PC 136 Hot Topic Scribbles – Gender and Mental Health

I am probably quite blinkered in my views about certain things …… get concerned about how some aspects of our society, western society, global ….. are trending (See! I can pick up on the modern use of some words, so not too stuck in the mud!) ….. but it’s got to a point when I have to say something! ‘For fools rush in where angels fear to tread’ ……. or something like that.

The words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are often interchangeable, but after 1955 the word gender took on a different meaning, as in “The state of being male or female, typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones.” or “describing someone’s personality, character and behaviour’.

I was born male! It says so on my birth certificate and once I had attended a few biology lessons I realised there was a physical difference between the genders. We had talks from a ‘sexpert’ about the ‘birds and the bees’ – such a funny choice of animals to explain human reproduction! Fumbling around with a female friend at the age of 6 or 7, the sort of ‘you show me yours and I’ll show you mine’ experience under some bush, I found out that she didn’t have the same appendage as me; in fact none! Weird! Ah! The innocence of one’s youth. Then I learned that in the animal and plant kingdoms there are alternatives, particularly neuter and, I am not sure of the gender terminology here, those living organisms that have both sexes ….. ah! Yes! Asexual. So we learned that there was a male gender and a female gender and in the human species both were needed to procreate, not for sex though, but to reproduce themselves. But now I am made aware of a new gender; ‘Trans’.

They have always been around, this ‘Trans’ group, but now we are more accepting and willing to help these individuals who believe they are ‘male’ in a female body or ‘female’ in a male body … or transiting from one to the other. That’s OK isn’t it?  …… but the issue raises complicated questions in areas such as sport segregated by gender and in the provision of safe women-only spaces. Bending over backwards to please everyone, however different they are from the societal norm, just isn’t practically possible. The current law requires a medical diagnosis, proof that they have been legally living in their new gender for at least two years and a gender recognition certificate. In the US the move is in the other direction, to enshrine the male and female gender in the constitution, reversing the liberal trends of the previous President Barack Obama. I think I am with Trump on this one. Gender has become a political issue when simple me thought it was, and should be, purely biological!

The words ‘mental health’ seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment. Our Princes William and Harry are pushing this topic, as is the British Olympian Dame Kelly Holmes, who’s raising awareness of ‘mental health’ in her ‘It’s OK not to be OK’ campaign. Everyone has, at last (?), woken up to this new crisis, this affliction. It is certainly an area of our overall health that has been overlooked, wasn’t talked about, relying on the ‘Stiff upper lip, Carruthers; what!’ so the acknowledgement of the issue is a huge step in the right direction. Of course an increase in people seeking help from their doctor could mean more are experiencing problems, or simply that we feel more comfortable in asking for support; I hope the latter. My concern is that the GP will too easily prescribe drugs rather than offering the alternative range of treatments which include more longer-lasting remedies such as talking therapy and self-care techniques such as exercise.

I acknowledge that the world of the C21st century is very different from that in which I grew up, but isn’t it simply challenging in a different way? My name isn’t Carruthers but at school I suffered from divorced parents, felt abandoned in a boarding school; bad memories of bedwetting, parental interventions and hushed meetings that didn’t include me! My time at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst changed me for sure; put simply, we had to bond with someone else to create a team environment, looking out for each other and gaining emotional strength from that bond. We were tested, often to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, but came to realise it made us mentally stronger. The Sergeant Major, his face sweaty and red from the horror of some drill infringement you had just committed, inches from yours, screaming “You ‘orrible little sh*t, Sir! (a lovely nod to the fact we were training to be officers!). If you don’t get on with this I’ll shove my pacestick (see note) up where the sun don’t shine ……. and if you continue to think this is a joke I’ll open it out 30 inches, sah!”. You take it on the chin, wonder whether he enjoyed his garlic evident from last night’s supper, and move on – stronger. On some other exercise, designed to push us to our limits, and beyond, we were on our second December night out on the Brecon Beacons in South Wales and hadn’t slept. Yomping up one hill and down the other side, in the dark, ticking the sheet at a checkpoint, and off to another. The mind plays tricks and I remember seeing the full moon and swore to God there was a ship sailing across its face!!

Later at the end of my first marriage I went through that ‘what’s the point; is it worth it?’ sort of internal dialogue. But the conclusion was that it was worth continuing this life; for life is to be lived and you need to be robust mentally.

Ignoring those who have suffered trauma, for they need and deserve all the help we can provide, I am concerned for those younger members of our society who have been sucked into the modern ‘I want to be famous and I want to be famous NOW’. I might think it vacuous and stupid and sad but the subsequent disappointing realisation that life isn’t like that could drive them to self- harm and depression. So doesn’t it worry anyone that we seem more and more fixated on providing support for those who are depressed, are mentally weak, however temporarily, rather than engaging in positive schemes to improve the robustness of our society?

On the day of my recent birthday the quotation in the yoga studio was very serendipitous: “Happiness involves taking part in the game of life, not standing on the edge of things and frowning.” Mental Health was a minority issue that has moved mainstream; failure to address it properly will have major consequences for the nation.

 

 

Richard 3rd November 2018

 

Note The ‘Pacestick’ was rather like a large pair of wooden dividers, about 30 inches (85cms) long. Infantry Drill Instructors used it to measure the length of the marching pace, from left foot to right foot, to ensure uniformity. They had a wonderful knack of swinging it through 180º as they ‘marched’ …… or offering to put it where the sun doesn’t shine!!

 

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