Sunday 20 May 2018

I Am Not A Number... #MHAW

Back 20 years ago I used to watch re-runs of The Prisoner and when he uttered his catchphrase cry of "I am not a number, I am a free man", we'd grin. I even visited Portmeirion and bought souvenirs with No.6 on and thought it was cool and funny. Now I just think it was pre-emptive and maybe a bit sinister.

It occurs to me that while our population is being impersonalised and reduced to numbers, our mental health is dropping. The more you are one of many, the less you are an individual.

Your government only views you as a number. Whoever you vote for and whoever is in power, you are a number. One of millions in your country, or thousands in your constituency. You are one of the voters, you have a social class, number of children, income bracket. They don't care if you are the kind of person who can create a toy from a piece of A4 and a paperclip. They don't have a box to tick when you shop for an elderly neighbour.

Your children are exam candidates. They are passes and fails. Pastoral care has been lost along with staff, replaced by all-encompassing academic targets and attendance awards. Tickboxes for 3 years olds that don't mention bravery or compassion, Training 7 year olds to pass exams while teaching them anxiety and stealing their innocence. Comparing everyone to the average, when no-one is average.

Our teenagers are held to account for everything. Education grades them, social media scores them, they feel their weight defines them. They aren't bunches of numbers, they are our future. Reducing them to scores can only measure a handful of facets on a mighty diamond. It will never tell you who can make people smile or create art that will make hearts jump. It won't tell you who can sleep soundly, and who cannot cope.

On 1st May 2018 there were just over 59million registered patients at UK GP practices, but in March 2017 there were only 37,372 registered GP's (and that's dropped since), so each GP is responsible for an average of 1,578 patients. Some UK GP's regularly have contact with 70 or more patients in a single day. It's hardly any wonder they don't know your name, can't remember your history. Once you are in the system, the aim is to get you out of it. Pass the parcel to a department with some cash left. They don't have the facility to appreciate your childcare problems or how close your boss is to firing you. No room for manoeuvre. To them you can only really be a set of numbers, however much the caring professions wish they could care.

We start scoring our children at a few weeks old and it never stops. We worry and fret, and we teach them that it matters. We count calories and sins, take the car to the gym and compare ourselves to photoshopped images that no mortal can achieve. We talk incessantly about SATs, move house to the catchment for the school at the top of the chart and measure our old schoolfriend's success by the cost of their holiday.

We lost touch with the important stuff and we are paying the price. We pushed harder and placed such value in numbers. Year-on-year increases and potential profit margins won and we made it too hard. If you are aged 5-34 you have a higher chance of dying from suicide than anything else.

We need to stop thinking of numbers and start thinking of the individuals. No-one is average. No-one can tick all of the boxes. Striving for perfection is too much. Find your own talents and be happy with what you achieve. Count your success in laughter and know that when you wear a real smile, you will always be beautiful. Always remember you are not a number.

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