we are leading the way by rolling out 60 miles of full fibre broadband across the city, thanks to Swedish firm VX Fiber and this Government’s investment of over £9 million. According to council officers, that could generate a £625 million boost to the Stoke-on-Trent economy, meaning more jobs and higher wages.

Stoke-on-Trent, one of the great cities of the industrial revolution, knows what it means to be at the centre of the country’s economy. I wish to see the city reignited at the heart of the coming technological revolution. One of my roles as a Member of Parliament is to represent the people, the place and the history of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. I will pursue relentlessly the potential and ambition of my constituency, and I will shout at every turn about how amazing the city is and the opportunities it possesses. Make no mistake: we are on the up.

However, Gullis struggles with mental health issues. Negative emotions from his formative years, including suicidal thoughts, still haunt him, as he told the Stoke Sentinel in March 2020 — ‘I self-harmed after bullying’:

He fought and won an election campaign set against the most toxic atmosphere in modern political history – yet behind the mask Jonathan Gullis still has days when he wishes he was dead.

Jonathan, Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, suffered relentless bullying as a teenager, to such an extent that he used to self-harm.

At his lowest point he even mapped out a plan to take his own life in a way which would mean his family were spared the trauma of seeing his body.

Now Jonathan says he has been inspired to speak out after reading about others who have told their stories as part of StokeonTrentLive’s mental health and suicide prevention campaign.

Jonathan, a former teacher who was elected to Parliament in December, said: “I always thought that if I did share my experiences, it would be at a time when I was in a position of influence, and hopefully that would make other people feel more confident.

“I went to see a psychiatrist at the age of 14.

“I had been having a very difficult time at school. My whole identity – or my alleged identity – was attacked.

“I had held back a lot of grief over my grandmother, who passed away when I was aged eight. I had not processed it to the point that I was extremely angry at the world, I was lashing out at my peers and my family.

“Other days I was crying and self-harming. I used to cut myself and hide it from my parents and keep it hidden when I played rugby.

“Children can be cruel and I had years and years of bullying. It was name calling …

“At 14, I had taken knock after knock and one day I completely lost my temper.

“My brother said something similar to what I was being called at school and I completely lost it and held a knife to him.

“My mum came in and shouted at me and I completely broke down in tears and told her how I hated what I was going through and how my identity was attacked.

“You can imagine how sorry I am to my brother to this day. To lose it so much that I reached that point of anger.”

Jonathan began speaking regularly about his difficulties to his school chaplain and then received professional help. He was taught some coping strategies, but it wasn’t until leaving school and going to university that he was able to ‘reinvent himself’.

After graduating from university, Jonathan then began a successful teaching career.

He became head of year at his school in Birmingham, responsible for the behaviour and well-being of more than 250 students.

He also became a trade union representative for NASUWT before getting into politics.

Yet he still battles with his mental health to this day.

“There are still days when I feel disconnected and a lack of energy and just down. I get very frustrated at myself,” said Jonathan.

“To meet me, you would think I am very self-confident, but it is just a mask. I’m the most insecure person. I worry about everything, whether my family are happy, whether I’m doing a good job for my constituents.

“Some days I hate myself. I hate looking in a mirror and I hate how I feel inside.

“The last time I self-harmed was in September 2019.

“My depression got really bad around 2015/16. I went on medication, but it made me feel worse.

“I kept thinking about whether to kill myself and how I could do it without upsetting my family. How I could do it so they didn’t see the body.

“There are some lovely country walks where I was living before I was selected. There was a particular spot I found. I remember thinking I could telephone the police and then leave a note just saying I’m really sorry.

“It’s horrible. I hate waking up feeling trapped in my own head. It breaks my heart to say it, but sometimes I have wished I wouldn’t wake up.

“I still think that now, occasionally. But I think how my dad would feel and how it would affect my family and loved ones – I couldn’t put them through that.

“My parents are aware that I struggle, but I don’t think they are aware of how bad it is.”

The article says that three out of four MPs suffer mental health problems. Hmm:

A study carried out last year – before Jonathan was elected to Parliament – found that three out of four MPs suffer from poor mental health.

The analysis found that long hours, the stress and isolation of the job, coupled with constant criticism and even personal abuse on social media, meant that MPs are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than people in many other professions.

Gullis feels under a lot of pressure to succeed:

He said: “Being an MP is isolating and there is massive pressure to deliver for my constituents.

“I love my job and the fact I have been given this opportunity. There is no-one more fearful than me of not delivering.

“I question every day whether I have done a good job. I’m terrified of being a failure because I have had so much trust put in me.

“I’m lucky that my family and loved ones are around me.

“When I get hate on social media, I try to see it as a joke. I try to see the funny side …

“I have fallen in love with this area and I want to make a difference so badly. I set such high standards and expectations on myself and my staff.”

I have never read such honest testimony from a public figure about such a sensitive issue.

He is divorced but has a daughter with his current partner, Nikita.

Easter recess has begun. I hope that he gets time to relax a bit and enjoy his family.

In any event, I wish Jonathan Gullis the greatest of success as an MP. He deserves it.

On October 6, 2020, the BBC website had two interesting articles on nasty social media comments.

Many social media users who are the targets of such comments are understandably upset, sometimes traumatised.

The BBC’s articles reveal that two users have admitted they are insecure or have problems in their personal lives that played out in their mean-spirited, cruel comments against individuals.

BBC journalist meets her troll

Sali Hughes is a lifestyle and beauty journalist for the BBC.

She has Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Unfortunately, she acquired a troll, Becky (not her real name).

She later met Becky in person and described her as being a well presented 30-something mother.

Hughes posted an article about her experience: ‘I met the woman who trolled me online’.

She explained the background to the trolling (emphases mine):

Imagine if a group of strangers spent up to 16 hours a day feasting over nasty and imagined details about your personal life and family, telling livelihood-endangering lies about your job.

That happened, and still happens, to me and many others on what’s known as a “dragging” or “trashing” site.

If you search my name you’ll find I’m a journalist. You’ll see my posts about beauty and lifestyle all over Twitter and Instagram. But when Becky searched my name, alongside a cosmetic procedure, a link to the “trashing” site had come up as a result.

The lies about my personal and professional life spanned pages; talking about my children, my marriage and my mother who’d recently died of cancer.

The site is an online forum, dedicated to trashing the lives and reputations of people with a social media presence.

Around a year ago, the insults, hurtful conspiracy theories and speculation migrated from that forum to a beauty industry gossip site.

Sali Hughes decided she had to take action:

A false rumour appeared, albeit briefly, suggesting I had an undeclared financial relationship with a major brand. I decided I had to act.

I posted a video on Instagram, talking about the ceaseless trolling I – along with many others – had received on the site, how it threatened my livelihood, and affected my mental health and hurt deeply those I love. Having watched that video, Becky stopped posting.

A few months later, Becky sent Hughes an email:

And that eventually led us to meet, shivering, outside a cafe in Victoria, where she had agreed to be interviewed for an edition of File on 4 I was making about my experience of online abuse.

Becky revealed the following to the journalist:

In her email to me, Becky had acknowledged there was “a lot of projection going on”. And when we met, she spoke about how issues in her personal life fed into what she wrote.

“I think what you see of influencers, people on the Internet, media personalities is potentially only 40 seconds of content a day. It’s very easy to fill in with your own narrative.

“For me specifically, I can say 100% what was going on in my own life is reflected in what I posted…it was nothing really to do with the content creator. It was what I filled in.”

Before the two women met, Becky reread what she had posted online:

… it was so nasty and I thought, how was I so blind to how thoroughly unpleasant I was being? Just knowing that I was any way involved makes me feel really upset at the thought of that.

At the end of their conversation, Becky concluded:

It was a way of me trying to solve my own problems,” reflected Becky. “It’s actually nothing to do with you.”

Before leaving, she shrugged and added, “It doesn’t make sense to me either”.

Wow.

Perez Hilton confesses

The acerbic and eccentric celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton has written an autobiography, TMI: My Life in Scandal, which details his 16 years in the entertainment world.

His pseudonym is a play on Paris Hilton. His real name is Mario Lavandeira.

He has been the target of several lawsuits over the years.

Over the past several years, he has been turning his life around, dropping his old ways.

He spoke to the BBC, which posted extracts of his interview: ‘Perez Hilton: I never needed to be so cruel’.

He revealed why he doggedly targeted singer Ariana Grande on his blog. He offered to manage her career when she was starting out, but she chose someone else:

I was really hurt, so for years afterwards I was super petty toward Ariana on my website and on social media,” Hilton admits in his new memoir. “I regret that.”

In his autobiography, the BBC says, he expresses his regrets over some of the things he has written and posted.

He told the BBC:

I’d never put much thought into writing an autobiography before, because while I have this public persona of being extremely confident, I also am extremely filled with self-doubt, worry and insecurity.

In 2018, actress and singer Mila Kunis posited that Perez Hilton was the original troll:

“To me, he was the first person that created ugly news, that literally just spread filth,” Mila Kunis said in 2018.It was just mean, and so it allowed people to be mean.” She suggested the “whole concept of trolling really didn’t exist” prior to his blog.

Hilton told the BBC that there had been gossip magazines for decades. Yes, but most were careful to avoid lawsuits.

He admitted:

Maybe I was the first to do it online, and therefore, I’m a pioneer!

More’s the pity.

Although Perez Hilton is gay, he had a particular penchant for outing other celebrities online.

In 2010, an LGBT online movement, It Gets Better, launched. It supports gay teenagers who have suffered online abuse. Some of them commit suicide.

Hilton recorded a message of support for It Gets Better. It was not well received. Those commenting said he was partly responsible:

“The response I got truly shook me to my core,” he explains. “Almost every comment said, ‘You’re a hypocrite, you’re a bully, you’re part of the problem.’ I knew a lot of people didn’t like me before then, but I was living in my own little bubble.

That was a turning point for him:

I had brainwashed myself into saying things like, ‘If people don’t like what I’m writing then they shouldn’t read it.’ Or ‘[Perez is] just a character, these people don’t know the real me.’ But at that point I said, ‘Wow, I need to take ownership of what is happening here and what I’m doing‘.

However, that process did not start immediately, because Hilton thought it would damage his career, such as it was:

I was paralysed by fear, that I would lose everything that I had worked very hard to achieve up until that point.

Over the past decade, Perez Hilton has gradually stopped the nastiness. These days, says the BBC:

Hilton often appears on celebrity reality shows and presents his own showbiz news podcast alongside his superb co-host Chris Booker, whose scepticism and impatience with much of celebrity culture is the perfect balance to Hilton’s excitable and animated personality.

As for his website, Hilton can still be found regularly making cutting comments about the day’s entertainment news. But, he says, there’s a difference between being mean for the sake of it and an honestly held opinion.

Good for him. I checked out his blog once, shortly after he created it. It didn’t interest me. I’m too old to know the celebs about whom he writes.

I am pleased that he has turned a page.

Conclusion

Bullies, whether online or offline, feel badly about themselves or aspects of their lives. They torment other people out of frustration; they cannot solve their own problems.

I am grateful for the BBC for these revelations about trolling. That said, it is no excuse for legislation which would remove online privacy, to be monitored by the state or a third party.

What we can do instead is to promote civility and continue, as individuals, to ignore trolls or ban their comments.

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2022. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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