Category Archives: Depressions

Christy Turlington: ‘The closest I’ve come to death? The birth of my daughter’

Born in California, Christy Turlington Burns, 48, was scouted to be a model at 14 and went on to become one of the original supermodels. After suffering a postpartum haemorrhage in 2003, she took a masters in public health and set up non-profit organisation Every Mother Counts, addressing global maternal health. The charity has partnered with Toms shoes. She is married to actor Ed Burns, has two children and lives in New York.

When were you happiest?
Before kids, when I was 13 or so, on the back of my horse, running at full speed in an open pasture. Post kids, happiness happens often, but in more subtle ways. I now prefer the word “content”.

What is your greatest fear?
I don’t fear anything but fear itself. Fear makes humans behave inhumanely.

What is your earliest memory?
I have a collage of memories beginning around age four: my first walk alone to a store or to school, and early trips to Central America with my mom to visit her family.

Which living person do you most admire, and why?
A midwife named Jennie Joseph. She is a tireless activist for women, family health and equal access to quality maternity care.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I sometimes set unreasonably high expectations of myself and those around me.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
There are too many to name, but none of them keeps me up at night.

What makes you unhappy?
Government policy decisions that negatively impact the health and wellbeing of women and families.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?
Having to talk about it.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
The world does not need a film about my life.

What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
A boyfriend once told me there was always going to be someone smarter, funnier and prettier than me, which at the time felt pretty mean, but it was true.

To whom would you most like to say sorry, and why?
To strangers. Living in New York, I see individuals every day who are invisible to so many. I want to say sorry that so many of us think their pain and suffering is not our own.

What was the best kiss of your life?
The first kiss from my husband and every one since.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
My father’s death before my marriage, and motherhood.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I might speed up a few details, but wouldn’t change anything, other than my dad still being here.

How do you relax?
Yoga, running, recreational reading.

What is the closest you’ve come to death?
The birth of my daughter.

What keeps you awake at night?
The fact that at least 300,000 women die every year from pregnancy and childbirth-related issues that are largely preventable.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
That I am more than I thought I was.

How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who didn’t waste a minute.

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?

Coca-Cola’s ‘health by stealth’ wheeze is sneaky. But if it works so be it | Gaby Hinsliff

It had been a long day. I was knackered, and frankly not concentrating. Which is how I managed recently to bake a plum cake and forget to put the sugar in. The damn thing was already cooked and cooling by the time the penny dropped, so there was little option but to keep quiet and dish it up. But surprisingly, plates were licked clean. It tasted fine, if a little drier than usual. And yes, there is a point to this tedious domestic mishap, which is that Coca-Cola just did something similar to millions of its customers, in a move that has interesting implications for the debate over public health and the nanny state.

The soft drinks giant started by silently reducing the calories in Sprite. People didn’t seem to mind, so two weeks ago it secretly cut the sugar in Fanta by a third, and again sales held perfectly steady. So much for all the outraged spluttering over government plans to introduce a levy on sugary drinks next year – the reason Coca-Cola changed its recipes, since both drinks will now escape the tax – and how it would ruin much-loved brands. People literally didn’t notice.

There is admittedly something mildly disconcerting about the concept of “health by stealth” – although health is, in this case, a relative term. The acid in fizzy drinks is still no friend to teeth, and swapping sugar for other sweeteners does nothing to discourage the craving for sweetness. Who knows? In a few years we may all be panicking instead about some unforeseen side-effect of stevia, the natural plant-based sweetener substituted in Sprite. But it remains a rare example of a company fooling its customers into better choices, not worse ones – for once. They’re treating us like children. This is, after all, the equivalent of smuggling hated vegetables into pasta sauce and brazenly liquidising the evidence. But then, there’s nothing like a public health intervention for provoking a national tantrum.

Andy Burnham was accused of waging war on parents only four years ago for promising that a future Labour government would act to reduce sugar in cereals such as Frosties. Last year, when George Osborne finally unveiled plans for a tax on sweetened drinks, libertarian Tories were outraged.

Yet in a few years’ time we’ll surely look back and wonder what the fuss was about, for such is the way of health and safety interventions, from the ban on smoking in public places to the introduction of compulsory seatbelts. Outrage turns to grudging acceptance, before mellowing into surprise that things were ever any different.


If you announce you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt, then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless

It seems genuinely astonishing now that until 31 people died in the King’s Cross station fire in 1987, which was started by a dropped cigarette, nobody seemed to think smoking on the tube was a problem. My son boggles at the idea that back in the 1970s, kids would travel piled on top of each other in the backseat of a car or rolling around in the boot. But it still requires political courage to get past the initial wall of resistance, which is constructed of corporate inertia plus kneejerk irritation among consumers at being told what to do. Legislation can obviously overcome the former, but what’s less often noted is that it can also prompt imaginative responses to the latter.

Once, food manufacturers who made their products healthier would shout it from the rooftops, but increasingly they’re learning to do it on the sly. If you announce that you’re lowering fat, sugar or salt then consumers glumly assume the result will be thin and joyless; since so much of eating is about anticipation, that may be exactly how it tastes to them. But do it quietly and – as any slapdash home cook will know – you can get away with murder. Even in baking, which does depend on measuring ingredients accurately, it’s the ratio of fat to flour and liquids that seems crucial to the chemistry, rather than the sugar. A diabetic friend was advised by nurses that most recipes will still work even if you halve the sugar – which is roughly what I did by accident, since the plum cake recipe I screwed up still contained honey, fruit and golden syrup – at least so long as you don’t tell. Sneaky?

The work of the Salford venereal diseases clinic – archive, 18 May 1929

On April 1 last year a municipal clinic for venereal diseases was established in Salford, and the first annual report, for the nine months’ working, has just been issued by Dr. E. T. Burke, venereal diseases medical officer for the city. The existence of the venereal diseases scheme of the Ministry of Health implies the existence of a venereal diseases problem, he writes. In pre-war times the question of venereal disease was something of a national taboo. The great – almost inevitable – increase in venereal disease occasioned by the Great War was driven into the public consciousness. “It was realised,” he writes, “that, covered by a carefully fostered conspiracy of silence, the ulcer of venereal disease was gnawing at the very vitals of the national health.

A new generation has sprung up, and the memories of the older generation are short. There has been a tendency to rest upon our oars; and the ancient taboo – the pernicious policy of ‘hush-hush’ – has been gradually reasserting its anaesthetic effect.”

“Campaigns against cancer and consumption are very necessary,” he goes on. “They are popular; they are respectable, and they have a wide appeal both among the medical profession and the laity. An anti-venereal campaign starts with the dice heavily loaded against it. The thought that the venereal problem is but one of very minor importance is fathered by the wish that it might be so.”

Venereal disease prevention poster, 1920.


Venereal disease prevention poster, 1920. Photograph: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Misleading Returns
After reviewing the various researches to discover the proportion of cases of syphilis in the community, Dr. Burke says that the neat proportion of deaths from syphilis are hidden under various other labels in the mortality lists of the Registrar General. Confidential death certification would go a long way toward turning an annual mass of figures, in many respects both useless and misleading, into something of practical value. The truth as to the killing power of syphilis lay at the bottom of the Registrar General’s statistical well. They found by scientific analysis that about 10 per cent of the total deaths were due to syphilis, and as gonorrhea was about twice as common syphilis the grand total of venereally infected persons was brought to about 500,000 or 14 per cent of the population of the whole country. In the city of Salford, with a population of 250,000 (assuming that the community was infected at a rate no higher than the country generally, there would be at least some 30,000 infected persons. That meant about 1,000 annual fresh infections, and 200 deaths from syphilis every twelve months.

The cost of the clinic in its first year (April to December had been £5,600. It was necessary to consider whether that was justifiable. The devastating economic effect could be gauged by an investigation undertaken by approved societies with a membership of 3,000,000. The average duration of disablement per member per year was found to be: all diseases 7,2 weeks, venereal disease 10,9 weeks. The effect of this in causing a decrease in industrial production and an increase in the cost of living was self-evident. The attitude of the British employer to venereal disease had been either to ignore or penalise it. Both were suicidal policies.

The Care of Children
The report goes on to deal with the actual working of the Salford clinic. It is shown that the total attendances for the nine months were 35,503 (intermediate attendances 26,155) and 1,220 new cases were treated. In comparison with the twelve months’ figures of other big centres, it is seen that the Salford clinic has dealt with more new patients and registered more attendances than any other treatment centre with a similar size of population. Of the total number of patients 21.5 per cent were Manchester residents.

Dr. Burke states that very few children are being treated at the clinic, which fact he regards as unsatisfactory. “It is felt,” he writes, “that school-children suffering from general debility, backwardness, heart disease, epilepsy, &c., should be thoroughly examined for evidence of syphilis.” He also urges the need for a hostel to which women could be admitted while undergoing treatment to enable them to continue in their employment, and he emphasises the necessity of a treatment station within the dock boundaries, with placards, telling of its existence in different languages, to be placed in seamen’s and firemen’s quarters in every ship entering dock. The number of patients belonging to the mercantile marine was 138, 11 per cent of the total.

Manchester Guardian, 18 May 1929.


Manchester Guardian, 18 May 1929.

Warning pregnant women over dangers of alcohol goes too far, experts say

Women are being unfairly alarmed by official guidelines that warn them to avoid alcohol completely during pregnancy, experts claim.

Some mothers-to-be may even be having an abortion because they are worried they have damaged their unborn child by drinking too much, it is claimed.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, maternal rights campaign group Birthrights and academics specialising in parenting say official advice on drinking in pregnancy is too prescriptive.

Revised guidelines that came into force in January 2016 are not based on reliable evidence, they say. The advice, endorsed by the four UK nations’ chief medical officers, deleted a longstanding reference to pregnant women potentially having one or two units of alcohol once or twice a week while expecting and instead said that they should not drink at all.

“We need to think hard about how risk is communicated to women on issues relating to pregnancy. There can be real consequences to overstating evidence or implying certainty when there isn’t any,” said Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at BPAS, the contraception and abortion charity.

“Doing so can cause women needless anxiety and alarm, sometimes to the point that they consider ending an unplanned but not unwanted pregnancy because of fears they have caused irreparable harm.”

Ellie Lee, director of Kent University’s centre for parenting culture studies, said the advice means pregnant women also shun social occasions unnecessarily.

“As proving ‘complete safety’ [of drinking in pregnancy] is entirely impossible, where does this leave pregnant women? The scrutiny and oversight of their behaviour the official approach invites is not benign. It creates anxiety and impairs ordinary social interaction. And the exclusion of women from an ordinary activity on the basis of ‘precaution’ can more properly be called sexist than benign,” Lee added.

Last year’s revised guidelines followed the first in-depth UK review of the evidence on drinking in pregnancy since 2008. It concluded that “definitive evidence, particularly on the effects of low-level consumption [on a baby’s health] remains elusive”. Despite that, it nevertheless recommended that: “If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.”

The NHS’s start 4 life website, which promotes healthy behaviour, says: “What you drink, your baby drinks too. Play safe and cut out alcohol.”

Jennie Bristow, senior lecturer in sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University, criticised the negative effects of advice to mothers to be. “Does it simply make for healthier pregnancies or is it scaring women about their bodies and their babies? Promoting fear is not a good way to care for pregnant women.”

The guidelines state that: “Alcohol, like a numbr of drugs, is a teratogen, which means something that can disturb the deveopment of a fetus. Teratogens may cause a birth defect, or may halt the pregnancy.” The risks to the child also include the child being born prematurely or very small or having behavioural problems.

The Royal College of Midwives believes that any woman who is or is trying to become pregnant should shun alcohol altogether. “Our message [is]… that there is no evidence that any level of consumption is safe for the growing baby,” it said when the guidelines came out last year.

If you have no children, who will care for you when you’re old? | Sonia Sodha

[unable to retrieve full-text content]

We had to fight to get my grandfather good care. Those of us who don’t have children need a new approach

Few of us are immune from the anxiety that can quickly set in when we contemplate our own ageing. Who will be there for us when us can no longer physically take care of ourselves? Who will be around to remind us of who we were in our moments of lucidity when our minds have started slipping away?

For those of us who don’t have children, these questions take on a particular significance. I had mixed feelings after watching Still Alice, an Oscar-winning depiction of early-onset dementia. It made for grim viewing. But it was easy to imagine the ways it could have been even grimmer: what if the protagonist, Alice, had no children, a partner long departed or divorced, or friends who had drifted away?

Related: Why should older people rely on their families for care? | Catherine Bennett

Related: Mice benefit from research into cannabis. Why not us? | Simon Jenkins

Continue reading…

Facebook censors group that helps women obtain abortion pills

Facebook has censored the page of an organization that helps women obtain abortion pills, citing its policy against the “promotion or encouragement of drug use”.

Women on Web, which is based in Amsterdam, helps connect women with doctors who can provide abortion pills if they live in countries where abortion access is restricted. It is a sister organization to Women on Waves, which provides abortions and other reproductive health services on a ship in international waters.

Women on Waves announced that the page had been “unpublished” on its own Facebook account, writing: “Women on Web provides life-saving information to thousands of women worldwide. Its Facebook page publishes news, scientific information and the protocols of the World Health Organization and Women on Web has answered over half a million emails with women who needed scientific, accurate information essential for their health and life.

“We expect Facebook will [undo] this action soon enough, as access to information is a human right.”

This is the second censorship row between Facebook and Women on Web. In January 2012, Facebook deleted the profile photograph of the group’s founder and director, Dr Rebecca Gomperts. The image contained instructions for inducing an abortion using Misoprostol. Gomperts was locked out of her account for two days after re-posting the image, but Facebook subsequently apologized and reinstated both the image and her account.


We expect Facebook will [undo] this action soon enough, as access to information is a human right

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

With nearly 2bn users, the social media site plays a crucial role in disseminating news and information around the world. But Facebook has struggled to meet competing demands to allow for the free flow of information while cracking down on graphic material (such as the livestreamed murder of a baby in Thailand in April).

In 2016, the company faced international condemnation over its decision to censor the iconic Vietnam War photograph of a naked girl fleeing a Napalm attack. Facebook subsequently altered its policy to allow for editorial judgments about newsworthiness.

On 3 May, amid criticism over its handling of graphic videos, Facebook announced that it would hire 3,000 more content reviewers. Such content reviewers are tasked with applying the company’s “community standards”, often with uneven results.

Facebook’s has faced particular difficulty enforcing its rules for “regulated goods” – prescription drugs, marijuana, firearms, and ammunition. The company bars “attempts by private individuals to purchase, sell, or trade” such items, but has struggled to halt gun sales.

The company has cracked down aggressively on pages related to legal medical marijuana, however. In 2015, the site temporarily banned business publication Crain’s for promoting a cover story about medical marijuana.

‘A little bit OCD’: the downside of mental health awareness | Dean Burnett

It’s mental health awareness week. So that’s good. Well, mostly. There are downsides to increased awareness of mental health, it turns out.

You ever met someone who is needlessly cold or even outright rude to those who deign to engage with them? I used to work with someone like that, and eventually one of his superiors had to call him out on it. I was within earshot, and happened to hear his defence, which was something like “It’s just the way I am. I think I’m on the spectrum.”

He didn’t specify which spectrum. Maybe he meant the visible spectrum? He was correct if so, as everyone could “see” that he was a massive A-hole, as our American cousins may put it. However, given the context, he was clearly claiming to be on the autism spectrum. Maybe he was? However, having observed him in various contexts, I’d argue that if he was it was on a more expansive spectrum than usual, one that encompassed “not autistic, just a bit of a dickhead”.

A similar phenomenon is those people who insist on things being neat or precisely arranged, who will straighten your pens or cutlery right in front of you, or go to other socially-awkward lengths to satisfy their desire for right angles, and explain it away with a wry shrug and an admission that they are “a little bit OCD”.

As a lifelong glasses-wearing person, it can be teeth-grindingly annoying when people wear spectacles as an affectation. But to genuine medical conditions as an affectation? That’s actually quite sinister, for several reasons.

Young blonde woman wearing large blue novelty glasses


You can’t just don a mental health problem like you would some novelty glasses or a silly hat – well, you can, but you probably shouldn’t. Photograph: Robert Kneschke/Getty Images/EyeEm

Mental health problems aren’t minor tics or affectations

Being diagnosed with a mental health issue is a big deal. Despite countless pundits claiming that people with depression are just “attention seeking”, or selfish, that isn’t the case at all. Depression is often a debilitating condition, as are many other mental health problems.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disorder that impacts on pretty much every facet of your existence. Many argue this isn’t always a bad thing, but then there are an alarming number of parents out there who would seemingly rather risk their child dying from preventable diseases than risk them being autistic. In any case, most would agree that autism is a serious thing, not something on a par with a minor head cold, a poor memory for names.

Same with OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. True OCD has many, often-debilitating features that put a serious dent in the individuals ability to live a normal life, and these usually have to all be present before someone is diagnosed with the condition. Again, it’s not something that comes and goes, like mild hay fever. Hence my usual response to someone claiming to be “a little bit OCD” is: “That’s nice. I’m a little bit five foot ten.” That’s not how things work.

This is why it’s incredibly irksome to hear people claim such afflictions, but only as and when it’s useful for them to do so. You’re not too selfish to observe social niceties like “manners” but simultaneously too cowardly to admit your flaws and work towards addressing them; no, you’re “on the spectrum”, so can carry on as you are, guilt free. I’m not the first person to point this out, but it’s still valid. If someone claimed to have motor neurone disease that only affected them in their home so they’re entitled to a free stairlift, you’d conclude that they were a disgraceful human being, and rightly so. But claiming serious mental issues to avoid having to obey social norms is fine, apparently?

Angry man


If your only experience with a condition is the people citing it as an excuse for objectionable behaviour, your impression of people with that condition is obviously going to be somewhat affected. Photograph: Alamy

Emphasising the negatives

In truth, people who say things like “I’m a little bit OCD” clearly often do so with no ill intentions. At this point, citing certain mental health conditions has just become part of everyday language, like “I’m crazy I am” or “It’s bedlam in there”. People say things like this all the time. But just because something is common it doesn’t mean it’s consequence free. Language is important, and changes can and should occur. For instance, people still say “committed” suicide, when it’s not been a crime for nearly 60 years, and the media especially is urged not to use that term.

When you casually invoke a mental health problem to excuse a personality flaw or irritating trait, the only person who really benefits is you. Anyone who hears this excuse just makes unflattering associations, rudeness = autism, fussiness and annoyance = OCD. Should they then later meet someone who does genuinely have these conditions, that person will have to work to overcome this pre-existing negative preconception. Considering that they’re already dealing with their mental health issues which, as has been mentioned, are pretty demanding, that’s an extra burden they don’t really need.

Great strides have been made in broadening the awareness and understanding of mental health, but as the old saying goes, “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. An awareness of mental disorders isn’t really much good if it only concerns the aspects that can be used as a cop-out for unpleasant behaviours.

OxyContin pills


Sometimes, there seem to be medications that are solutions in search of a problem. Photograph: Toby Talbot/AP

Unhelpful exploitation

It’s all well and good to say people shouldn’t invoke mental health problems to explain their own quirks and behaviours, but surely the average person doesn’t spontaneously think: “I will blame my flaws on a mental illness”?

In truth, exploiting mental health issues happens all around us, so it’s no wonder people are OK with it. From the media, citing mental illness as the cause for any violent attack where the perpetrator has inconvenient political views/is white, to drug companies and affiliated professionals labelling an ever-expanding range of psychological phenomena, like grief and tantrums, as disorders that need medicating. Lovely, profitable medication.

However it occurs and is perpetuated, invoking mental health to explain unpleasant behaviours is clearly a widespread habit, and even if it is sometimes understandable, it’s not really helpful.

The human brain has plenty of weird traits and properties even when it’s functioning 100% normally. It wants a sense of control, it dislikes uncertainty, it’s warps memories, it shuts out rational arguments, and so much more. Many of these can explain bizarre or unreasonable behaviour in people, so there’s plenty of options that should be considered before you start claiming a clinical diagnosis.

Of course, we may end up with someone arguing that “claiming to have mental health problems in order to excuse irritating behaviour” is a type of clinical disorder. And then the whole thing will just be significantly more confusing.

More of the baffling properties of our brain can be found in Dean Burnett’s book The Idiot Brain. Available in the UK, US and many other countries

Majority of vapers have quit tobacco – survey

More than half of the estimated 2.9 million people in the UK who use e-cigarettes have given up smoking tobacco, a survey suggests.

But many people overestimate the relative health risks of vaping, which may have contributed to a slowdown in the numbers turning to e-cigarettes. Nine million people in the UK still smoke tobacco.

The number of people vaping or using e-cigarettes has quadrupled in the past five years, the annual Smokefree GB survey by Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) found, with many people turning to them for help with quitting or cutting down on smoking tobacco.

For the first time, more than half of vapers said they had quit smoking. Most of the remainder continued to both vape and smoke tobacco.

Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London, said the finding was encouraging. “This year’s Ash survey finds that around 1.5 million vapers are ex-smokers, for the first time a larger number than those who continue to smoke,” she said.

“This is encouraging news as we know that vapers who continue to smoke continue to be exposed to cancer-causing chemicals. The message for the 1.3 million vapers who still smoke is that they need to go further and switch completely.”

But vaping’s rate of growth has slowed considerably in the past couple of years, and the survey found many people overestimated the health risks of vaping compared with tobacco.

In 2015, Public Health England concluded vaping was about 95% less harmful than smoking. But more than a quarter of respondents (26%) said they believed e-cigarettes were equally or more harmful than the traditional equivalents, with only 13% saying they were much less harmful than smoking.

Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of Ash, said: “It’s excellent news that the number of vapers who have quit smoking is continuing to grow, but there are still 9 million smokers compared to only 1.5 million vapers who don’t smoke at all.

“The rapid growth in e-cigarette use has come to an end while over a third of smokers have still never tried e-cigarettes, saying the main reasons are concerns about the safety and addictiveness of e-cigarettes. It’s very important smokers realise that vaping is much, much less harmful than smoking.”

The findings were based on an online survey by YouGov of 12,969 adults, weighted to be representative of the UK adult population.