Coffee Date #7: Hold Them to Account

On mental health, collective responsibility, and putting the focus in the wrong place

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“Check on your friends” isn’t enough

TW: discussion of mental health, systemic failures of government and policy, mention of suicide, brief reference to blood and physical injury. Please skip to the next section if you don’t want to engage with this right now <3

We are living through a crisis right now. No, I’m not talking about COVID-19, though that clusterfuck continues to permeate every aspect of our lives. This time, I’m talking about mental health.

Many specialists have suggested that the “second pandemic” to come out of this garbage fire of a year will be a mass mental health crisis. This is hardly surprising. The stress of everything that continues happening in the world, the state of world politics right now, and ongoing health fears are all more than enough to tank anyone’s mental health.

Last weekend was World Mental Health Day. While I applaud this in principle - we should all feel free to talk more openly about mental health - I have often felt that initiatives like this put the emphasis in the wrong place. Namely, too many of the content that came out for WMHD centred on the idea of supporting each other, talking about the problem, and the now-ubiquitous call to “check on your friends.”

There’s nothing wrong with any of this in so far as it goes. Mutual support is essential, and having a community of friends and loved ones is vital for mental health recovery. But it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough or put the spotlight on the bigger problem.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, tweeted that we should “show up for our family, our friends, our colleagues, and our community.” Which would be a nice sentiment, except that it comes from the leader of a party that has systematically gutted healthcare services across the country, constantly underfund mental health provisions despite bragging about how well they’re doing, and saw a 17% increase in suicides in two years on their watch.

Universities make posts on social media and send out press releases, claiming to be supportive of student and staff mental health… then continue to give little to no job security, offer minimal to no access to mental health support on campus, imprison students in their halls of residence (while still charging them thousands of pounds and failing to support them with even basics like getting food,) and force people to go back to work in-person the middle of a pandemic.

Companies and workplaces send out all-staff emails about the value of “self care,” while paying people poorly, overworking them, expecting 24-hour availability for 8-hour wages, and threatening to fire people (or actually firing them) if they show any symptoms of having mental health struggles. Oh, and making them come back to the office in the middle of a pandemic.

I could go on, but I think I’ve made the case for my core point: initiatives like WMHD put all the emphasis in the wrong place.

Being there for your friends in tough times is part of the role of being a friend. Taking the place of a robust, properly funded mental health support system is not. That infamous tweet a few months back about how to politely say you’re at capacity and can’t support someone right now got a lot of flack, but actually I think it made a good and important point.

We can’t just be expected to hold each other up forever and be perpetually there for each other without reasonable access to professional support. And by “reasonable access,” I mean support that can be obtained without spending 18 months on a waiting list or paying through the nose to go private.

“Check on your friends” is a sticking plaster when we’re collectively bleeding out. We need real change. We need to hold the right people to account. And those people are not our - loving and wonderful but untrained - friends who are also trying to deal with their own stuff.

Let’s take the focus off “talk to your friends if you’re struggling,” and put the focus back on “fund our fucking mental health services.”

This week on the blog

Sexy deals of the week

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Reads, watches, listens

Reading… I’m reading A Curious History of Dating: from Jane Austen to Tinder by Nichi Hodgson. I heard Nichi speak at the recent Virtual Camp Lovehoney and she was fantastic. I’m only two chapters in but the book is delightful so far - well-researched and full of fascinating facts about historical hook-ups.

Watching… Mr CK and I are still working our way through Deep Space 9. I’ve also very nearly finished my Crazy Ex Girlfriend rewatch and am considering what to add to my easy-watching list next. I might hate-watch Emily In Paris since it seems to have been universally slated…

Listening… I’ve been listening to a lot of Grace Petrie this week. She’s been a favourite of mine for a while, and my partner The Artist and I were lucky enough to see her perform live before COVID happened. Her powerful protest songs make me feel a little less alone during the aforementioned political clusterfuck we’re all living through. Not listened to her before? Start with Black Tie, a brilliant queer anthem, or Nobody Knows I’m a Fraud if an ode to imposter syndrome is more your thing.

Last word

Thanks for being with me again this week, friends, and for continuing to read the blog and support my work. I don’t have any brilliant words of wisdom to finish with. Things suck right now and if you’re not okay, please know you’re not alone. And please hang on - the world is better for having you in it.

By the way: do you have a sex and relationships question? I’m trying to revitalise the “Ask Amy” column on the blog. Please email me or drop me a line on Twitter. No question is silly and anonymity will always be respected!

See you in two weeks. Until then, stay safe, wear a mask, and maybe yell at a few fascists.

Amy xx